Confessions of a Latchkey Kid

An archive post.  Feeling thankful this week and missing my Mom.  Enjoy.   

I am the product of a working mother.  Yes, it’s true.  I was seven when my Mom started working and I wore a gold key on a red and yellow lanyard, tucked inside my parochial school uniform.  I couldn’t actually unlock the door, so a neighbor kid would open it and let me in.  My brother, two years older, went to a different school and got home an hour or so after I did.  Today this would be illegal (Illinois’ current legal age for home alone children is 14).  In 1977 it was merely shameful. 

There are a few very potent memories I have about this status of latchkey kid:  one was really enjoying Brownies, but opting out of Girl Scouts after hearing a neighborhood mom complain about driving me home from the meetings.  I could really rail on this witch, but I won’t.  Who am I kidding?  Of course Imma rail on this witch.  First off, why on earth would she say that in my presence?  Secondly, my Mom didn’t drive, so she would be carting my little Brownie ass around anyway.  Thirdly, her own daughter was a Brownie in my class and we lived a half block away, so really?  Finally, I could name names, but the gal’s daughter is my facebook friend, and even though I haven’t seen her since 1983, who would wantto know that about their mom?  I take great pride in keeping that particular sadness to myself and never shared it with my Mom.  Instead, I said something about not wanting to sell cookies, which my Mom was probably pleased as punch to not have to deal with anyway. 

Another memory I have is standing on a street corner with my Mom.  Get your mind out of the gutter, people!  As mentioned, my Mom didn’t drive when I was little, so every morning she would stand on the corner and wait for another mom who lived a few blocks over to pick her up and drive to their mutual job – – an attendance office for a high school in a neighboring suburb.  My Mom left early, something like 7am, so she woke us up early, made certain we were dressed and fed, and took off a little before my brother and I walked to school.  At that age I hated that my Mom worked.  If I’m honest, I think I was ashamed.  And know that I write that only because my Mom is dead and it can’t hurt her to read those words.  Sigh.  Anyway, every morning I would walk out to the corner with my Mom and hang out with her while she waited for the other gal to pick her up.  Many years later, me all grown, my Mom told me that it just about killed her that I did that.  She felt terrible, she said, guilty as all get out, driving away as I waved.  Now I get it. 

A year or two later, my Mom was laid off from that gig and started working at the local library.  For some reason, I liked her working there more.  Maybe because she really liked it.  She stayed in that position through my college years.  God bless her.  This was full-time work and involved two evenings a week.  At this point I was about 10 and my brother 12.  Double digits.  She and my Dad had a very traditional marriage – – she cooked and cleaned and he didn’t.  So for those two evenings, she taught my brother and I how to make dinner.  It was usually just heating something up she had prepared in the morning, but once in a while I cooked a pork chop or a hamburger.  Not a bad lesson for a 10 year old, I think.  This is when we started doing our own laundry, too.  

Another really sad result of my Mom going to work was her cutting my hair.  I had mad curls and screamed every time my hair was washed or combed because of the tangled mess it gravitated towards.  When my Mom got hired she sat me down and told me it was time to get it cut.  Ouch.  This was 1977, folks, so we went for a Dorothy Hamill do.  Word to the wise:  never give your mop top curly girl a short cut.  It just doesn’t work.  Actually my Mom wore that same do from 1976 until she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004.  She was a knockout with it – – it just totally suited her.  When she stopped styling her hair because the tumor had paralyzed her right side, I was shocked to learn her hair was just as curly as mine. 

Bradley Mom 

(Yes, I went to Bradley.)

So what’s my point?  It’s complicated.  Yes, that’s my point:  it’s complicated.  I have mixed feelings about working and mothering, just as I had mixed feelings about having a mom who worked.  In the end, it worked out.  I was a good kid.  Probably the worst that came from it was that I watched too many ABC afterschool specials, which taught me that if you took PCP you would jump out the window of your high school classroom.  I ate too many Ore Ida Crispers and Steak-Umms for afternoon snack.  I was a little lonely.  None of those are the best things, but none are the worst, either.  It’s hard to imagine my little seven year old self alone for an hour every afternoon and I kind of want to give that girl a hug.  By the time I was a working mother, my Mom had already died.  Just five months earlier.  How I wish I could talk about working and mothering with her – – what it was like for her, what it is like for me.  Sigh again.

