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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96 Responses to Stop Criminalizing Parents who Let Their Kids Wait in the Car

  1. Rob January 29, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    The risk of leaving a toddler in the car is more about the heat than the risk of abduction:


  2. Kathryn January 29, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    I’ve had a similar thing happen with my son, 7 at the time (he’s 9.5 now). It was summer, 7:00pm or so, fully light outside. Cars windows open. We were on our way back from soccer practice, and we wanted to return a movie to the redbox kiosk in the foyer of our grocery store. My son had his cleats on, and didn’t want to walk on the pavement with them. I let him stay in the car while my daughter and I stepped into the store to return the movie. It was very busy, so we had to wait our turn at the kiosk. When we came out there were cops and “citizens” (yes, I used the quotes intentionally) surrounding the car and trying to talk to him. I couldn’t believe it. Cops comment, was “m’am, but you can’t just leave him in the car.” Ultimately, I was so mad, I peeled out of my parking space and said “whatever” to the cop. I know–not my most mature moment. Kid could exit at will, walk in and get me if needed, knew exactly where we were, and what we were doing. He has walked to the same shopping center from home, alone with his 10 year old sister before. Glad they didn’t run my tags and come after me.

  3. Suzanne January 29, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    I really don’t see any harm in what this mom did. I agree with the other poster who mentioned the only harm is when it’s hot outside. I routinely leave my kids in the car if I’m just going to be a few minutes, especially if I can see the car fro the store. Apparently this mom could see the car or an employee wouldn’t have been able to see the child either.

  4. Silver Fang January 29, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    My mom let me stay in the car starting at age ten if she only had to be in the store a few minutes. If it was OK in the 80s, it should be OK today.

  5. Bobby January 29, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    I was picking up my elderly relative @ Union station in DC where there is no parking and both my kids had fallen asleep on the long ride to the station. I decided it wasn’t worth waking them to pick her up and then be awake for the long ride home again so I left them in there and left the car running for heat (it was cold outside) and locked them inside (I had another key). Well it took her longer than I planned to get to the car because she walks so dogone slow. When I got back I had a litany of different police departments waiting for me all telling me what could have happened -carjacking & the like notwithstanding this place was teeming with law enforcement being DC. What idiot is going to take my vehicle in such a heavily guarded place like that? Plus the doors were locked. To me it looks like the safest place in DC next to the white house. After detaining me for long time common sense prevailed and they gave me an unattended vehicle ticket (never heard of that before) but thankfully it didn’t go any further.

  6. Marcy January 29, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    I am convinced that the same people who call the cops when you leave your kid in the car are the ones who complain the loudest when you bring them into the store!

  7. Sky January 29, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    The problem isn’t risk of abduction. It’s that the kid wakes up, unbuckles, and starts wandering through the parking lot weeping and wailing in search of mom. I don’t think the police needed to be involved, but I would not leave my toddler alone in the car. That’s just too young. They need to be trustworthy. Toddlerhood is not a trustworthy age. They have the ability of locomotion without good judgment. Bad age to leave a kid alone in a parking lot. I understand the temptation, especially when they are asleeping, but for a kid to wake up and find him or herself alone at that age…I wouldn’t do it.

  8. Mark Davis January 29, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Sky, toddlers cannot unbuckle themselves from car seats. (For any reasonable definition of “toddler”). If they can, the problem is the car seat, not the parent.

  9. Julie Mountain January 29, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    I did this myself last night and do it often, for a few minutes at a time. Last night I left my (awake) 5 year old in the car outside the church hall whilst I helped my 8 year old with his guitar into the building. If I have to nip into a shop for a moment I’ll also leave them in the car. It’s kiddie-locked – they can’t get out, and it’s locked by me so nobody can get in. I’d be outraged to find busybodies calling the police.

  10. RobynHeud January 29, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    My 3-yr-old son can’t unbuckle himself yet (and I ask him regularly to try, because I want to know before he starts climbing around the back seat while I’m driving) but I’ve left him in the car for short spans since he was born. Biggest thing is when you’re a new mom and you have not only the baby in the car seat to take to the car, but also the crazy huge diaper bag (until you figure out what your really do need). I would forget essentials all the time once I had taken my son to the car, and no, I did not want to lug him back just to grab a bag. No, I don’t want to wrestle him out of and then back into his car seat while I return books at the library (anyone who has kids knows they have a daily limit of how many times you can take them in and out of a car seat). Yeah, if you’re going to be a while, or it’s a super hot day, take the appropriate precautions. I hate that “concerned citizens” assume that parents never think about these things. I’ve been with my children since the day they were born, and I love them more dearly than just about every other person in the world, and considerably more than some random person on the street, so why wouldn’t you think that my child’s well-being isn’t always first and foremost in my mind?

  11. Marcy T January 29, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    I am trying to come up with one or two short statements to have on hand for “concerned citizens” and/or police officers. I know if I am not prepared, I will be too flustered, embarrassed, and angry in the moment to come up with a reasoned approach.
    Of course it totally depends on the age of your children. A sleeping toddler is not the same as an 9 year old book worm. For me, it would be 3, 7, and 9 year olds. Knowing my 3 year old, I would only leave him with one of his big brothers.
    My statement so far:
    I appreciate your concern, but my kids wanted to stay in the car, and they have been taught what to do. They are safer in a car than walking though a parking lot.
    Any other suggestions?

  12. Danielle January 29, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    I do this on a regular basis with my toddler … only she is awake. Five days a week I drop my 3 year old at school and if it’s especially cold or raining I would much rather leave my 2yo in the car than drag her out in the rain/cold for no reason at all. It’s a 2 minute trip in and out of the school. Most of the other parents drag all of their kids in (and I feel so bad for them) but I’ve seen others leave them too. My husband doesn’t agree with me either, like the OP, and he told me the head of the school the other day upon finding an 11yo girl waiting in the car for her parents … she stood there and waited until the parents came back. Really? I was babysitting when I was 11.

  13. betsey January 29, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    This happened to my husband recently. He left our sleeping 2 year old and our 6 year old in the car while he ran into the store. The police were surrounding the car upon his return, as was an older woman who was explaining to the police how she had seen another woman look in the car, get out her phone, make a call and then drive away. The person,who was so concerned about the safety of our children, didnt even bother to stick around to see that they were safe. Coward. The woman who had stayed and spoken to the police and my husband was vehement in defending him as he was in the store for less than two minutes as he ran in to retreive the wallet he had left in the store earlier. I was so annoyed by the presumption on the part of the caller, who apparently believed my kids were in danger, and yet left before the police arrived. The officer just shrugged it off and left.

  14. Melinda January 29, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    Goodness, I had an owner at local paper shop tell me that if they’d had to haul their kids into every little store “back then” that they wouldn’t have accomplished anything! This sweet gal actually said, “Hey, if you are in a rush or don’t want to get the kids out of their seats, give us a call and we’ll have it ready so you can just run in and pay for it, or we’ll bring it to the car.” THAT is some smart love and customer service!

