Three-year-old Madeline McCann disappeared from her hotel room at a Portugal resort after her parents left her alone, sleeping, while they ate dinner at an on-site restaurant about 130 yards away.
I thought about this tragic story during my family’s recent stay at Azul Beach near Puerto Morelos, Mexico, earlier this month — but it didn’t dissuade me from leaving my children, ages 7 and 9, in our ground-floor room alone while my husband and I took a 45-minute walk on the beach, and then ate breakfast on our own at a hotel restaurant.
Was this bad?
I don’t think so. Here’s my defense:
- We put the “Do Not Disturb” signs on the doors, so housekeeping would leave them alone.
- We closed the sliding glass door, but made sure they knew how to open it.
- We made sure they knew to call “0″ in an emergency to get the front desk.
- We checked in on them in between our beach stroll and our breakfast.
- It’s a tiny resort – just 97 rooms – and they’d found their way around the property within the first hours we were there.
- We leave them unsupervised together for short periods of time at home — say, when I need to get to a PTA meeting, and my husband is on his way home from work, but still 7 minutes away by car; our relatives live next door and they know Grandma’s cell number (please don’t call social services on us).
- They’d eaten room service breakfast and were totally occupied watching cartoons.
- They get along swimmingly, don’t bicker and they watch out for each other.
- They said they were comfortable with it.
- The Kids Club wasn’t open yet and I didn’t want to pay $15/hour for a babysitter to sit in our room while our kids watched TV.
I’m thinking about Lenore Skenazy, the mom who let her nine-year-old son take the subway alone in New York City, as well as the wrath she endured afterwards. “What if something had happened!” commenters on her blog said. “Nothing did happen,” she replied. And she knew her son.
I know my kids, and I know what they are capable of handling. Leaving them unsupervised in a secure hotel room (though, we all know not all hotel rooms are totally safe) for 45 minutes at a time was something they could handle and I felt okay about.
Of course, if something did happen to them, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. The guilt would likely send me to a funny farm. But bad things happen at home, too. Kids are snatched from playgrounds or walking to the bus stop. Accidents happen. We can’t envelope our children in bubble wrap all the time. We’ve got to let them spread their wings so they’ll grow into capable, independent adults.
I admit I left my children alone in a hotel room because it was convenient for my husband and me. But we also feel they were mature enough to do just fine on their own. And they did.
What about your children? How old would they have to be to for you to feel comfortable leaving them by themselves in a hotel room? I’m curious what other parents would have done — or what they do — in this situation.