Leaving A Child In A Car Debate

Not my baby, I didn't take the pic, so please don't yell about carseat issues, mmkay?

Not my baby, I didn’t take the pic, so please don’t yell about carseat issues, mmkay?


There’s an article on Salon going around right now, and I posted it to the blog’s Facebook wall, to see what folks thought, and promised them that I’d have a post about it to follow.

So, here it is:

I have five children at home. I understand, completely how much of a hassle it can be to drag wee ones in and out of stores. I do. I get it. I get how it can take longer to get everyone unpacked, into the store, and all packed back into the vehicle than it takes to run the errand. I get how waking up a sleeping baby or toddler is risking the wrath of the howling, shrieking tyrant that emits such noise that you expect small animals to fall down dead in its wake, for ear drums to rupture in every being in a five-mile radius, and for someone to accuse you of torturing the kid with red-hot pokers.

I get it.



I do it anyways. Or, more likely, we bypass the store, head home, and run the errand later.

There is just simply no way I could, or would, be able to leave my child, unattended in a vehicle. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Just won’t do it.

I can understand going into the gas station, and paying for your gas. Your kid is right there, you can keep a visual on them. Going into a store, however, is a completely different animal. You cannot accurately predict how long a ‘quick run’ into the store can take. Long line ups, a new cashier, the self check out freezing…all of these things, and God only knows how many others, can result in what you thought was a five-minute, in and out trip being fifteen.

I can understand an emergency. You witness a stranger collapse on the sidewalk, you rush over, leave your child in the car, and call 9-1-1 before starting CPR. But, the examples listed in the article? A roast chicken, toilet paper, head phones, a baby gate? None of those were emergencies. None of those couldn’t have happened later, on a second trip. Yeah, I get that it’s a hassle, but you know what? A lot of parenting is. I don’t want to get up at odd hours of the night, walk the floors with a baby shrieking with an ear infection, or teething, change dirty diapers, or potty train. Parenting isn’t a glamour job, and it’s not an easy gig, that’s the nature of the beast.

Much has been made of bystanders calling the police, rather than sticking by the car til the parent came out.

I have a few problems with that. One, you’re asking that a stranger take responsibility for someone else’s child. Isn’t calling the police doing just that? Two: You’re asking, or expecting, a concerned stranger to do what the parent hasn’t: not leave the child unattended. Why is a stranger being held to a higher standard than the child’s actual parent? Three: Too many times, we read or hear of tragic news stories of a child being abused, and wail, “Why didn’t someone do something? Why didn’t someone call the police for this child?” How can a stranger be expected to know the difference between a child that has been left unattended for five minutes, and twenty? Where IS the line? Is five minutes ok, but fifteen isn’t? How about twenty? Thirty minutes?

You can’t have it both ways, folks. A stranger, happening upon your vehicle, has zero clue how long you’ve been gone. They have no idea your history, your parenting, your anything. All they see is a child, alone in a vehicle, abandoned.

Yes, I said abandoned. I’m pretty sure that leaving a child in a vehicle, with no supervision, falls under the category of abandonment. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be criminal charges involved.

And what really kills me is that I doubt anyone would just leave their wallet in open view in their car. I know Wolf won’t even leave his phone in the truck, for fear of it being stolen.

So, are people actually more protective of their wallets and phones than their children? Does that make any sense?

I’m by no means a perfect parent. Nooooope. I don’t even pretend to be one online.

I know folks argue that driving your child around is more dangerous than leaving them in the car. Here’s the thing: there are a LOT of things more dangerous than something else. That doesn’t make the lesser statistical danger any less illegal. It may be one chance in 10,000 that someone steals your vehicle with your child in it. Or simply steals your child. Not a MASSIVE risk, to be sure…but why take that risk for toilet paper?

The idea, put forth by the author of the article, that she, and other parents like her, are being legally harassed is ridiculous. THEY BROKE THE LAW. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. They made a crappy (in my opinion) decision, left their young child in a vehicle without supervision (in one case, there was an older sibling, who was still too young for the law to be able to supervise), because they just couldn’t wait to run their errands. Really, isn’t that what it truly boils down to? They didn’t want to wait. They didn’t want to make a return trip. They didn’t want the hassle of dragging a child into the store for such a quick errand.

I know that folks also will point at the years gone by, and say, “Well, we were left in vehicles!” Yep, I was too.

But here’s the thing, folks:

I also used to pile in the back of a station wagon, with several other kids. No seat belts, nada.

Car seats weren’t used.

Formula was thought superior to breast milk.

Babies slept always on their tummies.

