What Kind Of Parent Leaves Their Child Inside A Car?

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baby-sleeping-in-car Image via Shutterstock

We’re all way too familiar with the recent headline: “Baby left in car, dies.” It’s a punch to the gut, in that space just below the belly button.

“What kind of parent leaves their child in a car?” we ask ourselves while our eyes glisten with outrage.

Let me tell you: Any parent can. And THIS parent almost did.

I was a new mom for the second time, with two under two: My daughter was just barely a year and a half, and my son was 10 days old.

Maybe you remember, or maybe you’re in it right now, but the  first month of new babyhood is like going down the rabbit hole where midnight becomes the new morning, and all bets are off.

“Don’t try to take it day by day,” a friend told me “Take it minute by minute.”

My son refused to sleep, unless he was in my arms, and unless I was standing and bouncing him around while I sang a vaguely sanitized version of “Nothing but a G Thang.”

And my daughter who had been an only child up until ten days before had decided that now would be the most awesome time in the whole entire universe to discover the Terrible Two’s, so in between my son’s cat naps, she was up and ready to party.

And I was running on adrenaline, hormones and espresso, with a fog of fatigue settling over my mind.

So this is what happened the day I almost did what I never in a million years thought I could never do:

We were just getting home from our morning trip to Coffee Bean, I had to pee, my daughter was whining about not getting enough blueberry muffin, my cell phone was ringing, Howard Stern was bleeping his way through a monologue on the radio, and I forgot my son.

It was so easy not to remember the sleeping baby tucked in his rear-facing car seat. It was so easy not to remember that there wasn’t just a wriggling,  toddler in the car crying for her muffin.   If it weren’t for my breasts, heavy with milk, and prickling with the fire-ant march of the letdown reflex,  I don’t know if I would have remembered the baby I had met only ten days before.

“There but for the Grace of God go I,” I said out loud when I remembered. “There but for the Grace of God go I,” I said out loud when I lifted my sleeping son in my arms. “There but for the Grace of God go I,” I said out loud when he stirred against my shoulder, his downy head nuzzled into my neck.

Look: I am not a perfect mother, but I love my kids and I do my best. And from the moment I found out I was pregnant with my firstborn, I have understood that motherhood should never be taken for granted. It’s a blessing.

And for the poor parents who forgot their babies for too long, and lost their babies, and who will never ever in a million years ever forgive themselves for what happened, they almost certainly tried their best, too.

But how easy it is to forget: All it takes is a sleepless night, or a change in the routine like Winter vacation or Summer break to throw everything off. All it takes is a ringing phone, and a family member in crisis, or a mandatory work meeting, or a last minute pick-up. All it takes is autopilot taking over, when you drive through that brain fog from point A to point B and aren’t quite sure how you got there.

How many of us have done that?

We all have.

So how do we make sure this doesn’t happen?

After almost doing the unthinkable, I came up with a list of things that would help me remember what I should never forget:

1. Put your purse or wallet and phone in the backseat: Because we always check for our phones when we finish driving. We always put our keys in our purse. We always make sure we have our wallets. And even though our children are infinitely more important than these things, when our routine is off, we are less likely to forget the items we have trained ourselves to take for work, or to the supermarket.

2. Talk to your kid:  Even if he’s only 10 days old and sound asleep, when you keep up a patter with the little person in the backseat, you’ll remember he is there.

3. Check yourself: Schedule a daily email message, or set an alarm on your phone to go off every day at the same time.

4. Safety in numbers: Set up a system where you and a family member check in to confirm that all kids are present and accounted for at daycare, school, camp, wherever. Or ask that the staff at these places call YOU if you haven’t dropped off your child.

5. Leave a toy: Leave a stuffed animal or your diaper bag, or a bottle or SOMETHING baby-related in the front seat next to you.

6. Strip: If it’s winter, leave your jacket in the back. If it’s summer, leave a shoe. You won’t get far in the middle of December without your coat, and chances are you’ll take about step and a half with one shoe missing before you realize what you’ve done.

