After reading an article in the Washington Post questioning whether accidentally leaving a child in a car (resulting in the child’s death) is a crime, my heart ached and I felt kind of sick. I always do when I think about a baby or toddler strapped into their car seat either baking or freezing to death, alone, in the backseat of a car. I really can’t even begin to articulate the sadness that ripples through me for those children and if I really think about it, for the parent(s), too.
Of course, you hear plenty of stories where people left their child in a vehicle so they could go into a bar or a casino or some other venue to engage in some activity that was purely for their own pleasure or enjoyment. They made a conscious choice to leave their baby or toddler helpless and alone and they bear total responsibility for the all too common unhappy endings that usually accompany these stories.
Those people, in my opinion, should go to prison. Not because they’re a menace to society (just to their own children) but because they deserve to be punished for the selfishness that resulted in the untold suffering and ultimate death of a child. I have no mercy for people like that. When you have a child, their safety and well-being needs to be a priority over pretty much everything else in your life. Period. If you intended to leave that child in your car, you are guilty in my eyes.
But there are other cases where people simply forgot their child was in the car with them. I know, your first instinct is to say “HOW could you forget your child?” But it happens time and again. David Diamond, a memory expert, explains why it could happen to any of us:
“Memory is a machine, and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child.”
Gene Weingarten, author of the Washington Post piece interviewed 13 parents who had accidentally left their children in a car, resulting in the death of their child. The common theme in their stories was a break in their routines resulting in unusual distractions. Adding stress and lack of sleep to the interruption of a routine and it’s very possible to make such a fatal error. I won’t go into all the details of how such things happen. You can read the article yourself here. My point is that those parents had no intention of harming their children. They made a mistake.
On what kind of people forget their children in a car, from the Washington Post article:
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.
I know this is true because it happened to me.
On one end of the spectrum, there have been many times when I was driving alone, which was a change of routine for me, and had a moment of panic where I feared I’d forgotten my baby because the car was so quiet and the carseat frighteningly empty. For a split-second, I’d actually forgotten that my baby was safe at home with my husband and had to think about her (and his) whereabouts. Of course, when you realize you have NOT forgotten your baby somewhere, the relief that washes over you is comforting; a feeling of decompression and release after a momentary rush of adrenalin. All is well. Your baby is in good and capable hands at home. Breathe.
On the other end of the spectrum, once when my son was a baby, he had been quietly sleeping in his carseat on the way to pick up his sister from preschool, an uncommon occurrence. I went to park in my usual spot right near the back gate but as soon as I’d parked, some men doing some kind of work in front of the building gestured that I needed to move. This annoyed me as I knew it would take another five minutes to wait for another spot to open up and get inside. It would make me late to pick up daughter and that was a cardinal sin at her preschool. I finally got a spot and dashed out of the car, my mind specifically focused on getting to my daughter’s classroom quickly as the teacher’s disapproving look could make even the most formidable parent wither in her presence.
Thanks to the break in my daily routine with the parking, my son’s falling asleep, which was unusual, and the stress of trying to get to the classroom on time, I had completely forgotten my baby in the car. I only got about thirty yards away before I realized something was missing (the frillion pound baby carrier) but as you can see, all it took was a certain combination of circumstances for me to forget, even if only for 20 seconds, that I had a baby in my car.
I hate that story. It makes me feel horrible. And until it happened to me, I could NOT understand how people could put their baby in the carseat and then forget about them. I’m sure I thought they were self-absorbed idiots who didn’t care about their kids. Now, however, I see exactly how it can happen and I have nothing but sympathy for those parents. They lost a child that was in their care and custody and they will have to live with that forever. It’s a punishment that will never end for them. No early release. No parole. Treating them like criminals and putting them in jail will never bring that child back or undo their mistake.