Social Question

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Is this a total parenting fail?

Asked by WillWorkForChocolate (23098points) September 20th, 2012

Our neighbors have 11 and 7 year old kids. Their 11 year old is on an art field trip today (as is mine) and won’t be home until 6:30, but neither one of the parents are home. This means their 7 year old came home to an empty house and had to come ask if he could stay over here for a while.

WTF? What kind of parents know their oldest child will be gone, and let their 7 year old get off the bus alone, for God only knows how long?

Is this a parenting fail, or am I overreacting?

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47 Answers

DrBill's avatar

Major FAIL

_Whitetigress's avatar

Hopefully it’s a huge misunderstanding. (7 Year old probably told to take the later bus while staying some sort of after school program?) I don’t know but as it stands yes. Major Fail. Sad.

augustlan's avatar

Could the 7 year old even get into his house? Did he know he was going to be alone for the afternoon? I mean, don’t get me wrong… I wouldn’t do it. I’m waaay overprotective! But I was a latchkey kid at that age, and came home to an empty house every day. It wasn’t all that uncommon at the time, either.

So, I guess my point is, maybe these parents thought the 7 year old was mature enough to handle a few hours of alone time, and had rules in place to help keep him safe. If so, they may have been mistaken, but didn’t necessarily have bad intentions.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@_Whitetigress There’s not a later bus. Only one. And there’s not an after school program that lasts until 6:30. They’re never home in the afternoons when the kids get off the school bus; they just leave them to their own devices for 2–3 hours, trusting that the 11 yr old will be responsible for the 7 yr old.

@augustlan He got into the house, yes, but I don’t think he knew what was going on. When he came over here, he seemed a little scared. He and Gracie are hanging out in the living room, snacking and playing on the Playstation, just having a grand ole time without their older sibs here to ruin it, lol.

augustlan's avatar

Glad he had you to turn to, @WillWorkForChocolate!

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Haha, well thank goodness I’m almost always home!

wundayatta's avatar

That sounds really weird to me. Like they weren’t thinking at all. Maybe they were so used to the routine they forgot the younger one was only 7. I’m not sure if that is legal in some states.

All I can say is the kid had the good sense to ask for help, and was sensible about who he turned to.

Do you plan to say something to the parents?

rojo's avatar

Little SOB should have been at work; not goofing off at school. Three years is enought lernin for anywun.

Mama_Cakes's avatar

Rojo have you been drinking? :) Cause that was hilarious. ~

ragingloli's avatar

You think that is bad?
My sorry excuse for parents moved while I was on a class trip without telling me anything beforehand. I had to go to my grandparents to ask where they moved.
Opening the door and finding the old home completely empty is one of the most fucked moments in my history.

wundayatta's avatar

Are you serious, @ragingloli? Or is that one of those shaggy dog stories? Because given your persona here, it is definitely believable that something like that happened to you. It would explain a lot!

ragingloli's avatar

It is true. I still have the key.

marinelife's avatar

Awful. Seven is too young to be alone.

Jeruba's avatar

I agree that a 7-year-old shouldn’t be left alone, but I have to take issue with the assumption that routinely leaving him with an 11-year-old in charge is a good plan. I think that’s too much responsibility to lay on an 11-year-old kid. All kinds of things could happen that a child that age is not mature enough to handle. It’s probably enough responsibility just to leave him on his own.

Besides, he probably really has no authority over the younger one, regardless of whether he plays at bossing him around (“I’m in charge and you have to do what I say”).

This whole situation calls for reevaluation, in my opinion.

blueiiznh's avatar

You are not overreacting. I guess the answer to the “parenting fail” question will come out in hearing their excuse answer.

It was wonderful of you to be able to smooth it for the little tike, but it is a definate faux pas.

Bellatrix's avatar

I don’t agree with leaving a seven year old on its own but perhaps there were other plans in place and the seven year old didn’t follow them OR was putting on a bit of an act for you.

I was also (like @augustlan) a latchkey kid. At five, I was walking home from school and letting myself in. There was no childcare available at that time and my mother had died. My sister was home an hour or so later and then looked after me. She was 12. The neighbours in the street knew the situation and I do have to say, it was a very close knit community. I knew I could go to any of those mothers for help.

The reason I say ‘was he putting on an act’ is I remember getting home one day, with my key around my neck on a string, but I didn’t fancy being on my own. So, I went to a neighbours place and said I didn’t have my key and I was then spoiled rotten until my sister came home. I still remember they gave me those paper cocktail umbrellas to play with. Weird the things that stay in your memory. My point is, perhaps the little fella just didn’t want to be alone. Great that you were there but he may not have really been all that disturbed. Just lonely. Still not good I agree but just a thought based on my own experiences.