  15. Puzzled January 29, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    Betsey, your comment exemplifies the problem with these people. This woman was so concerned – so why couldn’t she stick around and see that the child is not kidnapped?

    Kathryn – I think your response to the cop was just right.

  16. Nicole January 29, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    I don’t have an issue with it safety-wise, but here in Australia heat is a major concern on all but the coldest of winter days. You simply can’t leave a child in a closed-up car (even with windows a bit down) during the day here – it just gets too hot. We have children die on a semi-regular basis (and many close calls) from parents leaving their children in a hot car, even just for 5-10 mins.

  17. Liza January 29, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    My husband left our 4-month-old baby, asleep in his swing, home alone while he ran 600 feet down the road to get gas for the lawn mower. I was livid. Thinking back, though, what is the worst thing that could have happened? How is that any different than me leaving the baby in the car to return a movie? Baby was strapped in, asleep, immobile, and locked safely in our house.

  18. Monica January 29, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Could the child get out of the car if he/she woke up? My daughter has been able the unbuckle and unlock the car from a very young age and know for certain she would freak out if she woke up and would try to find me. That would be my greatest concern besides heat . U said toddler not infant so being how precocious they can be …. To me sounds risky unless he/she is within view at all times or old enough to know better than to leave the car.

  19. Kristine January 29, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Im soo happy my friend told me about this website! I leave my kids in the car all the time. My oldest now 4 and my yoingest 8 months. At any given time one or both will be left in the car, awake or asleep. I have left my 4 yr old in the car since birth. We live in a small town and i have no fear of someone trying to “steal” my babies. As for the temperature of the vehicle well common sense of course. You cant leave them in a hot vehicle in the middle of sumner without having windows open at a reasonable openess and the same goes for cold winters, i wouldnt leave them in a freezing cold vehicle without proper clothes on and blankets. As for kids getting out that all depends on how you teach them. My 4 yr old still cant fully unbuckle but i know sometimes she can get herself out of her car seat however she has never left the car searching for me wondering the parking lot. I try to always remind her that if she falks asleep and wakes up alone that im not far away nor gone long. Also when she is awake i tell her where im going and she can always come get me if she has a problem. I keep doors locked inside and outside. Its all about know your children and teaching them. I even left my 8 month old in the vehicle asleep while i went for a 45 min cross country ski. And guess what he was sound asleep safe and warm the whole time as i knew he would be!! Call the cops if you want but ill tell you right now it will be an ugly fight if you think im incompetent in raising kids!!! My parents left me alone in our apartment while they went on a date as early as 6 yrs old and guess what i never burnt the place down, never answered the doir to strangers. I never hurt myself and never did something crazy cus my parents taught me how to be smart and good. This was in the 90s. What makes the 2000s any different? Its all about how you parent and knowing your children!!!

  20. Amanda Matthews January 29, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Woah woah woah wait, the employee was not arrested for preventing you from getting to your child and opening your car door?! I admire your strength in not punching the person.

    I leave my kids in the car. They could all unbuckle from the age of 2, I know some people count that as a toddler. But what I did was TALK to them about appropriate times to unbuckle (only after mom/dad says it’s okay). If I felt any specific child was too immature to understand or follow the rules, or could possibly wake up and have a look-for-mom-freakout, I didn’t leave them. This sometimes meant I would leave a younger kid and take an older into the store with me; because just like every thing else free-range, it is about maturity, not age.

    I have 4 kids with 3 in booster seats. The only possible way for me to buckle/unbuckle all of them myself would be if one of them stands outside, in the parking lot, while I lean in over a booster seat to buckle and unbuckle the kid in the middle seat. After my daughter and I nearly got ran over in a parking lot 2 years ago while we were putting groceries into the trunk (I had to grab her and jump out of the way; fortunately I only had 1 kid with me that day), that isn’t happening. I can’t pick up 4 kids and jump out of the way. They are much safer buckled into the car. They’re warmer in staying in the car in the winter, cooler staying in the car in the summer; and sometimes the weather is extreme enough for it to be a safety issue. (And if the car stalled in such a situation, they would open the window and ask for help.)

    I find it appalling that we’re fine leaving dogs in cars – because dogs CAN’T roll down the window and ask for help if needed, and dogs can’t tell you that they understand the rules – but not a person.

    @Marcy T – I just say “thank you” or “no thank you” (depending on what the person says to me) and just leave. There’s no point in wasting your time trying to use logic against these people.

  21. Jemma January 29, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    In PA, lawmakers tried (but failed thank goodness) to make it a FELONY to leave children under 14 in a car without adult supervision. In PA It is currently a summary offense to leave a child under 6 in a car unattended “under circumstances that endanger the health, safety or welfare of the child” yet I have read instances where “endangered” is interpreted very liberally–i.e., in a grocery store parking lot. There was a lot of publicity surrounding kids left alone in cars a couple years ago when casinos started opening up around the state and kids were found waiting in cars for hours upon hours. In those situations, the addiction is the problem (in my opinion), not leaving kids in cars (if you leave your toddler in a car for 6 hours to gamble, there are probably lots of other things you’ll do).

  22. Christina January 29, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    One of my biggest annoyances at the moment is that when I am running errands, my 5 years old boys really just want to sit in the car and read or play while I dash in to get one or two items. I’ve explained that it’s not allowed. Which leads to conversations about who gets to make that decision. Given their responses to date, it makes about as much sense to them as it does to me (i.e., none).

  23. jenifer January 29, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    i have left mine in the car locked and i have the other key.. nobody is gettin in.. and the kids are not gettin out.. child locks on.. its not for a shopping spree or hang outs.. its to run mail in the post office or run in to get milk.. its quick and efficient.. and its my business.. people need to start worrying about their own .. unless its sweltering hot and you see a child there for longer than a in and out … then yes you make it your business..

  24. Jenna K. January 29, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    A toddler cannot unbuckle to get out of a carseat by themselves. When I lived in Arizona, I accidentally LOCKED my two kids in the car with my keys, car was running, in the summer. They were both strapped in (ages 3 and 2) and I could not get the older one to unbuckle his seat, no matter how hard I tried yelling instructions at him through the window. He just couldn’t do it–his fingers weren’t strong enough to push the button all the way in. It warranted a call to the fire department to let me in my car, as it was summer in Arizona. Of course, the car was running so the AC was on.

    I leave my kids in the car whenever I feel like it would be more hassle to take them in. Like when I go to drop off something at the office at the school. I’m 7 months pregnant and I either have to carry in my toddler, who is heavy and bulky in his winter attire (as am I) and make myself so out of breath that I can’t talk to the secretary, or strap him into the stroller, which takes longer than the actual running in and dropping something off, so I leave him in the car for about 2-3 minutes.