Engagement Photo 
(This is totally superfluous, but this is why I fetishize the 1950s.  My Mom’s engagement photo.  My Dad was a lucky man.  Seriously.)

So what about you?  Did your mom work?  How old were you?  Did you, too, wear the key on a lanyard and hang your head in shame?  Talk to Mary Tyler Mom about it.

31 Replies to “Confessions of a Latchkey Kid”

  1. My mom stayed at home. I wish she would have worked. I was jealous of a friend of mine because her mom worked and my friend had “responsibilities.” She had to clean up and do the dishes when she got home from school and start dinner.

    I was a stay at home mom for 25 years. I just recently went back to work part-time. I always wondered what my kids thought about that because I was one of a few moms who didn’t work outside the home. Recently my daughter told me she was so glad that I was there for them!

    Whew! 😉


    1. I love that you love your choice. There are always ups and downs, right, but sounds like you are happy with what you did. Welcome back to the work world. And thanks for reading!


  2. I’m kind of apprehensive about motherhood, probably because I will probably be working full time. My mom was a stay-at-home homeschooling mother. My husband’s mother is also stay-at-home, although she is trying to reenter the workforce now that my sister in law is part way through a Catholic highschool. And nearly all the other mothers I know were stay-at-home.

    I really don’t know what it’s like to be a working mother. I’m afraid I would feel too guilty to leave my child with someone else, and I’m afraid I would feel guilty if I stayed at home after accruing a fair amount of student loans for a master’s degree, and not putting that degree to use. So, I’m grateful when people share the logistics of being a working mother, and the effect it has on children. 🙂


    1. Hi, Holly. Thanks for reading. You should know that some of the best mothers I know work full time. I don’t know how they do it, but they do, with grace and strength. I totally admire them.

      I work part-time and for me, it is best. I stayed at home for four years, starting when Donna was diagnosed, and it is good for me to be back working. Next month will mark one year back.

      For a little while, before Donna was diagnosed, I worked full time to cover for my boss who had some medical issues. I hated it. And I always felt like a failure, always disappointing someone, either at work or home. In the end, I had to rescind my offer to go full time her entire leave and do what was best for my family — return to part time.

      I believe you will find the balance that is best for you. Good luck!


  3. My mom started to work when I was about 10 or so, she got a job at a nearby clothing shop and I loved dropping in to see her. Don’t know why, maybe because she’s always been so happy to see me. The photo of your mom reminds me of my mom’s 1950’s photo. Classic beauties. I clearly remember thinking as a kid my mom was the most beautiful girl in the world. Still do.

    I don’t recall if she was or wasn’t home when I got home from school, I suspect she was. All I remember about coming home from school was eating, then heading out to play some sport with the neighbor boys, all of whom were as crazy about sports as I was.

    Later on she started working as a secretary at law firms but never more than five minutes away from home. I never had a key to the house, we had a six-digit combo to the garage door that let us in. But still don’t recall if I ever came home to an empty house. With three siblings and a mom who worked so close to us it was never empty for long.


    1. My guess is that your Mom would love to hear that you don’t remember, Jimmy, though I would bet a large sum of $ that she does. Moms know these things.

      And wouldn’t it be nice if someday Mary Tyler Son thought I was the most beautiful girl in the world? That is so sweet. I used to tell my Mom, “You’re the most beautiful lady in town!” “What town?,” she would ask. “Africa!,” I would reply. Cracked her up every time.

      Thanks for reading.


  4. I had that haircut, too. My grandma said I looked like a boy. My Mom was a nurse 3rd shift. She was miserable, too — likely due to her lack of sleep. I knew that I wanted to work so I accepted being a working mom. I have never questioned this. The downside is that I will never be part of the neighborhood SAHM club and their events. On the upside, if my husband were to leave, I could support my family. It’s my security blanket.


  5. I was a latchkey kid in the 80’s. It was me and my younger brother. I remember coming home from school, starting laundry, doing our homework and waiting on our parents to get home from their factory jobs. Spending summers doing the yard work and cooking for me and my brother and doing the housework. It is one of the reasons I won’t work while my child is home.


    1. Hi, Theresa. Thank you for reading and posting. It’s great that you stay at home and even more great that you know it is the right choice for you and your kids. Kudos for that!


