A Parenting Dilemma

A neighbor once offered to take care of my baby when I went out. “Don’t worry,” she assured me. “His crying won’t bother me.” Since I don’t ignore crying babies whether they are mine or not, I didn’t agree to watch the neighbor’s baby the next couple of times she asked me. I might have enjoyed a reciprocal arrangement, but only if the neighbor shared my parenting style. And I didn’t want to provide daycare.

I am finding myself in a similar situation now. My four-year old and I pick up my first-grader, Y, from school each day. On the way home we enjoy a snack in the park, where Y unwinds and tells me about his day. Afterward, the kids play in the nearly empty playground; they’ve missed each other. I bring along a book or just soak in the “winter” weather.

The other day a boy in my son’s class, B, joined us on our walk home. When he realized we were going to the park, he stuck around. He stayed until we left half an hour later, and continued walking with us in the direction of our homes.

Y is not friendly with B, but I happened to meet his mother at the parent-teacher conference. She and her husband own a store, and she has another job besides. I asked her how B gets home, because I had once noticed him wandering around the neighborhood after school. She said that his older brother, who usually finishes school later, takes him home. She said something about B visiting the toy store sometimes.

When I got to school the next afternoon Y was standing with B, who informed me that he was coming to the park with us. I could hardly say no. At the park he told me about his very rich father, how thin cellphones like his are much better than the kind I have, and how his 12yo brother takes a taxi to the parents’ store to work there after school, leaving him alone and bored at home. He said that he has a housekey and lets himself in after school. I have no idea how much of this is accurate. He kept asking us when we were leaving the park, and when I said not yet, B left by himself. I didn’t want to walk home with him again. Y said that he saw B walk back toward the school, perhaps to meet his brother. If he has to wait for 45 minutes for his brother anyway, I can see why he might prefer the park to the schoolyard.

No one seems to wonder where he is during the hour after school lets out. The thin cellphone never rang. My husband said I should call the mother, but I don’t see the point. If he is supposed to be in the schoolyard during those 45 minutes, then she can tell him that he has to stay on school grounds. But if he’s supposed to walk home by himself, is it my place to tell her to make sure he goes straight home? Especially to an empty house? And what if he goes against her instructions?

It’s not B’s fault that he is neglected on his own during the afternoon. He needs warmth and an adult presence. But he’s not an orphan, and I’m not a daycare provider. Our school, on the other hand, provides afterschool daycare. Y enjoys the company of B, who is a bit of a clown, but my four-year-old did not appreciate someone else taking Y’s attention. And I will cease to enjoy our time in the park if B attaches himself to us every day.

Tomorrow my daughter asked me to come straight home after school, because she will return early with a friend. Maybe if I don’t stop in the park for the next few days, B will forget about my family’s routine. I’m open to other suggestions.

Update: I told the school counselor that I had seen B wandering around the neighborhood after school. I suggested that he might be better off in the afterschool program. She seemed concerned and promised to look into it. I also mentioned that Y was much happier and she said, “I know.”


  1. Ein li Milim!!
    (I am speachless)

  2. my s-i-l had a situation like this. A latch-key-kid who found that at her house, there are things like adults and lunch…
    These parents are clueless. They think that if you can trust the child to call the fire department if the house goes up in flames, then they’re big enough to be on their own.
    I suspect that talking to the parents won’t help. They really don’t see it as neglect. They don’t understand the difference between leaving a 7 year old alone and leaving a 12-year-old alone.

  3. Unfortunately when you live in a country where the ‘normal’ crime is generally suicide bombers and Kassam rockets, people tend to not think about kidnapping or rape, never mind accidental poisoning or getting hit by a car.
    Perhaps talk to the mother and let her know that her 7 year old wanders all over the place and perhaps she should look into this after-school program.

  4. as they say, “God is babysitting”

  5. If they’re so “rich”, why can’t they spend some extra shekels to make sure the kid is well cared for?
    Sometimes my first-grader will point out another first-grader walking home alone. And it always shocks and upsets me, even after living here all these years. There is just no way I’d let my 6-yr-old take care of himself like that. I don’t even let him cross the street alone!
    I agree that the kid’s mother will probably laugh off your concerns if you raise them to her, though I think I’d try talking to her once.

