I left our 11-year old son at home alone while I ran some errands. He used a ladder to reach some sports equipment in the garage, and fell and broke his collar bone. I feel horrible. I can't get passed the guilt that I allowed my son to come to harm. What can I do?
I am sorry that your son broke his collar bone and that you are plagued with guilty feelings, As uncomfortable as it is, it is very normal for you to feel this way. As a Mother, it is perfectly normal to want to protect your children from all kinds of injury. As difficult as it may be to accept, we simply cannot. From the time our children begin to crawl, we have to balance letting our children go, learn, explore, and develop with keeping them safe. Of course, we can never achieve an absolute degree of protection, but there are guidelines and information out there that we can learn from.
Unfortunately, sometimes we parents learn what to do and what not to do just as our children do: from experience. It is tempting to flail your head against the wall of mental anguish, tormenting yourself with what you could have and should have done. But it is unproductive.
I don't know the circumstance of why you left your son at home or for how long. I am going to encourage a couple of tasks for you, some of which may feel uncomfortable. First, accept that you may have misjudged the situation. Your guilty feelings can be a great source of information for you. Explore your guilty feelings. What specifically are do you feel guilty about? I suspect your first answer will be, "I feel guilty because he got hurt." Try extending that statement with, "I feel like I should have known this would happen because ...." Is it the length of time, the impulsivity of your child, unclear instructions?
Whatever it is, seek to know it. The goal of this exercise is NOT to give you permission to further punish yourself, but to seek awareness about what you'd like to do better. Perhaps you assumed that it was normal to leave your 11 year old child at home. Many do. Perhaps you didn't want face the battle or inconvenience of bringing him with you. Perhaps you became distracted with other errands and left him at home longer than you intended. Or perhaps you assumed that he knew the 'dos & don'ts' of staying safe. It could be any of these or something else entirely. Whatever it is, come to know it, accept it, and strive to learn from it.
Now begin the research guidelines on raising your 'Tween' child balancing safety with letting go. Sometimes, as parents, it seems more apparent that we need information and education about raising our younger children. They are brand new, and we are brand new parents. Our inexperience as parents is very apparent. When the children get older, we may feel like we are experienced parents, but indeed parenting tweens and teens is different from parenting toddlers and younger children. Seek more information.
Following are a couple of websites that have guidelines for keeping children safe: www.latchkey-kids.com and www.safeKIDS.org. Browse them, but don't stop there. Read and discuss extensively on the topic of raising tweens and teens. As a general guideline, it is recommended to begin leaving children at home for short periods of time when they are 12 years old. If they are impulsive, it is recommended to start later, perhaps at 13 years old.
Finally, recognize that hanging on to guilty feelings not only does not help you, it does not help your son. Accepting what has happened, learning from your experience, and being proactive for the future will help you move forward and be even more prepared for successfully parenting your son as he moves toward adolescence.
Best Regards -
About Author / Additional Info:
Lauren Trecosta is a Licensed Professional Counselor offering virtual Individual, Relationship and Group counseling through SKYPE webcam and teleconferencing. In-office counseling is available on a limited basis.