Someone on Rockstar Finance Forums asked if I was going to refer to my eldest son as “Rogue One” in my blog. Oddly enough, I hadn’t thought of that, but I love the idea. I am a Star Wars fan, but I’m a Trekkie at heart, and I did not think of the “Rogue Dad” moniker because of the recent Star Wars movie.
We have three boys, from here on out referred to as Rogue One (8-years old), Rogue Two (3 ½ years old), and Rogue Three (now 7 ½ months old). I may go back and edit/tag my few previous posts with that terminology.
This is also my first post with an attempted Amazon Affiliate link — if it works!
I was 10 years old when I set our kitchen on fire. My mother was driving home to take me to swim practice. She called ahead to have me boil some water on the stove so she could drink chai when she came home (she loves her chai).
While waiting in the kitchen for her arrival, I heard a “WHOOOSH” behind me. I turned around and saw fire shooting up from a pan sitting on the stove. Instead of turning on the burner with the tea kettle, I had turned on the one with a frying pan with leftover cooking oil.
Already displaying the ability to decisively act during crisis situations that I am now famous for in the ER, I quickly threw a large cup of water onto the grease fire. When the flames jumped a foot higher, reaching the wood paneled hood above, I again demonstrated my ability to calmly act under pressure. I ran from the kitchen, yelling, “FIRE! FIRE!”
I headed to the basement, where my siblings were sitting. My older brother, 13-years old, was with our younger brother, who was less than a year old. It was just the three of us at home.
My older brother, now a neonatologist, ran upstairs and threw our baby brother, now an internal medicine/pediatrics resident, onto the couch. As my little brother cried and my older brother grabbed a fire extinguisher, I dialed 9-1-1.
Clearly, that moment portended our future medical careers.
Not getting an immediate answer from EMS, I hung up the phone without speaking to anyone. My older brother extinguished the fire, covering the stove, wall, and part of ceiling in flame retardant. The dispatcher called me back a few moments later. I told them everything was fine, no need to come, we had the fire under control.
The fire department did not come, but my mom walked in the door a few moments later. I was a second-year medical student before I was allowed to use the stove again.
I ran from the kitchen, yelling, “FIRE! FIRE!”
As a pediatric emergency medicine doctor, child safety and injury prevention are topics frequently discussed in my workplace and often on my mind. I’ve seen more than one child die because of unsecured, loaded firearms kept in the house. Children, even ones supposedly well trained in firearm safety, and many more that are not, occasionally pick up a loaded gun and accidentally shoot themselves or someone else. Sometimes even when an adult is home and supervising them. I see children severely injured or mildly injured for many other reasons. Some of these are part of the circle-of-life — kids injuring themselves riding bikes or on monkey bars stinks for the kids or parents (and keeps us in business), but sometimes kids get hurt doing the things they are supposed to do. Even with a safety first attitude you can’t and won’t (and maybe shouldn’t) prevent all injuries.
Gun violence, however, is its own issue that I won’t be addressing today – there are some things that I consider common sense and basic parenting, such as don’t leave a loaded gun where a child can get it, that will not really be up for debate on this blog. The point is that as much as we want to trust our children, it isn’t always easy to tell when you can, and trust should have limitations.
We are really discussing the more run of the mill and routine part of this topic. When children should be given independence, and when they can be left home alone, is an evolving topic. We’ve come a long way, from letting children run kingdoms, to where helicopter parenting is now part of our vernacular. Overuse and buy-in of the need for the latter term has obscured the issue, because there still exists a great deal of variation, even within the United States. Some of it is cultural, some is geographic, and some is socioeconomic (and some is a bunch of other things I am sure).
We recently moved to our “attending” house (as White Coat Investor would call it) in a nice suburb in a good school district. Rogue One, in 2nd grade and recently turned 8 years old, takes the bus to school most days. We wait with him to get on the bus (in case it doesn’t show up at all), but he rides the bus home when one of us isn’t working.
We always let him walk back to the house alone. It’s a short walk, and he keeps an umbrella in his backpack in case of rain. Some parents seem nervous with this idea, and not just in areas where high crime levels cause anxiety.
