Bernadette Lynass from Family Mediation offers advice
Both my husband and I work full time and we usually arrange childcare for our daughter over the school holidays. However, she is now almost 15 and says she is able to look after herself while we are at work. She is probably right, and it would save us quite a bit of money, but I have some concerns about how she’ll cope being home alone for more than an hour or so. Is it legal, and how can we make sure she is OK when we are not there?
Scottish law does not state an age at which children can be left at home alone; what it does state is that it is an offence to leave any child alone if it puts them at risk.
Children and young people vary greatly in their levels of maturity and ability to cope in different situations, and you are right to question how your daughter might deal with it. Sit down as a family, talk openly about any concerns you have and involve your daughter in making decisions. But if, as parents, you don’t feel confident that she is ready for this responsibility, you have a duty to protect her.
You say you both work full time. This could be quite a long period for your daughter to be looking after herself. Perhaps she could visit relatives on some days or enrol in a local club? Ask about flexible working hours, which will help you explore your options during holiday periods.
If you do decide to leave your daughter unsupervised, provide contact details, making sure that if you will not be available then someone trusted can always be contacted. Talk through what to do in emergencies and discuss boundaries – are you happy for friends to visit, for example?
In wanting to protect our children we can sometimes forget that they are growing up. It’s important to let them develop at a pace that keeps them safe while encouraging independence.
My girlfriend’s parents have offered to take us and our son on holiday to Italy this year. They are a nice enough couple and I am grateful, but I’m not sure spending two weeks with them is my idea of a relaxing time. I can’t afford to provide a holiday like this myself. Should I just bite my tongue?
Going on holiday with family members can be tricky, especially if they have paid for the trip – it can make you feel like you have little control over how you spend your time. If you are able, contributing to the cost might make you feel better.
Although your girlfriend might be happy to spend a couple of weeks with her parents, it’s understandable that you have reservations. This needs to be handled carefully if you want to avoid causing offence. Be sure to acknowledge your appreciation of the offer, and remain tactful.
Talk to your girlfriend and explain how you are feeling. She is in a better position to negotiate the details that could make the holiday work for everyone, such as separate accommodation or factoring in time for you all to do your own things.
With careful planning, your family could have a great holiday with the added benefit of having some extra help to keep your son entertained. It is also an opportunity for you to get to know your son’s grandparents better.
However, there are a number of less expensive options closer to home that you could look into instead, should you choose not to take up their offer.
• Bernadette Lynass is project co-ordinator of Connecting Generations, Family Mediation, South Lanarkshire
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