  6. My parents were both working parents. I never had a SAHM when I was growing up. I never really thought much about it until I was a mom. The first time I went to work I cried. I understood at that moment how hard it was to drop us off at day care and go be a teacher for other kids. The upside to it though, was that my parents, as teachers, got the summers and the weekends off. In looking back on it, we were really lucky. Now, I’m a SAHM to 3 boys working on a college degree. I hope that my boys don’t grow up to dislike that I was home.


    1. I don’t think that is possible, Merritt. I think kids may grouse about it, but my guess is that they loved having you around.

      I remember all my friends telling me I would cry the first time I brought my oldest to her sitter. I didn’t. And still feel guilty about that. Sigh.


  7. My parents divorced when I was about 7 and that was in 1978, when my mom got a secretarial job… but I had a brother 9 years older, so I would walk the block home from school and he was home about 30 minutes afterwards and handled dinner, sending me to take a bath, etc.

    But having a brother 9 years older meant he left the “nest” when I was about 10 (he got married young) and that’s when the real “latchkey” stuff started. I rode the school bus home, came to our apartment, let a neighbor know I was there.

    Sometimes my mom didn’t get home until 7 or 8 because we lived in a Houston suburb and she worked in the city, lots of traffic. So I made a TV dinner, had chores, did my homework, even did laundry for both of us at the coin-op laundromat within the apartment complex.

    The idea of all that scares me (as a mom of 3) because I really was vulnerable, running around the complex and all. I was a SAHM with my kids except for some part time work at their school so they were still with me… then by the time I was working past school hours the eldest was a teen so they never had to be home alone as little ones. I’m glad.


    1. Don’t you just want to hug your ten year old self and make her a good dinner? I have made respect for single parents. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Sherrilynn. And for reading!


  8. Oh, and I had that haircut too. 😉 A longer version though. It was my Grandma’s idea, my mom didn’t like it, but she was glad after to not have to deal with the daily hair “fight” (I had long, straight, fine hair prone to knotting up).


  9. My mother – bless her heart – also worked in a hospital kitchen for my entire life (she was pregnant with me when she started there and I was pregnant with my 1st child when the hospital closed and she left). Mom started at 6am so she was already gone in the morning when we woke up for school. I was the youngest of three daughters and my sisters were responsible for waking me up in the morning but I was responsible for being prepared and getting out the door in time to catch the bus. I too am a latchkey kid – minus the key since in those days we just left the door open. My mom was the most disciplined person I have ever met; she never called in sick, always kept an immaculate home, dinner was on the table everyday at 5pm, and our school cloths and backpacks were laid out for us every evening. We are talking about the late 70’s, early 80’s and I don’t ever remember feeling ashamed or sad that my mother had to work and not stay home but I was ashamed that my parents we’re divorced and my father abandoned his financial responsibilities thus making it impossible for her not to. What my super mother wasn’t able to do was attend school events, concerts I sang in for holidays, or sporting events that I participated in – she was far too worried about being fired for taking time off to attend these. So what I carried over into my own mom duties was to never miss those extra curricular for my two children, even as a worked full time, earned my degree full time, and completed my internship up to 15-20 hours a week simultaneously. I never was able to keep a clean home or cook a home cooked meal every night but I always felt that those things were secondary. You can definitely see the generational differences in working moms thoughts,attitudes, and actions regarding rearin’ the children in the vastly different ways we did so.


  10. Wow, that just made me bawl. thinking of your mom waving good bye to you…my mom worked after my dad left. i was about 9 or 10 i think. i remember the best summer was when she was unemployed & able to collect, as we had food AND i got to have her home with me. Now, i’m 40, just had my baby last January.. I spent the first year with her. The second year I had my mom watch her while I expanded my existing business (doggie day care). Just put the baby, now 22 months in day care a few days a week to get her out of my hair & have her able to play with some friends. I’m hoping by the time she has memories to fall back on, I will be working less & she will be proud of the business I created to provide for her now & hopefully take over when I retire. Now I want to go home & hug my mom AND my baby girl… thanks for writing this…need to go check my mascara….