    I remember as a kid in the 80s sitting in the car playing with my brothers while my mom grocery shopped–of course not when it was hot out or anything, but on those days when she dragged us along and then we really didn’t want to walk around the store.

  25. RobynHeud January 29, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    @Christina, what state do you live in? I’m in CA and our laws read very similar to Jemma’s post, in that it’s not technically illegal for children under the age of six to be left alone in the car, provided the circumstances do not “endanger the health, safety, or welfare” of the child(ren). To me, leaving my 3-yr-old and 1-yr-old in the car while I run back in the house (keys not in the ignition) or drop off books at the library, especially when I am within sight of them for most of, if not all of, the time, is not endangering them in any way. I’d recommend looking up the actual law and knowing for yourself whether it’s an unequivocal no kids under 6, or is it no kids under 6 under certain circumstances.

  26. SKL January 29, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    We moms should be given medals for remaining calm in situations like that.

    That employee deserved to have a complaint lodged against him. Sir, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to act in a menacing and threatening manner nor to touch the property of others (opening my car door? Oh hell no).

    Since she mentioned the cop was nice, I assume the cops were sensible about the situation – or I hope so. I have no problem with the fact that they came to have a look after someone called. After all, some parents/caregivers do stupid/mean things and the cops need to respond to calls alleging child abuse/neglect.

    I’m not in favor of a ban on leaving kids in cars. But for times when folks do call the cops, I wonder what criteria they apply to decide whether it’s OK that a parent left a kid in a car. I am sure it varies by location (and even by cop).

    Thank goodness my kids are getting too old for anyone to care if I do that.

  27. Steve January 29, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    “Trying-to-Stay Sane Mom” –

    I realize the person you encountered at the convenience store was not a reasonable person. But the Free Range position is something “sane people” can read about and learn to understand. So this does not apply to that “character.”

    Consider buying a couple copies of Lenore’s book – Free Range Kids. Give one to your husband and have him read it, so the two of you can be on the same page. Keep another copy in your car to loan out.

    Some regular reading here on Lenore’s blog, and even just seeing a couple of her speeches on youtube can change a person’s mind about these issues.

    Here is a good video for your husband to watch:

  28. Michelle January 29, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    I once had a cop freak out and yell at me because he did not feel I was paying enough attention while sitting in a parked car. (I was 24 at the time.) I didn’t notice the cop walk up to me, because I was watching my young daughter return a movie through the door slot of the video rental place. He started yelling at me about how a carjacker could have approached me while I was looking the other way! Then what would I do???

    Maybe he would have felt better if my daughter had taken me into the store with her, so she could keep an eye on me. 😛

  29. Warren January 29, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Luckily we have always lived in smaller towns and rural settings. The police and animal control are a little more relaxed and realistic. Yes animal control, because people are just as stupid about calling in a dog in a car, as they are a kid.

    My remedy………..I do both. My kids and dogs are car junkies, they love to go for carrides.

    Had a man tell me that leaving my child in her car seat while I ran into to get the chinese takeout, was dangerous. They would be abducted. He was actually more curious, than lecturing, like he was curious as to why I wasnt worried. I told him go for it. To actually try to just open the car door, and gave him the key.

    He put his hand on the door, which woke up close to 200 lbs of dog, there is three of them. Needless to say, he agreed my kid was in no danger.

    As for the people that are determined to impose their ideals, and lecture you, or call the cops. You do not have to be nice, or patient with a busy body. I know on this site people like to stay non confrontational, but there is no harm in standing your ground and telling these busybodies to piss off.

    Patience has it’s limits, and it is time to say enough is enough. Every time we kindly thank these people for their concern, it justifies their actions. And they conitnue on with a sense of righteousness. Put them in their place, and let them know you will stand your ground, that they are interferring in something that is none of their business.

  30. Michelle January 29, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Sky, and those who are concerned about toddlers unbuckling themselves, if a young child is not yet old enough / responsible enough to be trusted to stay buckled, he should NOT be in a seat that he can unbuckle himself. THAT is incredibly dangerous. I have had toddlers attempt to unbuckle themselves while I was driving. I would be far more concerned about driving around with a child who is capable of unbuckling, but not yet responsible enough to refrain from doing so, than I would be about leaving a sleeping child in a car for a few minutes on a day with reasonable weather.

    Of course, where I live we have never heard of reasonable weather, so I still don’t leave small children in the car alone. We had an 80 degree day yesterday, and it’s the middle of winter.

  31. Rae January 29, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    I have had this arguement so many times, and I still don’t think it holds water. Particularly at gas stations- I feel like busy gas stations are really treacherous and when my kids were smaller (preschoolers) I refused to let them come inside with me. If they wanted a juice or a treat I’d go in and get it, but they were never to get out of the car, between the distracted drivers, filthy concrete and the desire to ‘break free and run’, I felt like sitting in the car was much better. Now they are 5 & 7 and nobody wants to come in with me anywhere anymore… now that I have reader and we are in booster seats, the backseat is a comfortable place to chill and read a book, who wants to get in and out of the car over and over with me while I grab drycleaning, perscriptions, or a new printer cartrage? They are already talking about when they can stay home for these chores. It’s going to be a while… but I like that they see that gaining independence is a right of passage.

  32. The "Trying-to-Stay-Sane" Mom (of the above story) January 29, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Thanks for posting my story. I love the comment under your picture. That is exactly what the officer told me about his mom!

  33. Amber January 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    When my twin sons were babies, if they were asleep, I’d lock them in the car (with the engine and AC on) if I had to run in and out of a store (only ones you could park super close to the door and see the car from inside). I thank god no one ever gave me a hard time about it… Because c’mon, I’m not lugging two infant car seats around just to return a DVD or buy a stamp. I never left them more than a few minutes…and I was never worried about their safety in our little college town.

    I do have a friend from school who was issued a citation for leaving her 9 year old and 11 year old in the car while she returned library books. She had to pay a huge fine and even go to parenting classes. Are you F-ing kidding me??? By 9 and 11 years old…my brother and I were staying home alone, doing our homework, our chores, and making ourselves dinner while my dad was out to sea and my mom worked her second job. Kids are capable of so much more than today’s society gives them credit for!!

  34. Gladys Tokar January 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Boy Do I Agree…. It seem common sense has the building!!!… Playgrounds are empty!… all older men in malls are “dirty old men” instead of someone grandpa… Children are terrified to walk to school along. Yes Bad thing do happen… as we know a child can be taken from their bed in their own home…..

    It ONLY appears that it is worse then 50 years ago, because the media is constant, 50 years ago unless this was a child of a superstar etc it was not heard…

    Children need to grow up knowing the world is a good and safe place, that 98% of the population is good, and 2% are “bad”, to feel confident in their ability to handle situations that arise, to respect the old man in the mall etc. The only way a child can learn the things they need to be happy well adjust adults is to teach them independence (age appropriate of course), self confidence, respect.. how to recognize and deal with dangerous and situations.

