The Luxury of Latch-Key

The Luxury of Latch-key

Back in 1966, when my dad first left our house and my parents later divorced, we were known locally as one of two “broken homes”.  We were definitely broke, but never broken.  We lived in the village of Clarendon Hills, Illinois, about 15 miles southwest of Chicago and less than 2 square miles big.  Route 55, a busy highway, ran alongside the frontage road on the edge of our yard.  That road connected us to Hinsdale, where we’d attend the same high school my grandparents and parents attended.  We walked or biked to school, town, and friends’ homes.  The local Lion’s club pool and library were gathering places as well as the Presbyterian Church where I was steeped in choir and later a church group called Disciples.  In the winter, our firemen filled the parks with water from their firehoses big enough for us to ice skate.  Dads played in softball leagues, moms put signs in the windows facing the neighbor’s house letting them know the coffee pot was on when the kids were off to school and dad was off to work.  Most families were well-off and comfortable.  Many were wealthy.  We couldn’t know it at the time, but two kids from my age group would make it big in the world.  Bill Evans, an exceptionally talented jazz musician that plays around the world and Bill Laimbeer who would end up playing for the Detroit Pistons.  Small town life then and there was safe and good, even if you were broke. 

My mom raised my older brother, me, and my little sister with grit and gusto in spite of overwhelming financial pressure.  That pressure meant she had to work – a lot.  I was nine when my dad first left and took his pension and his paycheck with him.  My mom scrambled to work and keep us safe after school and at night.  She started waitressing in the catering department at the Sheraton Oakbrook hotel, eventually earning the Director of Catering position over the years I was in high school.  That meant weekends and nights and long hours.  Chores had to be done so I did laundry, dishes, and general clean-up as well as mowed the grass with our electric lawn mower when my brother was involved with sports.

School days started before my mom left for work but ended far short of the end of her work day.  There were no before or after school programs (except sports and this was before Title IX) and no school meal programs.  We relied on the kindness and paid services of friends and neighbors.  It’s hard to picture today, but back then, we simply checked in with the person who was watching us that day and went back outside about our kid business until dinnertime (a bell rang or a rotary phone call to whoever’s home where we were playing).  Only later would I learn we were latch-key kids. 

The luxury of latch-key back in the day is that we stole whole afternoons to roam, think, play, explore, run, and run some more.  From the perspective of kid freedom, it was nirvana.  Of course we were warned off of the guy in the white car who offered candy, etc. but a certain rhythm developed by being outside and on our own so early and often that it was obvious when someone or something was out of place for our small town.  It’s not that nothing bad ever happened, it did.  Just nothing permanently bad.  As an adult, I moved my children around endlessly inside a dying and finally dead marriage.  Because each town was new again, I took on that fear of “what could happen”.  Thankfully, they rarely did.  And when you grow up as a latch-key kid, you might not worry as much with children in general.  I am never promoting divorce or discord.  But there was a certain kind of luxury in growing up latch-key that marks every independent thing I’ve ever enjoyed. 

Bonnie A. Sewell, CFP®, CDFA™, AIF® is NOT AN ATTORNEY AND DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE. All information he provides is financial in nature and should not be construed or relied upon as legal or tax advice.  Individuals seeking legal or tax advice should solicit the counsel of competent legal professionals knowledgeable about the divorce laws in their own geographical areas or CPAs qualified to provide tax advice.

DISCLOSURE:  All of the above is believed to be accurate but should be considered informational only and should not be considered financial, tax, or legal advice.  Seek advice from a paid professional under contract to you. 

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