7. Child Safety 2.0: Given the uptick in this tragic forgetfulness, companies have designed various gadgets with alarms and sensors to help parents remember.

Please. Do something to remind yourself to never forget your children. We all think we’re not “that kind of parent.” We all think that it could never happen to us. We all think we don’t need to remember not to forget our children in the back seat, because who would do that? 

But I’ll bet you everything I own that the parents who did forget their children probably thought the same thing.

* * *

Still think something like this could never happen to you? This is a great (and frightening) read: Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?  – Jill 

Comments

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  1. 1

    Dan says

    Great post. It reminds me of this mind-blowing piece that the Washington Post ran a few years ago. It made me think long and hard about our knee-jerk instinct of immediately demonizing someone who does this. The interviews are simultaneously fascinating and horrifying.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/fatal-distraction-forgetting-a-child-in-thebackseat-of-a-car-is-a-horrifying-mistake-is-it-a-crime/2014/06/16/8ae0fe3a-f580-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html

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    • 3

      Erin says

      Oh, I read that article when it came out and it about killed me. It’s the autopilot thing – I make sure to snap myself out of it when I feel it settling in. So horrifying.

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    • 4

      S says

      I read that article a few weeks ago, it’s so terrifyingly easy to do. It’s been haunting me, I feel so for those parents, at the same time have been triple checking every time I get out of the vehicle. It’s a great reminder that will stick.

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  2. 6

    Jennifer says

    I think it’s a great idea to always talk to them, and have one of those little mirrors so you can see them easily. As soon as I look up to change lanes, I can see my daughter’s face. I didn’t actually start doing these things for fear of forgetting her, it was more because I missed her while she was back there..lol. I know, I’m a wuss.. But, I talk to her about everything, where we are going, the weather, who we are going to see..If all else fails, I like the trick about taking off your shoe and leaving it in the backseat. That ought to do the trick! I hope, even if it helps one parent and child, that would be enough., but I hope we can get through to many busy parents to find a way to “make time” to check! It’s more important than anywhere you’re going, or what you’re doing.

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  3. 7

    says

    Been there, done that. I drove all the way to work, bypassing daycare, with a silent infant in the rear facing seat behind me. Lack of sleep, a late morning, rush hour traffic, I don’t remember what the circumstances were, but I do know that as I got out of my car to head in to work, thank all the powers that be that I had to turn and walk past my rear doors to get in the building and noticed that I had completely forgotten my son. I was physically shaken, upset, almost bagged the rest of the day at work because of it. I could happen to anyone.

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  4. 8

    says

    For me, having my children with me is so my every day thing that if I were in the store without them for one second I would know something’s wrong unless they’re already with someone else. I just do NOT understand it at all. I do understand that maybe for a few minutes it’s possible to forget if the child is sleeping or just very quiet. But to spend an entire shopping trip with them in the car… Nope

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    • 9

      It's Me says

      I agree. My children have been on my mind since the moment I conceived them. Maybe for a moment but like you said, how can you go HOURS and not have a switch flip in your brain.

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      • 10

        kay says

        It seems like you’re missing the point — that this tragic situation is most likely to happen at those times when someone does something that’s NOT in their routine. So yeah, you might spend every minute with your child so you’re going to notice if they’re not with you. But that’s a really different situation than one in which, say, you forget to drop your child off at daycare on the way to work. If you’re used to being at work without your child, it would be much harder to remember that you were the one to bring them that day.

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    • 11

      Miranda says

      My mother tells a story about how after I was born, she actually left me at home sleeping at took my older sister to the grocery store. She had this niggling feeling she was forgetting something the whole way, but had her keys, had her wallet, had her first daughter, etc, and didn’t realize until they were checking out that she forgot her newborn. She’s an amazing mother and has raised 3 pretty great kids, if I do say so myself. It’s incredible what can fall out of a new parent’s brain when they are exhausted and used to a particular routine. This was in the 80s and had nothing to do with cell phones or Starbucks of misplaced priorities. So I guess what I’m saying is thanks for judging in a judge-free zone, but we can all live without it.

