Could your children survive alone for three days? Some intrepid friends of mine put this question to the test. They let their daughter Lucy, 9, and their son Tristan, 7, look after themselves for three days during the school holidays.
The parents were on hand at all times but they would only come to the rescue in emergencies. Aside from that, the kids were totally in charge of their own laundry, cooking, dishes and even bed times.
A few basic rules were established at the outset. Communal spaces needed to stay tidy and the children still had to ask if they wanted to borrow any of Mum and Dad’s stuff.
“Mum and Dad” are Fiona and Karl Summerfield. Fiona is a writer who blogged her way through the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes. In the weeks and months following the big shakes, her blog Somewhere Writing gave rare insight into what everyday life was like for a family in the quaky city.
The Summerfields have since moved to Nelson where they now apparently conduct social experiments on their children, much to the delight of anyone reading Fiona’s blog.
Her entry the night before the three-day survival experiment reads: “Tonight [Lucy and Tristan] are very confident of their cooking ability and filled with the joy of the idea of setting their own bedtime and having supper. Their clothes are all clean and packed away in their drawers ready for the next three days. Let’s see how the next three days pans out.”
The next three days pan out pretty well, actually. The Summerfields are a foodie family and the kids are obviously quite at home in the kitchen. Lucy and Tristan are savvy enough to plan their meals in advance, which results in an impressive menu stacked with pancakes, meatballs and chocolate cake.
Fiona and Karl watch “like UN observers at an election”. They make suggestions where appropriate but mostly keep out of it. When Tristan asks for help to melt the butter for his chocolate cake, Fiona reminds him that he has to do it himself. When eggs break by accident, no one races to the supermarket for replacements.
The most hands-on the parents get is to help with the tamper-proof lid on the dishwasher powder. Fiona writes: “I am sure with their powers of destruction they could have got into it – but I would rather the container still be in one piece at the end of three days.”
Being in charge means the kids are also have to resolve their own disputes. “A big argument arises over the hanging of the washing. Tristan comes to see us, to win us to his side but we tell him they have to sort it out. After some full volume yelling they work out their differences and the job is done.”
By day two the kids are getting tired, having stayed up until 9.30 the night before and Tristan having slept in his clothes to save a bit of washing.
The kids enjoy the experiment but it does culminate in another big argument on day three, with Lucy yelling: “You have no idea how tired I am. All the cooking I have done for you!”
As a parent myself I found the children’s concluding insights particularly satisfying.
Tristan: “Being an adult is actually quite hard. You can’t just stay on the computer all day because you have jobs to do.”
Lucy: “Don’t take parents for granted, they do a lot of work.” She says she now understands why her mum and dad don’t go to bed when she does because there is always more work to be done.
At one point during the experiment Karl suggests, “Being an adult is not as much fun as you think is it?” The answer returns with a unified yell: “No.”
You can read Fiona’s full account of the three-day survival experiment at somewherewriting.blogspot.co.nz.
First published in Bay of Plenty Times 25 July 2014. Reproduced with permission.