Brigid Schulte -- A Working Mother Finds Nowhere for Her Latchkey Kid to Go But Home Alone

By Brigid Schulte
Sunday, September 27, 2009

At 3:30 the other afternoon, my 11-year-old son called me at work to say he'd just gotten back from school. He was home alone. And would be for nearly three hours.

"No TV," I said.

"I know."

"No killing things on the computer."

"I know," he said, sounding bored.

I told him where to find the bagel he hadn't finished for breakfast, told him to do his homework, reminded him to get to his drum lesson a few blocks from our house at 4:30 and told him I loved him.

"Love you, too." He hung up.

I felt just awful.

With the start of sixth grade this year, my son, Liam, officially became a latchkey child.

School lets out at 3:15. My husband and I both work and often don't get home until well after 6. When Liam was in elementary school, there were at least four different formal after-school programs that filled the gap between the end of his school day and the end of our workday. (His 8-year-old sister is in one a couple of blocks from her school.) But once he hit middle school, I panicked. The little that was available for his age group wasn't right for him.

The YMCA in Alexandria, where we live, accepts kids ages 5 to 12, but the program is geared toward younger children and has only two over the age of 9 enrolled. Liam refused to go. "Too babyish." And he didn't sound ready for the rec center's drop-in tween program, which, its brochure said, offers discussion groups on "pregnancy and prevention, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc."

I asked other working parents of middle-schoolers in my neighborhood what they do. I got back a range of messages, some sounding as guilty and harried as I felt, about hoping to cobble together a mix of after-school clubs, sports or band practice, afternoons at the library or with a friend with an at-home parent, music lessons, tutors or babysitters.

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