Hitting a child with a belt was considered acceptable punishment.

As we know better, we do better. Just because it USED to happen, doesn’t mean that it was a good idea.

We’re heading towards spring and summer here. Every freaking year, there’s at LEAST one story in the news about a child dying because they’ve been left in a vehicle.

Some think that a passerby calling the police to report a child unattended in a vehicle is the ultimate in stranger interference.

I think it’s a stranger being concerned about the health and well-being of a child. More so, it would seem, than the child’s parents are, at that moment in time.

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Leaving A Child In A Car Debate — 22 Comments

    • Tracey, I’ve been open about my parenting being imperfect. I’ve never, ever claimed to be perfect, ever.

      However, this is something I feel strongly about. Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle is endangering a child, needlessly, for the sake of convenience. There’s just no reason for it. Again, people wouldn’t leave their wallet open on the seat of their car, visible to passerby, so why would you leave a child?

      And it’s also illegal. That’s not a judgement call.

  1. thanks for misspelling my name.

    The article on Salon was more about the severity of the offense.

    It is not, “technically”, illegal. At least not everywhere. Should it be? Maybe. But then you get into specifics that everyone will debate. Should you wake up your sleeping child to step 3 feet from your car to drop a letter in a mailbox, when you never actually sever personal contact with said car? Should you wake them up to pump gas when you are outside of the vehicle, though within 5 feet of said vehicle, but do not have personal contact with said vehicle at all times?

    I agree it is wrong to go into a store and shop. I think line-of-sight, and anything under 2 minutes, as well as age of children should be considered in severity of punishment.

    You can be passionate about it … that’s awesome … you just lost all of your COMpassion towards your fellow humans in this.

    • Tracy, I’m sorry for misspelling your name, first of all.

      And, I *did* make the distinction btwn paying for gas (line of sight) and going in to a store. To me, there’s a very big difference.

      I have loads of compassion. For the children in these situations. How terrified would a child be, to wake up alone in a vehicle? How terrified would they be if someone removed them from the car?

      It may not be illegal everywhere, but it obviously was in the cases in the article, as it resulted in criminal charges.

      • ok … taking my “bitch” hat off now …

        I just re-read and re-read again. It still comes across (to me) as a blanket, any step away, back turned for .5 seconds, “abandonment”. It’s harsh. I think the ladies in the article were more extreme (no line of sight, maybe 10 minutes or more).
        Did they deserve to be punished? Yeah, probably. Did they deserve to be charged with a felony, have every aspect of their lives criticized, and be labeled for the rest of their lives (which also scares the child)? I really can’t say, and refuse to be the person that passes that judgement from afar. Many factors are not included. Was this the first and only legal issue for these women? Were they clean of drugs and alcohol abuse? Etc, etc, etc. Or, was this an extreme punishment on the part on the police?

        Its a rough subject. We aren’t given parenting manuals. We only have our own opinions and experiences to go by. I would think some required counseling would be an appropriate 1st “punishment”. It is possible the mom truly did not know any better.

        You see, I am a special needs mom. I see a lot of extremes. I’ve seen several of my son’s classmates – abandoned by their birth families – be taken advantage of by “do-gooder” foster families. I’ve watched many of his classmates pass away of their disease. I’ve watched good parents be persecuted by a new nurse that doesn t understand. I have been that parent persecuted from time to time. I deal with judgement every day, every where. But I have also had the extreme priveledge of seeing a first smile. Of seeing a child communicate in some small eye flicker. Of seeing the joy of a child go 1 hour seizure free. The miracle of a child rolling a ball, or reaching for a person for the first time.

        Sometimes the worst decisions are made out of desparation. I would just hope a more “compassionate” mom might become that “village” that teaches, rather than just punishes.

        • Tracy, no worries. We all have our own filters, experiences, etc, that influences our perspectives. While I’m not a special needs mom, I was a single parent for a decade, and that comes with a lot of judgement and scrutiny, so I understand some of the ‘under the gun’ feeling.

          I agree that some decisions are made out of desperation. I just don’t see, in the article, that that is the case. It was a deliberate choice, to leave children in a vehicle, and go into a store. I mean, a baby gate? Those suckers aren’t at the front of the store, kwim? I think if any of these situations had mitigating factors, it would have been trumpeted loud and clear in the article, but there was nothing.

          I think one of the sticking points for me in this situation is that the passerby has no way of knowing how long the parent has been gone, or how long they WILL be gone. Can you imagine if you saw a child alone in a vehicle, didn’t take any action, then read on the news that child ended up in the hospital, or worse? Everyone has to live with their decisions, to take action or not.

