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Latchkey Kids Are So 1985

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Check out one mom's memory of life as a latchkey kid, the stigma that went with it and how it helped form who she is today.

girl unlocking door

Momlogic's Annie: I remember hearing the term "latchkey kid" all the time when I was a kid -- probably because I was home alone a lot and I watched a lot of television. The term wasn't a good one, and I could sense the stench it left on me when other mothers wouldn't let their kids play with me, or neighbors asked my sister and me where our mother was. Although I understood the stigma, it didn't bother me all that much.

I think that being able to care for myself at a young age (think nine years old) ended up helping me a lot in life. At times, I was pissed that my mother wasn't there, but I figured out ways to make it worth my while. I was resourceful. I did things like buying Lucky Charms with the money she left me and eating that for dinner instead of cooking ANOTHER batch of mac and cheese.

My sister and I became very imaginative in how we had fun, kept busy and took care of ourselves. We had songs for remembering to bring our lunch and lock the door -- I still use the same method today. We came up with countless games that didn't involve toys. Instead we'd use a couch cushion as a boat or my mother's scarves as a veil, helping us to be creative. We started working at the moment we became eligible for papers, which I think instilled in us a good work ethic. Of course when we got older, we took advantage of our freedom in more ways than buying sugared cereal, but nothing left a scar.

I attribute a lot of the confidence I have today to being a "latchkey kid." I don't rely on anyone to take care of me except for me. And I don't get nervous easily. I believe that I could deal with almost anything that is thrown at me. That doesn't mean I didn't miss having my mom around -- because I did. And obviously I know a lot of creative people who are confident with a good work ethic who had parents that were there when they left for school and who were there for dinner.

I thought that "latchkey kids" were a phenomenon that no longer existed, but then I found a 2002 U.S. Census survey that reported 5.8 million (15%) of all children between the ages of five and 14 years old care for themselves an average of 6.3 hours per week. And 65% of those children spent between two and nine hours home alone.

Now that I have a kid of my own, would I want her to be a "latchkey kid"? No way! I think that the 1980s were a completely different era. We lived on a cul-de-sac street where seven out of the nine houses had stay at home moms with "helping hand" signs in the windows. There was no Internet to hurt us and no Head Start to help us. No mother wants this for their child, but I'm hopeful that if my daughter was ever in a situation where she HAD to take care of herself, I'd know it was not the end of the world.


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