    As the parent of 2 happy well adjusted adult girls (now 41 and 38) with happy well adjusted free range children of their own my advise to all parents and grandparents is…. Common sense….. you are raising your children and only you know how they will handle the situations you put them in… Keep it up and listen to that little voice in your head and not CNN….

  35. Havva January 29, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    At 2 my daughter isn’t anywhere close to being able to unbuckle herself. The buckle on her car seat is so strong, I even have difficulty releasing it. When my hands are cold, I need both hands to get it open. And yeah, my daughter hates being hauled in and out of the car seat. The less time between out and back in, the more she resists the car seat.

    In the first year all the stuff about how you should never leave you kid unattended in the car “for even a second,” made me think twice about getting out and unlocking the door to the house before hauling her out of the car. But I left her in the warm car anyhow, because the thought of hauling a sick newborn into the cold winter air and setting her on the stoop for several minutes while I fumbled with the keys and the stubborn lock was just too insane for words. Now she wants daddy to help her out of her seat so she waits for me to fetch daddy, and that’s fine by me.

    But outside of our driveway, the closest I have come was quickly running up to see if the dry cleaner, with the construction permits in the window was open or not. Once I determined they were open, I ran straight back and hauled her in with me. I sure didn’t want to. It had been a fight to get her in the seat. She was happily looking at a favorite book. It was warm in the car and 20 degrees outside. If it weren’t for the fact that my warmest winter coat had been peed on, I wouldn’t have even bothered with going to the cleaners at all. It was such a pain that in the afternoon, I drove her home to dad, and then drove back to the cleaners, just to avoid hauling her out of the car seat and then having to force her back in. I think it would have been perfectly reasonable to leave her in the seat, in full view of the counter at the cleaner’s and just feet away from where I would be standing. But I know the national standard seems to be call the cops the second you see a mom walk away from a car containing a kid.

    I totally understand this mom being too flustered to tell the cop about the employee’s behavior. But that did deserve to be reported. I’d have been tempted to call it an attempted kidnapping, as in. “He was shouting to everyone that I was a kidnapper. He tried to keep me from getting to my child. And he tried to get into my car. I think he was trying to take my kid!”

    The guy’s boss should probably know what an unstable and racist employee he has. Perhaps the boss can clarify to him how a person is to behave in civil society. I.e. that you don’t get to just do whatever (making up kidnapping stories, separate a child from it’s mother, and open other people’s cars) just because you don’t like that person’s ‘foreign’ parenting. The employee sounds like a liability.

  36. Warren January 29, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    Come to think of it, that employee did get off lucky. Lucky in that she didn’t file charges against him. Lucky she hasn’t gotten him fired. And lucky it was her and say not a dad like me, who would have probably lost my cool, and done some damage.

  37. Donna January 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Sometimes I am very glad that I live on a small rock in the middle of nowhere for now. There are always kids in cars in parking lots here, hanging out windows and sometimes just sitting right out there in the bed of the truck. Now if I could just convince mine to stay in the car.

  38. SLS January 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Twelve years ago, in the state of Washington, I left my three year old asleep in her car seat in my locked, shaded car while my eight year old, her friend and I had lunch al fresco. We were not twenty feet away from my car. Though it was not a hot day, I cracked the windows to hear if she cried or called out. Every few minutes, I got up to check on her. A rent-a-cop from the hotel next door called the police. I explained at length to the officer where we were sitting, etc. While he was very polite, I received a citation anyway. My daughter slept through the whole thing.

    I had to hire an attorney ($1,000.00) and go to court. The judge said that since I didn’t have a record, the charge would be dropped as long as I had a three hour conversation with a columnist who wrote in our local paper on family matters. Unbelievable. I did have this conversation and in the end she said: well, I don’t think you need any advise from me on parenting!

    As you can imagine, I was infuriated by the ordeal. My attorney told me this was a nice revenue enhancement scheme for the city as fines were often issued.

    So, beware. In some jurisdictions, they will go after you.

  39. missjanenc January 29, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    I was criminalized by my son for leaving my ten year-old grandson in the car with his Gameboy while I donated blood. Haven’t seen him for four years. The real kicker is he and his brother were kids who were as free range as they come.

  40. missjanenc January 29, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    @ Warren, I have called Animal Control for dogs left in car. I live in NC and some tool left a little Chihuahua in a car at Walmart with windows cracked 2″ – in the summer when the humidity bumped the heat index over 100°. AC was there within a few minutes and waited over 15 minutes for owner to show up from shopping. You just don’t do that.

  41. hineata January 29, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    @Donna – you’d have thought your daughter would prefer to hang out in the car park with the other kids, than trotting around the place following Mum. I love that they still travel in the trays of the truck – always loved doing that myself, and while I know it’s ‘dangerous’, in summer it’s the best way to ride.

    Always thought the people who complain about kids being left in cars were hypocrites. In the seventies over here (probably sixties as well, any earlier kids kids would just have been left at home) kids were regularly left in pub carparks in the evening/night. It was the ultimate social gathering in our little town, and I was always brassed off that my dad refused to take us with him (Mum being a teetotaller, of course, he didn’t have to worry anyway). As for during the day, if people bothered to take their kids with them in the car, same thing. My friend remembers spending 45minutes plus in the car in Petone (not the most salubrious neighbourhood in the seventies) while her mother wandered about doing her shopping and chatting to every second person in the street.

    These days, it seems to be Pakehas (whites) of that generation most apt to complain about every little thing involving kids. They’re forgetting themselves…..

  42. Gramshel January 29, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    I agree that the “crime” can be over rated especially with an infant and a quick run in with the car in plain sight I ‘d feel safer about that actually than leaving 2 or more older kids….they fight and act off.. And last year a police officer in Western Washington left his 7 year old and a younger sister in the vehicle and ran into a bldg. The older child opened the glovebox ,found Dad’s weapon. It discharged and little sister is dead. Dad was tried for the crime of leaving gun unsecured. The incident ended in a mistrial . Dad and sibling will still have to live with this the rest of their lives. I’m sure it never entered his head that the children “who knew better” would open the glovebox and handle the gun. I know it is an extreme example but my point is just because a child is not an infant or toddler doesn’t mean they can safely be left in a car. BY the way I had 3 kids 4 and under so I do understand the hassle of dragging them in and out of the car. I see nothing wrong with putting gas in the car. Locking it and walking over to pay with the car in plain sight but nothing more.

  43. SKL January 29, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Gramshel, the thing is, kids can find mischief no matter where they are. It’s not “being left in the car” that causes it. If they are looking for mischief, how much more likely that they will find it in the store you’re shopping in?

