Stop Criminalizing Parents who Let Their Kids Wait in the Car

Ah, readers, you know this is my bugaboo: the idea that the authorities (cops, CPS) know better than PARENTS whether or not a child is safe waiting for a short while in the car. I always want to ask the busybodies who summon the police, “Do you really think it’s safer to drag a toddler across a crowded parking lot, where they could get run over, or into a STORE where there could be a ROBBERY in progress and the child could get SHOT?” I  mean, if we’re going to do some wild “worst-first” thinking about kids in the car, let’s do some worst-first thinking OUTSIDE the car, too.

As for this particular note, I urge the writer not to shop at that jerk’s store again and know that she has a whole lot of people ON HER SIDE. We are sick of a society criminalizing CONVENIENCE as if a mom who dares to be efficient, smart and rational is not as good as one who’s hysterical. Or so sez me. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:

I am so glad I found this website (was looking for the “parking lot abduction” story). It makes me feel sane again to read articles and comments from people who are not as paranoid as the majority of parents (and non-parents) seem to be these day.

I actually had someone (two “concerned citizens” actually) call the police because I had left my sleeping toddler in the car while running a quick errand. Obviously, a sleeping toddler warrants the waste of police time and taxpayer money. One of the callers claimed to be an employee of the store. I was outraged that people had felt it necessary to report a peacefully sleeping child in a locked car to the police in the first place. But the behavior of this employee brought my blood to boiling point. He displayed a menacing and threatening attitude, was almost out of control, and accused me of criminal child neglect. Then, upon learning that I am a foreigner, he told me I should go back to where I came from and proceeded to accuse me of not being the mother at all, but of having abducted the child! He even went so far as to accuse another randomly passing-by customer of being my boyfriend and accomplice in the alleged abduction. The employee also tried to bar my access to my car, and at one point he even  opened a door of my car! His whole manner reminded me of a person who watches too many crime shows, too much sensationalistic cable news, and then deems himself some kind of self-appointed sheriff.

I really would have liked to explain my view on the likelihood of a random child abduction from a locked car — especially compared to other risks we all are exposed to simply by driving in traffic  — to the rather nice police officer. (We were probably more likely to be struck by lightning or to win the lottery than that kind of abduction happening.) But who wants to get into that kind of discussion? Most people are simply not sensible about risk assessment, especially when children are involved — there are even studies about that. In hindsight, I probably should have described the employee’s inappropriate behavior to the police as well, but I was way too upset and just wanted to get out of there.

At this point I should admit that my husband does not share my views about leaving a sleeping baby unattended in a locked car for a few minutes, even in our peaceful New England college town. (He grew up in a big city and I understand that with my small town background, our perspectives and experiences differ.)

P.S.: I am happy to say that my toddler slept deeply and peacefully through the whole unpleasant affair. — A Trying-to-Stay Sane Mom

Officer — I bet your mom let YOU wait in the car when you were a kid!


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