  6. Is this a dilemma because you don’t know how to deal with it or because you don’t know whether you want to get involved? If you truly believe the child is endangered you have an obligation to warn his parents (lo ta’amod).

  7. mominisrael says

    Isramom, the problem is that in Israel it’s considered perfectly normal for 6yos to walk around by themselves. If he’s in danger, so are a thousand other kids. But that attitude is changing. Anyway, see my update to the post.
    RR, based on their building, I am not sure that they are rich. Not that that means anything. But there are a lot of reasons a father might tell a child that they are very rich.

  8. the problem is the parents dont see it as endangered. you might say that you noticed that he likes to hang out with your other kids, has been following you to the park, but that you need to go straight home sometimes and cant take him every day and that maybe he’d enjoy the afterschool program. but i dont know if she’d respond, or just say ok, then dont take him every day.
    i dont know if i’d get involved though. i’d be concerned about being seen as the crazy overprotective american, which is the easiest way to write you off.

  9. Frum in Tokyo says

    It’s hard to watch a kid who just wants his Ima/Abba just like your Y has. I have to say I also changed up my plans for a bit in hopes the child would forget. It did work but I still felt guilt, so I wrote a note to the mom telling her I could occasionally help if she needed it. She never took me up on it specifically. They eventually ended having such problems that they had to send some of their kids away to relatives….I ended helping then behind the scenes. We do have a responsibility for each other (kol aveivim zeh l’zeh)

  10. You absolutely did the right thing – if you didn’t have that updated info at the end of the post, I was going to leave a comment to that effect.
    I can understand the expectations being different in a different culture/country, but here’s what I’ve always taught (I used to do in-service training for mental health professionals on reporting requirements): you don’t know how many other people have possibly called in or given notice about a chi
    ld or situation – you could be the one that finally gets authorities, or people in a position to do something, to actually say, “You know? This situation needs attention.”
    Another way to look at it might be: how might you feel if you could easily have said something to someone without worry of overreaction but didn’t, and something did happen to the child?
    I don’t say that to feel guilt but rather to use as a barometer for how hard is it to make a comment to someone who could then take it further if it needs to go further?
    Anyway – I totally understand. I went to pick up my kids one rainy rainy gloomy dark afternoon and there were two boys standing outside in the rain. They said they were waiting for the aftercare bus to take them to another part of the school campus (from 4:30 to whenever – I’m not sure what time) but the bus was no where in sight, all other kids were gone and no adults were waiting with them while they stood there getting soaked. One boy was a first grader, the other a second grader.
    I knew there were adults a few hundred feet away inside the school building across a bridge that the kids go over everyday between the bus loop and the school, but why they weren’t outside until the kids were safely passed off, I have no idea.
    So I called the head of the afterschool stuff who knows me very well, she sounded in shock and came up in her own car to get the boys. What was a little disconcerting was that she appeared to be upset that there was no adult waiting with the boys who could have done what I did, but the boys told me that no adult ever waits with them to see that they get picked up.
    Anyway – there was no way I was going to let those boys stand in the rain and it wasn’t reasonable to think that they would go in my car with me down to the building where they needed to be – they didn’t know me and kids just wouldn’t get in a car with a stranger, no matter helpful it was obvious I was being.
    Again – I think you did exactly the right thing. đŸ™‚

  11. Goodluck with this dilemma. I doubt you will have much in common with the parents to begin with, yet it is hard to just turn your back.
    About a year ago, I noticed a boy crossing a busy street unsafely. Other kids have been hurt her and it is an issue. He was attempting to dart and then went back and I started to slow, he started to dart, and then he got back on the sidewalk. I rolled down my window and asked his name and realized we knew the parents. So I called the mother to explain the situation and express my concern and she gave me the cold shoulder and has yet to acknowledge me in the store, etc. There was nothing but silence on the phone. I felt like, why’d I bother? But, I know if he got hurt my conscious would not rest.