    I would not leave my kids (not babies) in the car with the keys, though, for more than a few seconds. They could get a stupid idea and cause a lot of damage.

  44. hineata January 29, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Often left my kids in the van alone for a few minutes after I had more than one of them. Polarised windows are a help. The only problem I ever had was when Midge got upset and ended up having a spectacular nosebleed all over herself, the kid next to her and the back of the car. Unpleasant, but not as dangerous as dragging four toddlers through a busy carpark and street for a two-minute errand.

  45. Linvo January 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    For those who mention the heat danger, the majority of these case involved carers forgetting that the kids were in the car. Just found this:

    Having stricter laws isn’t going to prevent these cases and these stats show that the vast majority of people can use common sense to assess the risk of leaving kids in cars.

    I live in Australia, but in a temperate climate. 3/4 of the year, heat is not an issue here. And I used to often just leave all the windows down if I left my toddler. (Shock horror! But personally I find it safer than locking a toddler in the car on their own.)

  46. Donna January 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    hineata – My girl LOVES to shop. She is also incredibly nosy and afraid that she is going to miss something. She will stay home alone if I am just running to the local what passes as a grocery store, but beyond that, she wants to come to shop.

    In Am. Samoa, they attach chairs to the beds of trucks and ride in them. I’ll let mine do it with an adult but she can rarely con an adult to get back there with her when we are riding in a truck. At average speeds of 15-20mph, it really isn’t all that dangerous.

    As for those mentioning heat, it is HOT in Am. Samoa. 24/7, 365 days a year it is HOT. People hang out waiting in cars all the time and, to my knowledge, not one has died yet. They have enough sense to roll the windows down! The danger of hot cars is with all the windows rolled up where the heat builds up inside the car. A car with all the windows rolled down is no hotter than the world outside.

  47. Debra January 29, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    I often leave my three kids (2, 5, 7) in the car if I’m making a short dash in to a store. I care too much about my kids to make them walk through -50F temperatures if I can help it. (Car is left running with autostart, doors are locked, I have the keys.)

    There are safe ways of doing just about everything.

  48. Jana January 29, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    My boyfriend drove me to the doctor’s office about a month ago and had to pick something up at the hardware store. He left me sleeping in the passenger seat and got crap from an old lady parked next to us for leaving his child in the car. I’m 15… I really hope this woman was senile. It’s funny though because I was babysitting my friend’s three year old last night. My friend was seriously ill at 2am so I went to the drug store with the sleeping kid in tow. The house is old. I don’t want him getting into trouble in the middle of them and especially don’t want to clean up trouble in the middle of the night. They yelled at me about how irresponsible having a child out at that hour was and how traumatized he could be. He was sleeping soundly. Can’t win with these people.

  49. Warren January 29, 2013 at 3:46 pm #


    WOW!!!??? How stupid of me, not to have gone into the archives of the weather network, to post the weather, at the time I was getting chinese food 7 years ago. I am so sorry, that I did not post that information for you.

    Get off your soapbox. I will tell you this once and once only. I do not endanger my kids, I do not endanger my animals. With that said, keep your assumptions to yourself.

  50. Donna January 29, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    I am really amazed at the amount of people here who leave kids in cars but only if the doors are locked. I’m not sure I get the rational. If the world is safe enough for kids to wait in cars, why the locks? If kids are disappearing at alarming rates from unlocked cars, I wouldn’t leave my child in a locked car either as a car window takes 5 seconds to break.

  51. Claudia January 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    I lock the doors, too – yes, I know it’s not really rational. Frankly it’s a sop to people who are inclined to be busybodies, so you can say ‘C’mon, is someone really likely to be walking be walking past who has a long-held ambition to abduct the child, see the child in the car, break the window in a crowded street and drag the kid out?’ – if you don’t lock, it could be said that the imaginary child abductor might be able to remove a young kid without drawing attention or causing alarm to the kid. Or those people who don’t understand that young kids are not likely to be able to undo car straps will say ‘But what if they decided to wander off’ (more likely than the abduction scenario, admittedly) My view is, it only takes a second and it’s a reasonable precaution.

  52. Kimberly January 29, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    This might be ok for you in more northern climbs but do NOT leave kids in cars in the south. You will be arrested, and deserve it. Heat kills and cars become intolerably hot very quickly here. We have multiple kids die each summer because they have been left in the car.

    As for toddlers/PK’s can’t get out of their seats that will depend on the kids. I have a cousin who at age 2.5 unbuckled himself and scared the hell at his mother by tumbling over the front seat to sit with her. Other kids in the family have been able to do it before they were 4.

  53. dot January 29, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    In Australia during summer the public is encouraged to call the police if they see a young child left alone in a car, due to the health risks. I’m all for a free-range childhood and have left my baby in the car (windows down) for short periods, eg paying for petrol or returning a dvd, but wouldn’t hesitate to call the police if I saw a baby or toddler in a locked car during summer, and I couldn’t see a parent. I would probably do it for a dog too.

  54. LRothman January 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    When my kids were little and we were traveling out of state, at night, in December, and I had to stop & use the restroom, buy coffee or pay for gas, I sure as heck didn’t wake them up and make them come with me. I would have a spare key with me, leave the car running (heat on) and lock them in. I did remind them before we left “if you guys are asleep and Mommy needs to run inside, I’ll lock you in and you’ll be safe. If you wake up and I’m not here, I’ll be back in a couple minutes”. Never once had them wake up. Never had anyone look at me cross-eyed about it, either – guess I was lucky.

  55. Alex January 29, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    I see someone else posted about the absurd PA law, that fortunately did not pass.

    However, I asked a state police officer to interpret for me what the current policy is/was, and his take on it was “if you can see the vehicle then its ok”

    Seriously? But ok, fine. At least I can run into the convience store to get the gas card, so I get the 5 cents off.

    Last spring my daughter was sleeping in the car, in the driveway with the monitor on and windows down. In the shade. Doors locked. My next door neighbor came over to get me and tell me that he was worried someone my take her. My mother too. Its insane to think that a predator is driving up and down my residential street just looking for a baby in a car asleep. Ridiculous! I have let her sleep dozens of time since then, and neither my mother or the neighbor seems any happier about it.

  56. Mr. Mom January 29, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    I left my sons, ages 7 & 9 in the car last summer, doors locked, while I went into a Safeway for a few minutes to get a coffee. I was parked by the door and was gone a total of 7 minutes. And no, it was the morning and wasn’t hot at all. When I got outside there was a lady waiting for me.. She said I was breaking the law. I told her not to go there, but she proceeded to lecture me anyway. I left and gave her the “crazy person finger twirl” gesture. That must’ve made her mad, because she called child protective services! They came to my door the next day. I couldn’t believe it. They said that you couldn’t leave a kid alone in a car unless they were 12 or older. They grilled me quite extensively. I asked them if I was breaking the law when I let my boys walk down the block to go to the store, and they said no, that was fine. I gave them a piece of my mind and mad sure they knew what I thought. Such a staggering amount of irrationality. That’s what is truly frightening.