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      • 12

        Xanthina says

        My in laws forgot my husband in his crib during a middle of the night tornado alert. One grabbed the oldest, one grabbed the baby… forgetting that they had twins, and THE OTHER baby was still sleeping in the crib. All turned out well, But as you said, things happen for many reasons.

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    • 14

      says

      Well the new baby was out of her normal routine considering she already had a two-year-old, her routine was established and the baby had yet to be cycled in so to speak. ANYWAY with that aside, I’m sure that no matter what argument is said there will still be people that do not understand at all how it could be possible to forget a child in the car. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people not understanding and not knowing how it’s possible. Name-calling and judging is not okay of course, but not everyone has to be understanding. And that’s OK.

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    • 15

      kj82 says

      For me, the point of the article is: please don’t think that this could never happen to you. It could happen to you. Anyone could mess up, with terrible consequences. Everyone should just be careful. Even if you think you could never do a thing like this, because that won’t help you at all if you ever do.

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    • 16

      sara says

      if you are thr one with your kids all time.attached to the hip then its easy to say that…but when you work outside the home and split child care between people its easy to see how things can happen….you change your usual routine and thats all it takes. ..your over tired or stressed things happen and that doesnt mean they think less about there children it.just means they have alot of other things to think about too

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    • 17

      Morgan says

      This is so awful and scary! I too have done this – lack of sleep, anxiety over work, and usually did not have my 2 month old with me at that time. I quickly ran into a fed ex to scan a document and was not gone for more than 10 minutes before getting back to my car and seeing her there. Worst moment of my life. Thank God she is ok but the “what ifs” don’t stop going through my mind. I now attach a bungee cord from the back of my head rest to my door handle so that I have to remove it to ope my door which will obviously jog my memory – thankfully I’ve never had to rely on it to remember – but I won’t ever trust myself again and will use it as long as my children are too young to defend themselves. My heart goes out to those who weren’t so lucky.

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  5. 18

    says

    When my god daughter was maybe 6 weeks old I was driving with her to my house. She had fallen asleep and I was listening to my music and doing all the I normally do. About a Block away from my house she started to fuss. And that’s when my heart dropped and I realized I had forgotten she was even there. If she wouldn’t have woken up I would have left her back there in her car seat. From that day on I left my house key tucked under her car seat when I drove home. Or my credit card when I was going shopping with her.

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  6. 19

    says

    I see so many people saying that you shouldn’t be a parent if you can’t remember your child but honestly, I’ve done it. Now I did remember about the time I walked into school with my stepson. But I DID IT! I felt horrible but I was exhausted and I left my two toddlers with the grandmother. I COMPLETELY FORGOT that I had the baby. It happens. Real life happens. Sorry folks. It can happen to anyone

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  7. 20

    says

    My friend left her kid, in his pram, outside a shop. Got home, realised and ran back like a lunatic to get him. He was fine BTW. Lack of sleep I think is the main factor for a forgetful brain.

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  8. 21

    says

    No… Just no. There is a difference.. A huge gaping difference between forgetting your baby in the car for a moment! And forgetting your child in a car for hours… Hours. Not minutes while you’re in a new baby fog. This is a disgusting new excuse for child abuse and neglect and should not be compared to forgetting baby for a minute!

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    • 22

      Tash says

      I read about a man who didn’t normally drop his son off. He forgot him and he died. When the police arrived he ran forward screaming and took the policeman’s gun to kill himself. I don’t consider that child abuse, I cried when I read it. Imagine you do make a horrible mistake like this – you won’t care that others say its child abuse, you will hate yourself more than anyone else ever can.

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    • 23

      Not Holier-than-thou says

      “… What kind of person forgets a baby? The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.”

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