New Freedoms with a Tween and a Teen

Independence abounds in our house this fall. It's not always predictable, but it is taking shape. At 11 years old, Liam is old enough to be at home on his own more often now. I'm still a bit nervous going out beyond three miles from our house in the evening and leaving him alone. Last night, Bill and I went with our friends to a musical at a theater 14 miles from our house. I dimmed my phone, set it to vibrate, and sat with it on my lap the whole show. At intermission, I called home.

"Hi, Mom. I've made my cup of noodles and I'm fine." That's how Liam answered the phone. I reminded him what time Will would be home from gymnastics. And that Liam needed to go upstairs at 9 p.m., away from hand-held electronics and to our bedroom. When we got home at 10 p.m., Liam was upstairs watching TV in our bedroom, and Will confirmed he had gone up to bed a half hour earlier. I don't know if that's true. Part of me hopes that when they saw the car come in the drive, Liam raced upstairs, and Will covered for him. I like to believe there is a bit of an alliance between them -- a joint brotherly independence.

Last Friday night, Bill was out of town and I went to Boston with a friend for the evening, leaving the boys to their own devices until midnight. When I got home, Liam was in bed fast asleep and Will was hanging out in his bedroom. All was calm.

I'm reveling in this new-found freedom. On evenings when Bill and I are both going out, and I'm fussing over what to get the boys for dinner, it's refreshing when Liam quells my worry, "Mom, I won't starve. I'll just make a cup of noodles."

Then, Will chimes in, "Yeah, EZ mac in the microwave works for me."

We are traveling new territory in the mornings too. Will gets up to his own alarm, showers, makes breakfast, and packs his own lunch. Liam comes down and turns on the TV. I've spent each morning the first month of school hovering and poking at him to eat, pack his backpack, and make his lunch. This morning, I couldn't take watching any more tween shows at 6:45 a.m. I made breakfast for Liam and told him to turn the TV off at 7:30 and finish getting ready for school. Then I went to the office and shut the door to eliminate noise coming from the Nickelodeon channel. It was a productive half hour for me, and at 7:30 I heard the TV go off, and at 7:45, "Mom, I ready!"

Note to self: No need to hover. The magic of self-regulation seems to be taking hold!

After school pick-ups have also changed for the better. I pick Liam up first at 2:15 and take him home, then get back on the road to pick up Will at 2:45. And a strange thing is happening with each of them: conversation. Liam needs to release loud verbal energy in the car. Will needs a quiet drive with minimal conversation. I need harmony. Again with Liam old enough to be on his own, this is all doable.

I've heard parents talk about their expanded freedom when their kids can drive, but there isn't as much talk about this stage. Perhaps, because it's nerve-racking. Plus, there are no hard and fast rules as to when this independence is appropriate.

(Coincidently, reflecting back to 1976, I was 10 years old and babysitting. Yup, when Elvis died I heard the news while I was taking care of two little girls. I probably even fed them and did the dishes while their parents were working.)

We have several carpools in place to get many kids from A to B throughout the week; however, I've always brought Will home from school -- nearly an hour roundtrip. A parent who lives nearby reached out to me about carpooling our sons home from afterschool band practice. It's not a regularly scheduled ride share, so we juggle it every week depending on what days work best for each of us. Yesterday morning, I got a text, "I can bring Will home today if he can wait until 4:00." Yes, thank you!

I reminded Will what this parent's car looked like and to go to the pickup point on time. At 4:00 I smiled, happy to have this little system worked out and to not be on the road. I was working in the office while Liam and his buddies were playing outside. At 4:30, I still hadn't seen Will and was worried that he had forgotten the plan. His phone is dead so I couldn't text or call him. At 4:50, I called the dad who was bringing Will home, and I could tell immediately by the background noise that he was at home, not in his car.

"Did Will forget to meet you at school for a ride home?" I asked.

"What? He's home! I dropped him off about a half hour ago."

"Reeeally?!" I was dumbstruck.

"Yeah, he saw his little brother on the tramp with his buddies and said something like, 'I'm going straight to my room.'"

"Aha... OK. Well, thank you!"

Our office has two doors; the one closest to the stairs to the second floor had been shut. I opened it and went up to find Will doing homework on his bed.

"Hi, Mom."

"Hi, Will. I didn't know you were home... I've been a little worried since 4:30, and I just called Mr. Smith to see where you were."


"Just let me know whenever you get home. A simple 'Hi Mom' will do." I won't thwart your independence. Let's just get on the same page.

Will gave me a nod and thumbs-up in reply.

I sent the dad a quick text: "I found my kid..." accompanied by an embarrassed emoji.