  57. Charla January 29, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    I do hope you write, or have already written, a letter to the manager and the owner of the video store detailing the employee’s actions in explanation as to why you will never do business there again.

  58. Susan January 29, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    I am shocked by the number of people who responded that they leave young kids and babies in the car. In Los Angeles, you’d be arrested in minutes. No excuses acceptable. Its just a fact of life: when Mom goes to the store, everyone gets out and helps her, even the preemie with an oxygen tank and heart monitor.

  59. bmommyx2 January 30, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    I do occasionally leave my 6 yr old & older baby in the car for very short periods of time. I have been accosted by strangers & fear some busy body calling the police or CPS. The first time I had two sick kids, the baby was a sleep I needed to get my son some juice I parked right in front of the market & gave my 6 yr old a bottle & paci in case his brother woke up. I was gone five minutes. It was not hot, warm or extremely cold the car was locked & the windows were cracked. I returned to have a stranger tell me my baby was crying (just in case I didn’t know what that noise was coming from my car. I acknowledged her, then she started yelling at me & talked about calling the police. I tried to explain that I was only gone a few minutes & the baby wasn’t feeling well & would have been crying regardless & I thanked her for her concern even though she was extremely rude. Another time my kids were sleeping while I was getting gas. I went inside to get my change & since there was a line too the opportunity to wash my hands only to have the attendant tell my the kids were crying. I went to the car to settle the kids down then inside for my change as I returned some woman started questioning my decision to leave the kids in the car. She didn’t like my response & started yelling at me & questioning my parenting. Hmmm really I should take a 6 yr old & young toddler & out of the car at a very busy gas station & car wash rather than leave them secure in my vehicle while I go inside to pay for my gas. Really?

  60. buffy January 30, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    Come on, folks. I don’t think anyone here is advocating leaving a child in the car on a hot day.

    What they are advocating is parents making a sensible decision based on their child, the weather, the situation, where they are going, and for how long. You know, like parents used to do before everyone else knew what was best for other people’s children.

  61. baby-paramedic January 30, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    As others have mentioned, in Australia we are encouraged to call emergency services if we see a baby/toddler unattended in a car, especially during Summer (or more correctly, that is when the ads get constant).
    BUT, I know we are regularly reaching 45C where I am (~110F). What can I say, we are a hot country. We do not even leave adults in the cars if we can avoid it 😉

    But, I have never gone to a baby/toddler in the car who had only been there for a short period of time. Nor have any of my colleagues (this topic came up at work today, it always does this time of year). So either our dispatchers dismiss it… Or WAY more likely, the public wait a bit to see if someone is coming back before it gets too hot.

  62. Jemma January 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    For those who are suprised that we leave our kids in locked cars (v unlocked). It is partly habit but partly because my waiting kid is on an iPad or kindle and my 60 pound kid would be no match for someone who wants to steal it. While I love my kid much more than an iPad, I think the iPad is much more likely to be stolen.

  63. Jon January 30, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    For me, it wasn’t so much the fact that someone thought that I should have woken up my sleeping daughter on a cold day, it was that the police officer who gave me the ticket basically accused me of being a child abuser, proceeded to write my life story, and tried repeatedly to baiting me into “do[ing] something.”

  64. Jeff January 30, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    I’m not opposed to leaving grown children in the car for a few minutes. My mom used to leave me in the car when she’d go grocery shopping. I had great fun turning the radio up to full blast, turning on the air, windshield wipers, everything, so that when she got back and started the car it would do like Mike’s Car in that Monster’s Inc short.

    However, leaving a small child alone like that isn’t at all wise. Mine are 11 and 9 now, but once upon a time they were 3 and 1. I do all the grocery shopping and at the time my wife worked nights, so any errands that I needed to run I ran with my kids in tow. Yes, it’s damned inconvenient, in fact it’s a pain in the arse, but you know, nobody promised me being a dad was going to be convenient. Even if all I had to do was drop off a movie, I took them with me. All it cost me was a few extra minutes, and for me that’s not too steep a price to pay – if for no other reason than to keep from being hassled by police.

    Nowadays I’ll leave them in the car while I pop into the store. They’re old enough to follow my explicit directions to not open the door for anyone. However, if it’s hot or cold, I don’t leave the car running – that’s just too great a temptation. I don’t leave my wallet on the seat, because that’s just stupid, right? I wouldn’t leave an empty car running, much less a car with my kids in it. Locked doors mean nothing to a car thief, but they dearly love a car with the keys in the ignition. Even if they don’t drive off with the kids in the backseat, I’d rather not put my kids through the trauma of that crime just because it’s inconvenient to get them out of the car.

    The problem here isn’t really the police, or busybodies. The problem is poor planning. Take a little time to plan your outing and you can avoid the inconvenience of getting the kids in and out of the car a dozen times.

  65. dave™© January 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    When I was a kid (in the 60s and early 70s), my parents routinely left my sister(s) and I in the car while they shopped, picked something up, etc. Especially when we were older, we were left in the car at our request – we didn’t want to go in the store and would rather listen to the radio. We lived in the San Joaquin Valley in CA, and so the summers were VERY hot. But when we were younger, at least, the car didn’t have air conditioning anyway… But no, I would NOT leave a pet in a car – even with the window “cracked” it gets at least 20 degrees hotter inside than outside.

  66. The "Trying-to-Stay-Sane" Mom (of the above story) January 30, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    I totally agree: How dared my 2 year old fall asleep 20 minutes ahead of schedule? I went over the plan with her a dozen times: first we run a quick errand, then we pick up her brother from pre-school and then, only on the way home, she could fall asleep. I simply don’t know what went wrong – didn’t she get my German “plan-and-stick-to-schedule” gene?

  67. Evan January 30, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    I agree with what RobynHeud said: Look up the law for your state (in California it’s section 15620 of the vehicle code) and be prepared to quote chapter and verse to cops or other busybodies.

    California’s rule is, if the circumstances are safe (i.e., it isn’t a boiling-hot day and the windows rolled up), and if the keys aren’t in the ignition or the engine running, then your baby can go ahead and sleep. I’ve heard of at least one state (Washington) that has an extra rule against leaving children unattended if you’re planning to go into a bar or liquor store — I’m not sure what the rationale is, except maybe it means the kid can’t come in and get you. Most states don’t have any laws about it at all.

  68. Donna January 30, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    “I’m not opposed to leaving grown children in the car for a few minutes.”

    Wouldn’t “grown children” be offspring who are adults? I can’t imagine how one would be opposed to leaving adults anywhere adults want to be for as long as they want to be there.