Since Rogue Three was born our routines are severely disrupted, and synchronizing schedules is not always possible. As a result, on occasion, I’ve let Rogue One stay home for 30 minutes by himself. This has generally only happened when Rogue Three was ready for daycare (i.e. his morning nap approached and falling asleep at home would throw off everything else), but Rogue One wasn’t ready but had a long time before school. His reason to rush him would essentially be fear of what would happen if he is left by himself. He’s instructed to finish getting ready, read a book, and pretend he’s not home. This is far too trusting for many people’s taste, but still too helicopterish for some.
Some states have laws about when you are allowed to do this. Ours does not, however in the rare occasions thus far we’ve done this, we have taken common sense precautions.
Despite being in a fancy, safe, suburb, we have a burglar alarm with police response. (It’s mostly for family piece of mind when I’m working night shifts. Seven years in houses, six of which were in the city, and we’ve never had a break-in attempt. We’ve had more freakouts by false alarms than anything).
We have a VOIP land-line so our son can call 9-1-1 if necessary (Ooma – paid a one-time equipment fee 8-years ago and not a dime since then; if you purchase from this link I *think* they I get paid, but I don’t know if this works yet. Full Ooma review in the future, but as a user for 8-years I have recommended it to many people without getting paid).
Rogue One knows how to get himself a snack and a drink (he is NOT allowed to use the stove). We leave the alarm on, so if he (or someone else) opens the door despite our warnings, police will show up (he doesn’t know how to turn it off).
I have a friend from our old street in the city who recently moved to a suburb. His plan was to let his kids not only be at home on their own after school when the parents worked, but even roam the neighborhood. His younger son is the same age as Rogue One. He doesn’t want his kids sitting in the house for long periods without physical activity. Despite us being in a safe neighborhood, Rogue Mom and I aren’t convinced that Rogue One is ready for that level of trust. We do let him roam the neighborhood on his own with a walkie-talkie to communicate with us when we’re home, but that’s as far as it has gone.
Rogue Two, on the other hand, is so precocious and independent we may never leave him home alone or let him go anywhere unsupervised. He does anything that enters his mind. He cooks frozen waffles in the toaster, retrieves and uses tools from my toolbox in the garage, and has more than once walked off on his own to a neighbor’s house (not wandered off; very purposefully walked off), all without our knowledge. That is what he has done just while we were upstairs or in the bathroom or distracted for a few minutes, and all since Rogue Three was born. If a fire started, Rogue One would from the house yelling. Rogue Two would smile, turn, and quietly and slowly walk away.
Rogue Two would be a great child-king.
Despite some states having laws mandating minimum ages for leaving kids home alone, there really is no absolute age for independence or responsibility (clearly within some boundaries of reason). It’s something every child needs to start learning as soon as they have the physical ability to take care of themselves a little, and the emotional ability to understand the consequences of not following the rules. When you have three kids, giving them some independence is also a parental lifeline that allows you to function. There’s a reason we’re envious when we hear about kids potty-trained at 18-months old. We wish our kids didn’t need us to help them with it.
Independence is a graduated process with milestones that will be completely different for everyone – for a hunting family it may relate to firearm safety, for a suburban family it could be riding the bike down the street alone, and for a inner city family it could be using the school bus on their own. The key is knowing your child and situation, pushing them to be their best, while also expecting that sometimes they will fail. Just make sure they have a fire extinguisher ready and it’s a failure they can recover from.
Update @ 04/27/17 @ 0949: FinancePatriot informed me the Amazon affiliate link for Ooma wasn’t working (or couldn’t be found), so here it is more prominently. I’m not putting energy at the moment into monetizing this blog, but I would appreciate any support. I’ve used Ooma for 8 years, and even my older brother (the neonatologist/firefighter) uses it because of me. I have no idea if I get 3 cents or 3 dollars or what happens if you actually buy it from this link. Full review in the future.
What are your thoughts on kids and independence? If you choose to leave a comment about guns and gun violence, be forewarned that antagonistic speech will not be tolerated. Also, I realized when writing this post that Rogue One doesn’t know how to use a fire extinguisher. So we’ll be working on that…