Perhaps speak to the parents. Offer to look after him if they need you to? Given the way the job market seems to be over there, perhaps they just couldn’t take the time off to get home earlier? You know your neighbours and can judge this from your own experience. Perhaps they just aren’t great parents.

Dsg's avatar

Wow! All I can think about is my 8 yr old. He can’t take care of himself! He would have been afraid and uncomfortable. Hopefully they had a brain cramp or something. That is totally unacceptable! You were wonderful to take the 7 yr old into your home. Well done! I would have to say something to his parents. Are you going to mention anything to the parents?

bkcunningham's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate you know in your heart that it is wrong. You don’t even need to ask. Yes, of course it is wrong. It is wrong for an 11 year old to be left alone to take care of a 7 year old. I understand that people have to work, but they should have better arrangements for the children. Like @wundayatta said, it is illegal in most states for an 11 year old to be left alone, let alone tending to a 7 year old.

It is very sad to me, but I suppose they are doing the best they can do. How late can you leave your child at the after-school program, @WillWorkForChocolate?

Dsg's avatar

Usually the after school programs close at 6 pm. I agree with you @bkcunningham . Its not right. They need to find a better solution. They would feel forever guilty if something happened to those children. And is working late worth that? Not to me.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It depends a little on the kid. I had responsibilities and was taking care myself by that age. But the fact that he came to you tells me he wasn’t ready for it. Definately a fail.

bkcunningham's avatar

You were left home alone at 7 years of age, @Adirondackwannabe?

DWW25921's avatar

It’s a fail and a major oversight. Although I will say they know that they have good neighbors that they can trust if anything happens. Before you’re to hard on them consider that maybe they trusted you. Clearly, that trust is valid.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Thanks for the great answers, guys.

@DWW25921 The problem is that these parents seem to really take me for granted. Their kids come over all the time, and walk into the house like they own the place. Things have changed a little bit since I set down some firm boundaries, but still the lack of manners from the entire family just astounds me.

I’m glad that I’m here to help out and be a good neighbor, but so many times it feels like I’m running a free daycare.

@bkcunningham I think our school’s ROCK program only goes until 5:30 or 6. But these kids never go there anyway, so I doubt the parents would have paid for the little one to go today. They may have simply assumed, “Hey, Abby’s always home, he can just go hang at her house.” They seem to do that a lot.

bkcunningham's avatar

I know you feel used, but I’m thankful there are Abbys in the world. So are those kids. <3

DWW25921's avatar

I do understand. It’s happened to my wife and I as well. There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. You have no idea how your example will influence them. Just do your best. It’s annoying yes, but you can be a helper without being an enabler. There’s a fine line there… Somewhere…

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Jeruba Oh, I couldn’t agree more! This is why I allow the boys to come over here so often. They were home by themselves almost every weekday during the summer also. Most of the time, they ended up over here.

I will, on rare occasion, let my 11 and 6 year olds stay home for 15–20 minutes if I have a really quick errand, but they have incredibly strict rules while I’m gone, and I call at least once to make sure the house hasn’t blown up or something. But any longer than 20 minutes and they have to go with me, like it or not. I’m just not comfortable leaving them on their own like that. Especially not for several hours like the kids across the street. I refuse to put that terrifying burden of responsibility on my 11 yr old daughter’s shoulders. She still thinks she’s at fault for her little sister’s head injury two years ago. Poor kid.

@bkcunningham Thanks, dollface. I’m pretty glad there are bkcunningham’s in the world. :)

DWW25921's avatar

I think you’re on top of it. As long as you don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of I think you’re doing a good service. I had to kick out my little extra recently. It was hard to do but sometimes you have to consider what’s best for everyone. I became an enabler and I wasn’t being helpful at that point.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@bkcunningham I was doing farm work at 7 and 8. It just came natural to take care of myself.

jca's avatar

In the county I work in, that would be a child welfare issue, and the parents would probably be subject to arrest (in fact I know they would).

Jeruba's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate, as is so often the case, I’m sensing that there’s a question behind the question.

The real issue here is not whether the 7-year-old ought to have been left alone—I don’t believe you’re in any doubt about that—but the fact that these neighbors are taking advantage of you. And it goes way beyond manners, or the lack of them. They’re presuming upon your sense of responsibility by shirking theirs, and without even having the grace or decency to talk with you about it and ask if you’re willing to fill that role.

What’s more, it seems to me that there’s a potential liability there—that you’re assuming a risk of some kind by taking the part of the surrogate parent, without even having a formal understanding with their parents about it. What if you had to respond to a medical emergency with one of these kids, for example? Or what if you had to make a judgment call that the parents turned out to deeply disagree with?

I don’t like the position you’re in, neighborliness notwithstanding, and I don’t think it’s wise for you to let it continue without a frank discussion with the parents.