  69. Mark January 30, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    So, here we go…
    When my twins were about 18 months old, and mom was out of town, I was on my way home with the kids in the car asleep and I had to stop at the pet store for some cat food. In my mind the situation couldn’t have been safer to leave them in the car, since I could see them in the car from inside the store, and the car was directly outside the store. Honestly, when I go to the cafe, and go for a refill and leave them in their stroller while I am at the till, they are about the same distance as they were when I was in the pet store.

    So, of course when I’m in the store, a delivery person who had just made a delivery to the pet store walked out of the store about 30 seconds before me. I finished my transaction and watched as he stared at my car and took out his phone. In my head I thought, “is he really calling the police?”, but concluded he might just be making a work call. As I came out of the store, though, he was walking up closer to the car and staring in the window more closely. I walked by and said “hello” and I heard him saying “oh, never mind, the guy is back”.

    Although frustrated and shocked by what had happened, the guy on the phone was not my primary concern. There was a woman who was nearby watching what had happened, and she unleashed a torrent of criticism and judgement on me. I wanted to ask the guy if he had given the police my license plate number because I was worried about getting a visit from social services later (probably a little paranoid, but…). Since the woman was busy loudly accusing me of being negligent and a criminal etc. I didn’t want to give her the idea of taking my plate number to pursue the issue of my apparent incompetence with the police. So I decided to let her insult me and my abilities to make rational decisions as I quietly got in my car and drove off.

    To make matters worse, while discussing the issue with a friend at a pub, his ex-wife happened in on the conversation and basically reiterated all of the insults that were made by the woman who had seen me outside the pet store. Honestly, until today, the only other person who I told about this was my wife (who 100% backed me).

    It was certainly a frustrating event, and I felt like (worst case scenario) I was being threatened with having my kids taken away for something that was no more dangerous than when they are in their bedroom and I am in mine (again, about the same amount of distance from the store to the car).

    To cover some of the standard bases:
    -They cannot get out of their car seats
    -Heat was not a factor

  70. DN January 30, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    I essentially agree with this post. But my 18 month old son has managed to unbuckle himself from the baby car seat multiple times. He was angry I wouldn’t let him sit on my lap the first time, and now it is almost a game. It’s a pretty typical Graco car seat. From sitting in my lap and experimenting he has also learned how to roll down windows and open doors. It is not at all far-fetched that he could wke up and get out of the car. Front doors don’t have child locks. I don’t leave him alone in the car for a minute, now. The busybodies should shut up. But if you think your 3 year old can’t get out I suggest a rethink.

  71. Warren January 30, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    You see it is this attitude, that we have to justify ourselves, explain to the busybody, thank them for their concern that is all wrong.

    Enough is enough. I know for some it is not the politcally correct way, but just tell them to piss off and mind their own business.

    Everyone needs to stop trying to live and act by what other people think and feel. If they do not like it, sucks to be them. Put them in their place, and maybe they will think twice about sticking their nose in places where it doesn’t belong.

  72. linvo January 30, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    “Take a little time to plan your outing and you can avoid the inconvenience of getting the kids in and out of the car a dozen times.”

    Must be great to be you… Because convenience should never be a reason to do anything, right? Why choose the easy option if you can do it the hard way. For no good reason whatsoever IMO.

    “and for me that’s not too steep a price to pay – if for no other reason than to keep from being hassled by police. ”

    IF for no other reason? What other reason is there? I have been leaving my child alone in an unlocked car with all the windows down for a few minutes for years. Why not? Why would it be more dangerous than letting her play in the front yard or walk home alone from school?

  73. SKL January 31, 2013 at 12:26 am #

    I do take my kids in with me almost 100% of the time. But I still want to be the person deciding that! I’ve had a few times when it would have been ridiculous to drag my kid in with me. Like the time I had to escort my one child into school late while the other 5yo, sick, sat in the car. Aside from feeling miserable, she had puked on herself during the drive. I don’t believe there is any realistic likelihood that someone is going to come to the suburban school parking lot in the morning and steal my locked car, with kid inside, while I take a few minutes to explain the situation to the teacher. And no law is going to take all these “what ifs” into account.

  74. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt January 31, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    My wife has had this happen to her several times — she runs in on a quick errand, only to be harassed by some busybodies who want to point out what a horrible mom she is. Steams her every time.

    Interestingly, though, no one has ever made it an issue with me. I probably have done it more often, but I have not been accused of trying to murder my child. I wonder if there are some gender dynamics at work here?
    One dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  75. Warren January 31, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    @ Let Her Eat Dirt

    There is a gender dynamic at work.

    Where a mom is more likely to quietly thank them for their concern.

    A dad is more likely to tell them to piss off.

  76. JB February 1, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    I have to say if I saw a young child – a baby or a toddler in a car, I’d wait by the car, look around to see if anyone was clearing watching (looking out the drycleaners window) and if no one returned in a few minutes, I would call the police. Its not that I would believe the child wouldn’t be OK for a few minutes. It is because parents have forgotten their kids were in their car and their children have died from exposure. I’d rather risk embarressing or pissing off the parent, then risk the life of a young child. Now once you are talking older kids, I wouldn’t think twice. As they could get themselves out of the car if it were too hot/too cold.

    I fully support your drive to establish independence in children. But allowing a toddler to sleep in a car is less about independence and more about the covenience for the parent.

  77. Jeff February 1, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Sane Mom – Yes, my kids would fall asleep completely off schedule. I guess it was cruel to take them with me anyway, because, you know, it wasn’t like they weren’t going to wake up in five minutes anyway, the first time somebody blew their horn or drove by with 10,000 watts of bass creating pretty non-Newtonian patterns in the window glass. At least they were with me with they woke up, instead of alone in a parking lot.

    Linvo – If for no other reason than creating future fears of abandonment as they wake up alone and sit and scream in the car for five minutes while I’m trying to pick a movie from the Redbox.

    I’m talking about babies, not kids. I wouldn’t leave an infant in the front yard or let a toddler walk home alone from the preschool.

  78. Warren February 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    It must be nice to live in a part of the world with a perfect climate, as well as being perfect.

    There is no way in hell, you can tell me it is better to wake up your 4 month old, pull them out into sub zero conditions, to stand in line for 2 minutes to pay for the tank of gas.

    Try living in Ontario, thru the winters with kids. You will get a whole new outlook on parenting. And in the meantime, do not always equate other’s situations to your own.

  79. Warren February 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm #


    I should explain
    The reason you are being met with hostility is your last statement assuming that we are guilty of poor planning, and that we see our kids as a bother.

    No, we just have the confidence that if our child woke up, that their world would not change or be destroyed.

    Could it be possible that you have abandonment issues from your childhood?

  80. Beth February 1, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Man, I sure hate the notion that convenience = bad parenting.