          Myself, I’d rather overreact, involve authorities, with the health and welfare of the child as the only concern, than do nothing and hear later that a child suffered because of my inaction. We all make judgement calls, on what info we have.

          I wish you and your family all the best, all the successes, all the moments of wonder and joy possible.

  2. Is a gas station not a store? Are you not entering a store when you go inside? If it’s a choice between leaving my child trapped in a vehicle next to a dispenser of flammable, highly explosive liquid and taking them inside, I take them inside. Better yet, pay at the pump. Gas stations are robbed all the time, day and night. Keep the kids inside, pay at the pump, everyone stays together. Or, send your SO out later to fill the tank. That’s what I do.

    This is one subject I find ridiculous. The moms who leave their kids in cars get so defensive and sarcastic. “Should I not even lose contact with my vehicle at the mailbox?” Are you within a couple feet? Yes? Then stop being an idiot. It’s not the same as going inside a store. “Am I allowed to carry groceries inside?” Depends. Do you live on a street with frequent drive by shootings? No? Then you are likely safe with the kids in the car in your own driveway. It’s not the same as going inside a store. “But he’s sick!” Stay home. “I need dinner!” Delivery. Drive through. Spouse. Neighbor. All are better options than leaving a child alone in a car. “My parents did it, and I’m just fine.” Well aren’t you just precious. Do you think you have special genes passed on to your kids that makes you all immune to kidnapping? To putting the car in neutral and rolling down a hill? To an engine fire? An elderly driver with his gas pedal jammed to the floor as he panics? What about the kids who weren’t fine? Were they not worthy of protection from moronic parents who cared more about cigarettes, a new computer or a haircut than keeping their kids alive? Why should a stranger stand guard over YOUR child? Why shouldn’t they call the police? Are we such a selfish, arrogant, entitled people that we think leaving our kids unattended outside, in an unlocked car, windows down, is no big deal? Yet those same people would be absolutely stark raving mad if their purse, phone or laptop was taken in the same circumstances. Where is the value for human life?

    It’s funny that the author said nobody would go inside a store with their wallet on the front seat. Two nights ago, I snapped a pic of a purse on a front seat, in plain sight, in a Chili’s parking lot outside a mall. Maybe some people are just too stupid to have kids.

  3. Amen! As a mother of three, two in elementary school, one toddler, I TOTALLY agree with you.

    I am not judging another mom’s decisions, but it makes me angry when I walk my three kids to our car and notice a running suv, only to realize that the only occupants are young children. What if that car got knocked into neutral? Are we saying that the comfort of these kids is paramount to my family’s safety?

  4. YES! agree, agree, agree. In my state, it is illegal to pump your own gas so we have nice attendants come to our windows to take our cash or cards and fill our tanks up. It’s wonderful 🙂

  5. I posted the article from Salon on my Facebook page, too. I was surprised at how many people thought it was okay to leave your kids in the car while going in a store. To fully disclose, most of them were rural families and I guess the perspective of what is safe and what is not safe is different in a very small town than in a city. It’s hard for me to get my head wrapped around. The thought of the very worst that could happen in 3 minutes…well, that is a pretty good deterrent for me.

    • I think that’s def part of it, Jill. I’ve almost always lived in big cities, so there’s no way in Hades that any convenience trumps safety. If I’d always lived in a place where it was safe to leave everything unlocked all the time, etc? My perspective may well be very different.

  6. Its never ok to leave the kids in the car, even with other kids. Its just not a good idea to leave children alone, period. Just because it happened when you were a kid doesn’t make it right or good. There are numerous reports that come out about how bad XX is now but not then. But ALL of the reports of leaving a child in a car end the same – HORRIBLY. Is the punishment extreme sure, this way it doesn’t happen again. There are infinitely more “good” choices to be made when debating to leave a child(ren) in the car. We teach our kids so much and then for whatever reason make a bad call, it happens to the best of us. The point of the matter is not the good Samaritans nor the police are at fault, since those would be the same people you would blame or call when you cant get back into said car. Just drive by and run the errand later, send someone else or just plain wait. Even if the baby gate was to keep the baby safe…..uuummm what??? No one way is perfect and no mom is perfect but in this we need to do better and just not do it.

  7. I’m new to this Mommy business, my son just turned 7 months. I am now in LOVE with the drive through convenience stores, the drive through at the bank, and fast food places like KFC they have been a lifesafer. No matter the circumstances, no risk is worth it for me. If I have to get out of the car, so does my baby.

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