At the very least, they owe you the courtesy of asking your consent to use you as a free babysitting service.

cazzie's avatar

If this type of scheduling conflict happens in my house, I am the one who has to stop what they are doing and go home. I do this because I’m a mom and a step-mom. If I know this is going to happen and I feel like I could possibly ask a favour of a neighbour or a parent of one of my son’s friends, I call the day before and ask.

I know that there are kids in our neighbourhood that are locked out of their homes until their parents come home in the evenings. They know that they can come to our house if the weather is bad or simply ask for a sandwich or a bowl of cereal if they are hungry.

This is a slippery slope. In my experience there are some parents that feel they can slack off their responsibility if there is a handy dupe who will do the work for them and they use emotional blackmail to do it. Let them know you do not like to be taken advantage of.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Are they always like that?

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Thanks you, @Jeruba. I do want to talk to them about it, but I’m not really sure how to say what I want to say without sounding like a total bitch. I feel like saying, “It makes me uncomfortable that you leave your children home alone like that, and it’s actually illegal” would be met with, “It’s none of your business” and their kids wouldn’t be allowed to play with mine during regular hours anymore.

Jeruba's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate, you can’t be responsible for preventing someone else from breaking the law, but you can certainly speak about how their actions affect you. For example, you might say that you are troubled by their unspoken expectation that you will look after their children in their absence and you think they ought to check with you beforehand when they’re expecting your children to go to your house. You might also say that you don’t want to assume the risk of having to make decisions about child care without having a clear understanding with them that covers both everyday and emergency situations.

If you really want their kids to feel free to come over, and you’re making good use of the opportunity to do a little parenting by your own standards, and you don’t want this situation to come to an end, that changes things a little bit (a lot, actually). You can still tell them what you will and won’t do. For instance, you might insist that they supply phone numbers and insurance information in case one of the children gets sick or meets with an accident.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Some very good ideas. Thanks!

Jeruba's avatar

If you had a doctor’s appointment for one of your children during those after-school hours, would you or wouldn’t you take the neighbor children along if they were (without prior arrangement) camped out at your house?

What about if it was a church activity that was going to expose these kids to a religious setting other than that of their parents?

What if one of those kids bounced on your sofa and broke it? What if he bounced on your sofa, fell off, and broke his arm?

Seaofclouds's avatar

Joining in late, but this definitely sounds like they dropped the ball somewhere. Whether it be that they forgot the older child wouldn’t be home at the normal time, that they just failed to make arrangements for the younger child, or that their plans fell through, something definitely doesn’t seem right with the situation.

I suppose they could have felt that the 7-year-old could handle it. As far as how legal that is, it just depends on where you are. Most states don’t have an actual law about the age a child can be left alone, just recommendations of an age. Personally, I wouldn’t leave a 7-year-old home alone.

@WillWorkForChocolate I hope you do get a chance to talk to them. I think @Jeruba had some great ideas for approaching them. Hopefully you can have a good talk with them that won’t impair the relationships your children and their children have.

Bellatrix's avatar

I concur with the idea that talking to them would be very helpful. Using some of @Jeruba‘s suggestions for things that could go wrong gives you an ‘in’ to talk to them. Not in a judging way but as a ‘concerned neighbour’. I am not making excuses for them but like @Seaofclouds I do wonder if there is more going on than you are aware of. Being more informed will give you a better sense of whether you want to help by being there for the children or not. @WillWorkForChocolate, I think they are lucky to have a neighbour who actually cares.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I keep this a one time thing, or do they do this kind of thing often? We’ve ALL had parenting fail at some point or another, quite by accident.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Well, that’s the first time I’ve seen the little one by himself like that. But the parents’ absence in general is a very frequent thing.

They never even told me “thank you” for having him over that day. Or any day. Fucking &$# %&#% $#%% ^&% &#%^&!!!!!! UGH, bad day. Shitty mood. I’ll avoid my own question for the time being.

blueiiznh's avatar

^ nuf said.

Dutchess_III's avatar

So…when they’re absent, they have the little one with them?
Not thanking you is really rude!

bkcunningham's avatar

If they thank you that means they have to acknowledge how f-ing irresponsible behavior.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Dutchess_III No, when they’re gone, both the 11 yr old and the 7 yr old are home alone. Until they decide to walk in my front door, play on my playstation and eat my food. I had to tell them I couldn’t afford to feed them every day anymore. So they went back home to make a sandwich or soup for lunch. Mind you, this happened all summer long. Every. Single. Day. I even took them to the grocery store with me because I felt bad for leaving them alone. During the school year, they still come over most days, but it’s only after school for a few hours instead of all damn day.

And I’m getting all worked up again. FML

jca's avatar

The parents are taking advantage of you and taking you for granted.

Dutchess_III's avatar

What are the parents doing every day?

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Working or running errands or whatever tickles their fancy.

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