Michaels: Just because we stayed at home alone as kids, doesn’t mean it’s OK now

If this woman had access to affordable childcare would she even be rationalizing the decision?

When I was in Grade 4, I envied my neighbour, “the latchkey kid.”

For a couple hours, before her mom got back from work, she had the freedom to open her own front door and rummage through her fridge and cupboards, like only the big people could do at my house. She had candy and could eat it whenever she wanted.

Nobody was debriefing her on the day’s events with the intensity of an army investigator. There were no demands to walk her dogs at 3:30 p.m. on the dot.

And there was the TV at her house. Man, the TV was sublime. I consumed my first episode of General Hospital on her harvest patterned couch. An appetite for schmaltzy story lines has never left me, thanks to those days.

On weekends, her parents got together and took her on great adventures, all across the city. I got to go along while my parents stayed home and did what they could do, as a one-income family.

Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, which in this case was literally true. The Sergeant is fastidious, bless her well-organized heart.

To this day, my old friend says she envied my Mom, in those days.

She didn’t just bar unfettered access to the goodness of the fridge, she also got in there herself and whipped up some decent “well-balanced” snacks.

And she brought them to us in between rounds of questions about our daily activities.

While I could have done without the continual demands about my dog, and brushing my hair, my friend seemed to really cosy up to the Sergeant.

And, perhaps most importantly, in times of trouble, during the two hours before her mum came home from work, she’d pad her way down the street to our door and get whatever mother-influence was required. Sometimes it was just a stern, unwelcome lecture.

Those are the days I’ve been thinking about all week, with the B.C. Supreme Court decision that backed the assertion eight-year-old children are too young to be left home alone.

The decision upheld an earlier provincial court decision to slap an interim supervision order on a Terrace woman, barring her from leaving her eight-year-old child alone at home.

The unidentified single mother was leaving her son home to fend for himself for a few hours each weekday, like countless moms before her have done. The boy was alone from the time he got home from school about 3 p.m. until his mother arrived home two hours later.

A neighbour complained to social workers, and the social worker filed a report to the provincial court, and the director of Child and Family Services brought an application for a supervision order stipulating that the boy’s care must be supervised for six months.

The social worker testified that, in her opinion “children who are eight years of age do not have the cognitive ability to be left unsupervised,” citing various risks, including accidental poisoning or fires, which could arise “regardless of [the boy’s] level of maturity.”

The provincial court judge took that testimony seriously, and ruled that children younger than 10 could not be safely left alone.

The mother appealed the decision, contending there was no basis for the judge to conclude the eight-year-old was in need of protection but BC Supreme Court Justice Robert Punnett held up the decision this week.

Personally, I agree with the court decisions. All you have to do is speak to a child who is eight years old to realize they couldn’t respond to worst case scenarios in the way that’s needed.

Life, however, is increasingly complicated and expensive.

The ‘80s are dead and gone. Neighbourhoods are no longer networks of families able to step in when another steps out, like mine was.

Worse, however, is that being a stay at home parent isn’t just a crimp on spending, for many it’s a financial killer.  The only people I know who are able to do it, are ones who have had the realization that daycare for multiple children costs more in this day and age, than they are able to earn.

So I can’t help but wonder if the conversation about this particular news item is missing the point. If this woman had access to affordable childcare for the required time frame, would she even be rationalizing the decision?

While the court decision reflects my beliefs on whether children should stay at home, it also reminds me that Canadians need to demand more from their country.

Nothing is more important than providing safe child care at an affordable cost.

Even if you don’t have children anymore, the value of that service should seem obvious. So much more obvious than whether or not we should still have latchkey kids. It’s an issue in this year’s election and it’s one I hope everyone thinks seriously about.

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