I’ll put the hand up. It’s been done, many times. I know it’s “wrong”, but if it’s pissing rain and you’re just nipping in to pay for the petrol after locking them into the car, it makes sense, right? RIGHT?? Wrong. Especially if you live in America.
If you’re currently judging me as much as I’m judging myself, here is a snapshot of ’80s parenting. Myself and the sister were regularly locked in the car on a hot, sunny afternoon while our mum went shopping, or our dad went for a “Paddy and a Pint” (did I mention it was the ’80s?) I once woke up in the back of the car, in the dark, outside a nightclub in Wexford. I screamed until a passer-by went into the club and retrieved a family member. Then I was brought into the club until f*ck knows what time… #acceptableinthe80s.
While this is clearly the other end of the spectrum, it is my benchmark. Therefore running in and out of the petrol station while the kids are unattended for approximately 30 seconds seems somewhat overprotected comparatively. Indeed, excuses are being made, but – sometimes – we just don’t have the energy to haul the entire family in and out of car seats for a ten-second transaction. That’s hardly negligent?
Then the husband sent this on to me…
— Sarah Breen (@SarahJayBee) July 29, 2018
In short… writer Kim Brooks had a warrant out for her arrest after she left her four-year-old in the car while she popped into the shops. It made for familiar reading:
I needed to run an errand before our flight home to Chicago, and my son, then 4, didn’t want to get out of the car.
“Come on,” I said.
“No, no, no! I wait here.”
I took a deep breath. I knew what I was supposed to do. But I was tired. I was late. I didn’t want, at that moment, to deal with a meltdown. And there was something else: a small, quiet voice I’d been hearing more and more lately. “Why?” the voice asked.
Why did I have to fight this battle? He wasn’t asking to Rollerblade in traffic. He just wanted to sit in the car. Why couldn’t I leave him, just this once? If it had been warm out, I would have said no. I knew about how quickly a closed car can overheat, even on a 60-degree day. But it was cool and cloudy. I’d grown up in that same town in the 1980s and had spent hours waiting in the back seat of my parents’ station wagon, windows open, reading or daydreaming, while they ran errands. Had so much really changed since then? So I told him I’d be right back. I cracked the windows and child-locked the doors and set the alarm. When I got back five minutes later, he was still playing his game, smiling.
When Brooks landed back in Chicago from Virginia, there was a message on her phone informing her that there was a warrant out for her arrest. It seemed that someone had been watching her movements. A stranger, judging her parenting. An anonymous soul, ringing the police instead of either A) minding their own business or B) sticking around to talk to her upon her return if they were that concerned.
I contacted a lawyer who said I would just have to wait to see if the police would press charges or contact the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. And so I waited, terrified, until the morning I received that second call and learned that I was being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor (my son)… We now live in a country where it is seen as abnormal, or even criminal, to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second… And so now children do not walk to school or play in a park on their own. They do not wait in cars. They do not take long walks through the woods or ride bikes along paths or build secret forts while we are inside working or cooking or leading our lives.
Yeeeeeah. That’s not permitted anymore. After making contact with several women from different social spheres who had found themselves in a similar predicament, Brooks found that…
One such mother was charged with felony child endangerment when she left her napping 4-year-old daughter in the car for a few minutes with the windows open while she ran into a store. During her arrest, she remembers the officer saying, “Stay-at-home mom’s too busy shopping to take care of her kid? Does your husband know how you take care of your child while he’s out earning the big bucks?” These women’s critics insist that it’s not mothers they hate; it’s just that kind of mother, the one who, because of affluence or poverty, education or ignorance, ambition or unemployment, allows her own needs to compromise (or appear to compromise) the needs of her child. We’re contemptuous of “lazy” poor mothers. We’re contemptuous of “distracted” working mothers. We’re contemptuous of “selfish” rich mothers. We’re contemptuous of mothers who have no choice but to work, but also of mothers who don’t need to work and still fail to fulfil an impossible ideal of selfless motherhood. You don’t have to look very hard to see the common denominator…
Indeed you don’t.
To read the rest of the article in the New York Times, make your way here, otherwise, I’ll leave you with this question: What would you have done in Brooks’ situation?
Yours truly would’ve probably done the same thing; left the child in the car for a few minutes after considering all the factors. Call social services if you may, but at least have the balls to query my actions in person first.