  11. The more I read your blog, the more I realize how much we have in common, it’s crazy! I think I have told you some of the things we have in common before, and I swear there’s a ticker that adds every time I read something you write. Anyhoo…
    My mom was my mom & dad. Dad was out of the picture for most of my childhood (which was a good thing). For most of my childhood my mom worked too, and when she couldn’t get me from school one of my grandparents did. Which was very fun since they spoiled me rotten! Looking back I realize I spent a lot of time with my mom, as a child & as an adult – so I don’t have any feelings good or bad about her working. And I totally understand your comment about being able to say things since your mom has died b/c it can’t hurt her feelings. I find myself thinking & saying some things too that if my mom (another Donna who died of cancer) were alive still I would be afraid to even think! I NEVER wanted to hurt my mom’s feelings – that was the worst thing ever in my book.
    And your dad was a lucky man! What a fox!! 😉 and I’m a bit in love with all things 1950’s too… see, it’s kinda creepy, eh?


  12. My mum went back to work full time when I was 6 months old, she cooked dinner for us everynight and the house always sparkled, I never thought about it growing up because I had a wonderful big sister who took care of me through my school years (I do remember being jealous because she had the key)

    My own experience is different, I went back 3 weeks after having her but only because she arrived 15 weeks early, she was tiny and not expected to make it so I needed the distraction. I took maternity leave when she was discharged (yay) like my mum I returned to work again when she was 6 months, some days I hate leaving her and others I can’t get to child care fast enough 🙂 but there is always guilt that I’m not with her all the time because I always dreamt of being a SAHM, but in the end you gotta do what ya gotta do 😦


  13. Awww I would have driven you to Brownies and NEVER complained. That woman should be ashamed of herself! I think all of us have our little selves living inside us and mine wants to give yours a great big squwudge (hug). My mom had to go back to work when I was still in grade school and my older sisters were in high school, working and stuff. I must have been a strange kid because I liked that alone time (a very small house with 2 older sisters and 2 parents…alone time was a rare thing).

    Grab a bag of Steak Umms and I’ll hang out with you 😉

    ps – your mom was G O R G E O U S holy smokes. And I like the short hair in the Bradley pic 😉


  14. My mom went back to teaching school when I was in first grade. She actually subbed into my class and I love it/hated it! She got an offer to teach at my gradeschool or another in the district and we decided together that it’d be best for her to go to the other school. I always appreciated her talking to us about that and letting us decide together. Sidenote: my dad worked at a Children’s Home and we had a house on the grounds. I went to school nearby and would walk to his office afterschool and sit in his office, waiting for my big brother to get home from junior high to pick me up, at which point we’d walk down the hill to our house. While I was waiting in his office I would play with the typewriter (remember those?!) and dad would always show me how to correctly place my hands on the keys and which finger to use for every letter. I think it’s why I’m such a kickass typist to this day. He always had a jar of wrapped fudge squares and caramel squares on his desk. Yum!


  15. My mom started working when I was probably 10 or 12. My sister was three years older so she would usually be home after school. My Dad worked a lot and they were both heavily involved in politics, making it nearly impossible to see them at all. That part of it kind of scarred me – I hate politics as a result of that, more than working full time, took my parents away all the time.

    I myself had no choice when my kids were born but to work full time. I hated it beyond words. When my younger daughter was 9 months old I was able to job share and that was great – however, I worked for a crappy company that made the program destined to fail. After awhile I decided to start my own business. Since my kids were 8 and 10 I have done that. It allowed me to always be home after school, always be able to drive them to extra curriculars and attend their events. I could never have been a 100% SAHM since I like working but to be able to do so only during their school hours was ideal. As they got older I was able to put more into my business and grow as they grew. I believe that my kids have learned a good work ethic from me as well as the importance I have put on family – which is and always will be first. Okay, I’ve said enough….!


    1. So Miss MTM, this was supposed to be my reply but I was signed is as my Dad. You mighta figured. And I’d like to kick some witch ass with you. Anytime you’re ready.


  16. My parents owned a restaurant so they were never around. I was left home a lot and at a very young age, with a younger sibling. It sucked; I had to grow up fast, learn to cook, take care of myself and my sibling, with no parents to drive us to meet with friends…ever. IDK if they understood the concept of car pooling but they were not very good at the whole parenting thing.
    I get the shame about other parents, I heard it too. Shameful on their part really, what did we know or what control did we have over it? I rejoiced when I got my license, moved out, started my own life, and now my own family. I definitely know what NOT to do! : )
    BTW, your mom is gorgeous!


  17. My mom worked full-time as a hard charging lawyer my whole life because my abusive father was unable to hold down a job. My grandma took care of me after school until I was 14 and my sister left for college. From then on I was a latchkey kid in the DC suburbs and I was alone from 2:30 pm until about 7pm every day. What did I do with all that time? I found other lonely latch key kids to hang out with and guess what we did? Smoked lots and lots of pot, got into the liquor, and other fun stuff. Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be latch key kids, trust me.


