Don’t Compare Parents Who Leave Their Kids In The Car On Purpose To Parents Who Forget Them There

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shutterstock_127870775Now that the weather is getting warmer, we are hearing warning upon warning encapsulated in tear-jerking stories about not leaving your kid in the car for even one millisecond—or something terrible could happen to them, and it would be all your fault.

I am making light of this fear-mongering tactic, yes; I also happen to be a Lenore Skenazy free-range parenting fan. But I am still a parent. And I am still susceptible to scary headlines targeted at parents that constantly make me fear I am doing the wrong thing for my child.

By now, you have probably heard the unfortunate story of Kim Brooks, a normal mother who chose to leave her four-year-old son in the car to run a quick errand before heading to the airport to catch a flight. I can confidently say that I would have felt comfortable making the same decision.

In Brooks’ situation, things took a turn for the worse:

Apparently, some lovely citizen with a camera phone documented the entire incident on film and reported her to law enforcement afterward. By the time the cops tracked her license plate number and figured out who she was, she was just returning from her trip. A police cruiser was in her mother’s driveway when she got home from taking Brooks to the airport. Brooks ended up hiring a lawyer, whom she thought smoothed things with the officer, but nine months later, it still was not over. It turns out, as another police officer called to inform her, there was a warrant out for her arrest.

I was very affected by this story because I saw nothing wrong with Brooks’ decision. It’s bullshit like this that makes me continue to second-guess my every parenting move and relentlessly Google similar cases and laws in my area, driving my husband crazy. Let me say for the record that I believe such laws are vital and necessary, but parents should be trusted in how to use them.

Another article on the topic compares leaving a kid in the car to the most horrifying example of a child forgotten in the car by a parent:

It used to happen rarely, Weingarten explains, but that changed in the ’90s after the discovery that passenger-side front airbags were fatal to children, so kids were moved to the back. Out of sight, out of mind — an adage that only became even more true when baby seats were turned to face the rear for maximum safety.

Because even if you think Kim Brooks did nothing wrong, either, what now? Change the law? Tell everyone it’s totally OK to leave their kid in the car for five minutes, if it’s only 50 degrees, and you crack the windows and you’re super totally double pinky swear sure you’ll be done in five minutes, because just trust you, you got this? Should anyone take a closer look and ask what her intentions were? How should that be determined? Should cops carry a thermostat? What might we do instead? I think the answer is to still avoid such risk at all cost. Because, believe me, it’s hard enough worrying about the risks you can’t see. Here is one you can.

In the example cited in the article, the most horrific nightmare a parent can ever imagine occurs. Frazzled, tired, distracted parents (and we have all been there many, many times) forget their child in the car on the way to work or run errands. Tragically, in rare cases, the child dies, and the parent does not find out until much later. To be honest with you, I can’t even talk about this scenario without shivers running up my spine and horrible images flashing through my head.

But I still cannot get on board with the second writer’s comparison of forgetting a child in the car to leaving a child in a car for one to two minutes, on purpose, in plain sight. It is not the same. It will never be the same.

Trust me when I say that I have thought about this issue long and hard. Right now, we temporarily have both of my sons in separate daycares, and they are both under three years old. Since I use a home daycare for both children, I am able to pull all the way up in the driveway, lock my car completely, crack the windows, and run in for less than 60 seconds to drop off each kid. I have felt guilt about this. I have also tried it the other way where I drag one kicking and screaming toddler in with me, and it normally turns out just how you would imagine. Both kids cry and cling to me, the daycare teacher hands me a backpack and art projects, and then I end up walking 10 feet back to the driveway to put one kid in the car so that I can grab the other.

I love both of my kids an insane amount and think about their safety all of the time, often too much. My husband is constantly telling me to relax. But on this issue, I refuse to be bullied into submission. It is legal in the state of Texas to purposely leave a kid in the car for under five minutes, and I will continue to take advantage of this law in the daycare run that I described above.

While many parents argue that “anything can happen,” I caution you against buying into this attitude hook, line, and sinker. I see nothing wrong with leaving a child in the car on purpose for just a few minutes while you grab something out of your house or pay for gas. I’ve heard some of the craziest arguments on this topic that “a drunk driver could come out of nowhere and kill your child.” It would also really suck if a meteor fell out of the sky and smashed my car in the 60 seconds when I dropped my kids off at daycare, but I can’t spend my life worrying about that either.

It is undeniably tragic that children have died after being forgotten in the car by stressed, well-meaning parents. Leaving your child in the car on purpose is not and never will be the same.

(Image: Oleg Mikhaylov/Shutterstock)