  12. I just moved to Israel and I’m shocked that what I consider neglect and bening abuse it’s consider normal. And not doing it puts you in the category of “freier” (which I consider a compliment because it is the type of behavior I want). So my general question is how to do raise a family when all the values that you hold are important go against the norm? I want my children to have better suppervision. I want them to eat healthy and not eat bisli all day long. I want them to have manners, respect people, not cut through the lines, etc.
    It is easy to say that simply do it at home and they will imitate you, but kids spend so many hours in school and with friends. The enviroment has a huge influence on kids and as much as you want them to have you values it seems that you are minority in this country.
    So, my question again, how to you raise kids to have your values and not society’s values?

  13. I wonder, MII, if you could turn Rachel’s questions into a blog post?

  14. mominisrael says

    Tamiri–My thoughts exactly. I’ll try to get it up within the next few hours.

  15. I’m coming in late, but I have to say that I’m not sure I’d consider it “normal” to leave children on their own like that – at least not in my neighborhood. The only place I ever seem to see children alone (and always the same few (apparently related) children is at the playground in the afternoon, but I think they live right there.
    In any case, however common it may or may not be in any given neighborhood, leaving a child to walk home alone is NOT normal – it’s ILLEGAL. Children under age nine are not permitted to cross the street alone, therefore they should not be walking home alone. There are frequent ad campaigns about this, and my son’s school has a huge banner right out in front declaring it in big red letters.

  16. good call on getting the school counselor involved. makes it more neutral than coming from you, and also more likely that something will be done.

  17. Lion of Zion says

    that sound like a nice routine you have in the afternoon
    “good call on getting the school counselor involved. makes it more neutral than coming from you, and also more likely that something will be done.”
    on the other hand, are there any repercussions of getting the school involved? i don’t know how it works in israel, but here once you get the city involved it can really cause long-term problems for parents.

  18. loz: AFAIK, school counselor does not equal city here in Israel. They work for the ministry of education, not social services. Also, the social services here are not as ferocious as they are in the states; they very rarely grab kids out of homes for no real reason, etc.

  19. LoZ: It’s unlikely that the issue will go farther up the food chain. However, if the counselor recommends something, it has more weight than if a random mother suggests it.
    Moreover, if parents are regularly neglecting their child, the authorities should get involved.

  20. I just have to say THANK YOU. I am a divorced woman with 3 kids that has been forced to reenter the “working” world. My house is messy and I am there for my kids when school is over. We eat a hot meal together everyday and each child gets scheduled one-on-one Mommy time….so why the thank you. You are keeping me on track..it would be so easy to let the wave of “norms” wash over me…
    Thanks for reminders of the joys of swimming upstream.
    L’chaim to happy kids!

  21. Lion of Zion says

    “Moreover, if parents are regularly neglecting their child, the authorities should get involved.”
    of course. i didn’t mean to imply the contrary.

  22. westbankmama says

    This is why we need a long school day in Israel. I stayed home until my youngest was 11 – so I was always home when they got out of school, even if it was 1:30 in the afternoon. But most women who work outside of the home can’t get home at this time. The only mothers that can both work and be at home by 2:00 are teachers – and not everyone can be a teacher. That is why I was so angry that the teachers fought the long school day. I have no sympathy for their complaints about bad salaries – because when you look at it they are being paid a normal salary for a part time job, and they are the ones responsible for a lot of children being neglected.

  23. mominisrael says

    WBM–I personally don’t want my 3yo in school until 4PM, as Dovrat would have required, and I like the short day for the younger elementary school kids too. Instead of forcing teachers to work against their will so they can serve as babysitters, and have to leave their babies and toddlers all day, let the government subsidize after school programs for working parents. I posted about this during the strike; you can see the comments over there.
    Thanks to all commenters for their support and for sharing their frustration. I am working on a post to answer Rachel’s questions.
    MCG–Sorry to hear that you are having a rough time. Your kids need you, especially now.
    Robin, I think you’re wrong about crossing streets. The campaign is not backed up by law, but I would love to be proven wrong. Children can stay home alone from age 6.