  81. pentamom February 2, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    “If for no other reason than creating future fears of abandonment as they wake up alone and sit and scream in the car for five minutes while I’m trying to pick a movie from the Redbox. ”

    Sometimes when my kids were little, I would take showers. And sometimes, they’d disobey me and wake from their naps five or more minutes before I was done. Then they’d scream in their cribs for a while.

    The oldest is 22, the youngest is 11, and none of them has had to have counseling yet.

  82. Warren February 2, 2013 at 11:28 am #


    You are lucky….my daughters are trying to drag me onto Dr Phil. They want him to confront me for all the times I abandoned them, to go to the bathroom, or to collect the mail.

    They claim they cannot trust any male, anytime, anywhere. Because he will always leave. They are just devastated.

    I am seriously considering suing Canada Post. They should have realised I had kids, and delivered my mail up the 1/4 drive and me personally. Then I wouldn’t have abandoned my girls. I hope they can find it in my heart to forgive me.

  83. Sia February 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I remember being left in the car with my 10-year-old brother while mum ran in for something like bread and milk and I wasn’t quite 5 at the time.

  84. BusyMomof2 February 5, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    I sometimes let my 4 yr old sit in the car alone while I run into a store (where I can still see her). I keep the car running (for both the A/C and so she can continue to watch her movie) and she locks the door behind me. (Ex: stopping by a farmers market, running inside to grab food to go, running inside a store to return something, etc.)

    Honestly I think my husband would have a fit if he knew I did that but sometimes it’s just soooo much easier and everyone is happier when you can just run in a store really quick without the drama of lugging tired, cranky or annoyed small kids around with you.

  85. Susan February 7, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    Dear busymomof2, thank you for admitting that you are human trying to do your best and sometimes don’t take 20 precautions with your child. I left my 3 kids in the car and forgot to take the keys (but didn’t think anything of it) for a 5 minute errand – within site, 15 feet from car – my 9 year old acted way out of character and put the car in gear and drove it 5 feet into the wall in front of the car. I called the police in order to get a report for insurance. I would have thought we need to pay for the wall, of course, and I expect to be told off that I should pay more attention etc.,which I agree with and have since made sure I do. I clearly made a mistake. But forgetting the keys apparently is not an oversight, it is a huge legal issue. I am facing criminal charges. My kids are still afraid of the police. The other day one of my toddlers was having a fit and didn’t want to buckle her car seat and said something like who says I have to? And the other kids started crying and yelling ‘quick quick buckle your seat or the police will come and take mom again!’
    It has been over a year since this all happened – but the court case is still ongoing. I come to this site once in awhile just to not feel like the worst mother in the world.
    Thank you all for your voicing your opinions, you all sound very reasonable to me – we try our best, we are always trying to anticipate everything that can go wrong and avoid it, and we try to teach our children to behave responsibly. Absolute foresight and perfection would be great, but even in parenthood it is not realistic.

  86. NicoleK February 8, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    I personally wouldn’t leave my kid alone in the parking lot of a big store like Walmart. But I often do in those places where you can drive right up and park in front of the store and just hop in.

  87. Di February 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    My Dad used to get grief from a lady at church because he left my brother and I in the house while he went outside to do the farm chores (feed livestock mainly). We live in an area that gets very cold (-25 is not unheard of) and he thought he was better off leaving his 3 and 1 year old inside with a Disney movie over dragging them out in the cold. Once when I was about 4 or so a telemarketer called and was so worried she stayed on the phone with me. It is a long running family joke now.

  88. Monique March 13, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    I just wanted to share my story and lend support to the poster Susan. I went to my restaurant job on a warm, sunny day to pick up my paycheck. My one year old son, who was not walking yet, was sleeping peacefully in his car seat. I parked the car a little farther from the entrance (but still in view) specifically to leave him in the shade and left the windows down. I was heavily pregnant with my third child and I took my two year old daughter into the store with me. I was in the store about 10-15 minutes talking with co-workers, which was longer than I intended. When I walked out, a cop was waiting by my car and he just berated me. He told me that I was an irresponsible parent and that if he was the manager at my job I would be fired. At first I didn’t believe he was serious but by the time the second officer arrived I realized that I might be arrested and I started bawling. Since it was clear that my son was in no physical danger from overheating, he kept harping on how much money it costs to activate an Amber Alert. I told him that I knew that kidnapping by strangers is extremely rare. In the end, he let me go, but I have never forgotten how he judged me as such a poor parent when in fact, I was working three jobs to take care of my family. Susan, I’m so sorry that your situation went to that level. I certainly hope that common sense prevails!

  89. accoupGlono April 9, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

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  90. confused kid April 22, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    My Dad left me in the car from the age of 5-11 at the bar, 4-5 times a week for hours. It was horrible, I was very bored and terrified. I hated it messed up childhood.. I hate my dad still he is a narcissist selfish pig..

  91. confused kid April 22, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    I see no harm in leaving you child in the car while you drop off a movie to a return box, but leaving them in a car for hours while you get drunk is abuse, I wish the cops would have showed up at least once out of the hundred times I had to sit in the car at the bar. I would never leave my daughter in the car unattended, the thought of it makes me cry. My dad got sway with it for years and never got in any trouble, makes me want to choke him out..
    People please don’t leave your kid/kids in the car while you have fun doing what you enjoy or they might want to kill you some day.

  92. confused kid April 22, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    After age 11 I just got out off the car, I guess you can say I was a free range kid at that point.

  93. confused kid April 22, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    Only 18 states have laws that prohibit parents from leaving their child in a car unattended. That doesn’t mean, however, that a parent won’t face criminal charges in states that don’t have such a law. The rules and regulations around leaving children alone in a car are complex and can get messy. A clear understanding of the basics and what can happen when children are left alone might motivate parents to always take their child inside with them.

    Child abuse & child neglect is a class 5 felony

  94. horizongreen July 2, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    I find this very very appalling the police have far better things to do. In summing them over trivial things , we allow far more important things slip by and possibly rob someone in need of help. On top of that having child services summoned as well also robs kids who are being abused of help. We should call either one of them ONLY if it is warranted and have hard evidence proving that they are needed. This is blatant squandering of resources. I do not have kids but as more common sense is outlawed I would not want to bring one into this world. However I say congrats of those who have them and exercise common sense. Please keep of the work of this site as well, I find it very inspiring.

  95. Regina August 19, 2013 at 3:32 am #

    I can’t believe some of these comments. This is not ok. Not only could your child have a heat stroke in the hotter months, but at any time your car could be burglarized. Your children could be kidnapped. There are a number of factors that could come into play that you’d never think of. I hope you all continue to get reported and never have to learn your lesson the hard way. Think before you act.


  1. Jeff Co Mom Arrested For Leaving Kid in the Car | StLMotherhood - February 4, 2013

    […] 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. ~Free Range Kids […]