  18. Both my parents worked and I was the elder of my brother. We had a baby sitter that stayed with us. She went to high school and I remember one day walking in on her and boyfriend while his hand was down her pants OMG, so im not sure what is better… I enjoyed my sitter tho she was really kind an very sweet. But as I look back its kind of silly now but I sure wouldnt wont my kids walking into to this. I am a working mother but share custody with my X and my son is 15 so he stays his sister till one of the parents gets home usually about 30 mintes to an hour..


  19. My mom worked and put my dad through college so she could be a SAHM. She stayed home with all my older siblings, and with me until I was 5, which is when my dad left her. He promptly married his current wife, but stayed in the city for a couple more years, before moving to another state. We saw him about once a year after that. My mom was unprepared to return to the work force, and was very depressed for a year or two after my dad left, but I was so little I don’t really remember. My siblings do, though. A lot.

    What I really remember was that as a teacher, she had the whole summer off. We would go on long and winding vacations. Not Disneyland kind of stuff, but cheaper, like visiting family in other states. Sometimes, we’d stay for a month or more. I loved our slow, relaxing summers. We spent a lot of time roasting S’Mores by a campfire, or making sand-mermaids on the beach. By the time I was 13, it was just my mom and me at home. I grew up fast, but also felt like I was a really free spirit.

    Some of the downsides, though, were that she was too tired to do things like help me with homework, or go to parent teacher conferences. I did feel different than the other kids, because my mom didn’t ever come to the conferences, but it didn’t bother me too much. My mom was the softer one of my parents, so with my dad gone, there was not much discipline. For better or for worse, that made me quite a free spirit. It was something I was proud of in my youth, but looking back, I think it contributed greatly to my lack of success as a young adult. In the end, I had to grow up fast and hard because I had a baby in my teens. I lived many years below the poverty level, and really had to fight my way to decent paying jobs. I don’t blame my mom for that. My decisions were my own, and my own responsibility. My mom did a fantastic job, and I knew every single day that I was loved. I never felt abandoned, and didn’t even realize that something was missing without a dad there. My mom sacrificed everything she could give so that we could have a normal life. Music lessons, dance lessons, she always made it happen, and she always made it to every single concert, recital, school play, and Halloween parade. I always hate it when I can’t do that for my own kids.

    I’d give anything to be a SAHM. Especially now that my son has cancer. My husband has a good job, and is able to mostly take care of things, but I do have to work part time to bring in enough for extras – like food and clothes. Since my littlest can’t be in daycare anymore, I work odd hours at night and on the weekends, and it’s an added stress to my family life. When you said working full time made you feel like a failure at work and at home, it was like you had a window into my soul!

    I was a latch key kid, but there were quite a few in my neighborhood – odd, since it was an upper-middle class neighborhood, but EVERYONE’S parents were divorced! It’s eery, really. But I never felt different. We all went home to empty houses. All the kids, from ages 5 – 16 or more, would gather and play a game called Scatter, which is sort of like a way more complicated version of Kick the Can. We’d play it every day till it got dark.

    My kids range in age from 16 (very nearly 17) all the way down to 4 (just barely). I didn’t want them in daycare, or with babysitters, because I was terrified of the things you always see on the news, so for many years I worked at night so that my husband and I could take shifts with the kids. We never had family time together. It was almost like two halves of a single SAHM/D. Once my older kids were in school full time, I started to feel like I never saw them, so I finally left my first son with my SIL so I could work during the day. Then, by the time my second son (the one with cancer) was born, I got a blissful 10 months at home. When it was time to go back to work, I left him with a trusted, and loved neighbor for a year, before putting him into daycare. His daycare was and still is the best thing I ever did for him. They are amazing. So I finally started to embrace working full time – and worked hard to earn a promotion. I was definitely high on the strong internal candidate list, and I started applying for jobs. I had interview requests in my inbox the day of his cancer diagnosis, which went unanswered for six weeks, because I couldn’t even make it into the office to put on my out of office message. I think a career will never be in the stars for me, but at least I still have a good part time job.

    I hope to someday make money with my writing. Then, I could make my own schedule, and spend my working hours doing something that heals my soul.


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