Use baby steps: This is a big decision, and it may seem overwhelming. Use baby steps to acquire the necessary information to make an informed choice. A baby step is the most ridiculously easy step you can take in the next 5 minutes. Set your phone alarm for 5 or 10 minutes while you search for “summer child care options” on the internet or make a phone call to a friend. When the alarm goes off, bookmark or jot down the options, and then stop. You’re done for this baby step session. When any task feels too big, break it down into smaller steps.
You determine when it’s okay to leave them home alone: Just because the law says that your 11 year old can stay home alone doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for you. Every kid is different. I used the guideline that when my kid was old enough to responsibly handle baby-sitting jobs with ease, then they were ready to stay home alone. For my eldest, this was at age 11 (she could also have held down a job and planned a dinner party at 11! That’s why she now holds a big-time production job; the kid is a rock). With my middle child, it was 14, with lots of telephone supervision from me. If you’re leaving your kids at home, make sure you have a plan for check-in times as well as activities/chores for the day. Make the plan together, so that they take ownership of the decision. This will teach them independence and accountability; two things all parents want for their children.
Use your own family values to guide you: Don't feel pressure to be just like everyone else; do what feels right to you! If your family values are centered in creativity, sending your kid to a structured math camp is not the best choice for you, regardless of how prestigious it is. Maybe an afterschool program that focuses on art would be a better fit. Figure out what's important to your family values, and make a decision that feels right in your gut.
If you follow the above steps, you will make the right decision for you and your kids, regardless of their age and your circumstances. Keep gathering information and asking for help, until you reach a decision that feels good to you; then accept it and move on. Waffling on a decision produces stress and wastes energy that you could be using for a higher purpose. We only have so much energy every day; wasting it by worrying is counter-productive. All we can do as a parent is to make the best decision right now given the information that we have. It won’t be perfect, because nothing ever is, but if it’s made from a calm loving place, then you and your kids will be just fine.
Terri Fedonczak is a certified Martha Beck Life coach, award-winning parent/teen counselor, and author of the just released Field Guide to Plugged-In Parenting …Even If You Were Raised by Wolves. Visit her website, girlpowerforgood.com, for more information.