Learning to let go as a parent

My wife and I have left our two daughters on their own on several occasions and, thankfully, nothing drastic happened

So, finally my wife and I have left our two daughters home alone on occasion.

At first, it was only after they had gone to bed. We wanted to resume our date nights, which disappeared since we moved out of my in-laws' place and into an apartment for just the four of us. This meant my mother-in-law was no longer around at night to keep watch over the girls on date nights.

Babysitters? We can't think of anyone we trust if we had to pay them and we didn't want to bother those we did trust, who would not accept payment anyway.

Smartphone-linked Wi-Fi cameras? I've been reading too many reviews to find the best one in the shops and making too few decisions about it.

Hence no more date nights.

Until we thought: It's not really a big deal, right, if we were just down the street, around the corner, at our usual restaurant-cum-drinking hole, which is a five-minute walk from our place?

Parenthood is probably a lifelong journey marked by many significant milestones that we make big plans to reach. Yet when they happen, they happen mostly unremarkably, except for the drama we make of it, especially on social media.

Besides, our girls, who are 10 and seven, know how to call us on the mobile phone if they need us.

And so we did it, but only after giving F and S thorough instructions on what they could and could not do should they wake when we are not at home.

That first date night with the girls home alone, I must have spent as much time looking at the black mirror of my mobile phone as I did at my wife, hoping it wouldn't light up with a call from them.

It didn't and all was right with the world when we returned home two hours later. What a big surprise.

Since then, we have had date nights again in this way and also at Marina Bay Sands, where we had a short staycation last month - how could any married or dating couple not want to hang out at night at the Skypark, which can be romantic despite the hordes?

Well, the first night my wife and I had a Skypark date, it was almost romantic.

She was in the outdoor jacuzzi with a glorious bird's-eye view of Gardens by the Bay. I was standing next to her, outside the jacuzzi, refusing to leave my phone and not wanting the phone to get wet, in case F and S called.

The second night was better: I pulled a deck chair close to the jacuzzi so I had a place to rest my phone, face up and ringer volume at maximum. When I was in the jacuzzi, I think I even managed to look at my wife's face a few times.

Last week, we took another leap - we left F and S alone at home during the day.

It was for only a couple of hours, but while they were awake, they could quarrel bitterly, which they do as often as they play amicably; wander into the kitchen, where untold dangers lurk; make a huge mess, which would be innocuous if I weren't so obsessive-compulsive; and so on.

After making sure the window grilles were secured and watching the girls practise unlocking the main gate themselves (in case of an emergency), my wife and I went out on our own, taking an extremely calculated risk.

Again, our phones didn't ring with a call from them and we returned to a home much like the one we had left - no burst water pipes or anguished wailing, no fires or fights, no messes or general misery (theirs or mine).

It was so normal, so placid, it was surreal.

Parenthood is probably a lifelong journey marked by many significant milestones that we make big plans to reach. Yet when they happen, they happen mostly unremarkably, except for the drama we make of it, especially on social media.

Their first solid foods, their first steps, their first words, their first time off diapers, their first time off diapers at night, their first successful attempt at reading on their own, their first time going to a public toilet on their own, their first day at school, their first day at school camp...

In hindsight, these have all happened with F and S so seemingly naturally, I could feel redundant as a parent or I could feel silly for having stressed myself over them in the first place.

Some of us may like to think that our parenting instincts are somehow mostly correct, that we can do no serious wrong if we love our children. In fact, I believe most parents' instincts are as often wrong as they are right and we are as often over-protective as we are under-protective.

In the United States recently, a mother was charged with child endangerment after she left her four children - aged six to 12 - alone at home while she took a 10-day vacation in Europe. Early reports did not describe how independent her children were or if she had left food at home for them, but the kids were taken away from her anyway. When the police contacted her, she saw no wrong in what she did.

Here in Singapore, I have heard of a couple who left their child alone at home to sleep while they drove about 20 minutes away for a date night, all the while monitoring their one-year-old via a Wi-Fi camera.

Are you already gasping in shock at the above two examples? Are those parents negligent, bold, confident of their children's behaviour and temperament or, simply, different from you?

If parenting were such an instinctive endeavour, there wouldn't be truckloads of parenting guides and philosophies, which often contradict one another anyway. And if we parents cannot really trust our instincts or turn to smug, unreliable books for help, what should we do?

Plan, stress, pray, then hopefully sigh in relief when we reach those milestones in our children's growth and discover that the new landscape we find ourselves in is so familiar, it's strange.

What's stranger still: Knowing this doesn't make me feel any less worried about them taking public transport for the first time on their own.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 08, 2017, with the headline 'My children survived being home alone'. Print Edition | Subscribe