“You Don’t Deserve to Have Kids!” — A Parking Lot Encounter

Dear Readers — When you live in a society spasming with fear, it is hard not to flinch. That’s why we are here on this blog together. To support each other when the world mistakes our confidence and rationality for neglect and abuse. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I just finished reading Free Range Kids, over the course of 1.5 days. I never send fan mail, but I couldn’t keep my gratitude and relief to myself.

I am the mother of a 22-month-old boy, and I have been parenting him in a Free-Range style without really having a name for it.  He has always been very independent, so I’ve always given him as much freedom as I feel a toddler can have.  Parents who follow their children around the (fenced-in) playground have always confused me, and I’ve gotten my fair share of concerned looks when he has climbed on top of something really high (again) and I haven’t been rightbyhisside.

Though I knew my parenting style was more hands-off than most of my counterparts, I always felt confident in my choice to trust my son and let him set his own limits (within reason of course – I have yet to let him sit down to play with cigarette butts in a busy parking lot).  But about a month ago, something happened that really made me wonder if I was a terrible parent and wrong to think “stranger-danger” was overblown:

After an afternoon of running errands, my son and I made a last stop at the post office. I needed a flat-rate shipping box.  He was getting sleepy, so I decided that he could stay in the car while I made the 20-second trek to go inside, grab a box, and come right back out.  It was a mild October afternoon and I was able to snag a parking spot that would allow me to keep the car in my line of vision.  I handed him a book, told him I would be right back, locked the doors, and was back within literally 20 seconds.  We were about to be on our way when:

“IS THERE A BABY IN YOUR CAR???”

Oh jeez.  An elderly lady parked in the car next to us was hanging out of her window staring at me. I rolled down the window and hesitantly replied, “Yes?”

“DID YOU LEAVE IT IN YOUR CAR?!”

Oh crap.  “Well yeah, just for two seconds–”

“YOU DON’T DESERVE TO HAVE CHILDREN! YOU DON’T DESERVE TO HAVE CHILDREN!”  Her screaming drew a crowd and I was absolutely mortified. Even thinking about it makes my hands shake and my face flush.  My first instinct was to f-bomb her, but my son was with me and she was well, old, and you can’t f-bomb an old person, even if they are telling you that you should be sterilized.

I decided to roll up my window and just drive away. Then I became worried that she had probably written down my license plate and was on the phone with the police.  I began to wonder if I have actually been making choices that were endangering my son.  My stomach was knotted for days and I couldn’t sleep.  My husband was assuring me that she was crazy, or maybe she knew a child who steamed to death in a car.  Either way, my confidence was gone.  Never had my parenting skills been so publicly condemned, and never had I felt so much FEAR about parenting.

Then I read your book and found this blog. Ahhh (that is a sigh of relief).  I stopped feeling so alone and fearful.

Parenting is hard enough without living in fear. Thank you a million times.

Sincerely, Catherine in Richmond, VA
It is hard to stay sane in a society that sees a boy like this as hideously endangered.

It is hard to stay sane in a society that sees a boy like this as hideously endangered.

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74 Responses to “You Don’t Deserve to Have Kids!” — A Parking Lot Encounter

  1. Crystal December 23, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    I have been publicly berated for my parenting, as well, and I totally know that fear. It has to be one of the worst feelings EVER!

  2. Kerry December 23, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    I have had similar encounters, and I’m really sorry someone made you feel that way over something so ridiculous.

  3. Linda Wightman December 23, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Okay, I believe in grace. When I see someone doing something incredibly stupid, or rude, or both, I try to imagine what has happened to provoke such unreasonableness. Perhaps the lady did have one of her own children or grandchildren die after being left in a car. Perhaps she was incapable of having children herself — that can leave terrible scars and cause one to look at other mothers, especially those who you think are not doing the right thing, and think, “Why does she get to have children and not me?” I imagine it might be hard under those circumstances not to lash out in pain and anger. Don’t get me wrong – that’s NO EXCUSE. But as I said, I try to give as much grace as I can.

    Sometimes that’s easier said than done. What that woman did makes my blood boil and my ears steam. It’s why Lenore’s work is so important, because right now the Culture of Fear (and Rudeness) is winning.

  4. John December 23, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    I don’t care if this lady was 90-years-old, she was just plane rude and that mother would have been perfectly justified to tell her to mind her own business.

  5. CJ December 23, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Hey, here’s a thought: instead of turning the mom into Hester Prynne, take a few moments out of your life to watch over the child, make sure the parent returns quickly, and move on.

    We can’t be a community if we aren’t flexible with one another or watch out for one another.

    Truly, we need to understand that older woman’s reaction is not about the child, it is about hate and bitterness–it is about needing to feel superior to someone else. We know this, because the reaction didn’t really help the child at all and was instead about judgment.

  6. Natalie December 23, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Hi Catherine,

    I got yelled at by a sales lady for leaving my incredibly mature 6 yr old to peruse the kids section of Barnes and noble while I sat at the chairs/tables by the door teleworking, roughly 50 feet away. My daughter would pick out books, read them, and put them back just as she took them out – not leave a pile for someone else to clean up, she knows how to behave. And she was allowed to pick one thing to take home, so it’s not like we were just there reading/not buying.

    I got called to the service desk and lectured to that they couldn’t watch my daughter. I said I didn’t expect them to, and she didn’t need to be watched. No, no, it was ” not safe”. It’s a mantra these people repeat mindlessly without thinking about it.

    I told her that my daughter was in first grade, and I’m IN THE STORE WITH HER. And kidnapping by strangers is rare. Again, not safe, not safe, rinse wash repeat. Someone could take her out the door (the one I was sitting next to). She’s very small. Not safe.

    I said that doesn’t happen, she said she’s seen it happen. I said she saw a custody dispute. Not safe. Not safe. Not safe.

    It’s infuriating, I know.

    So I left, wrote a letter that I left at the service desk stating that my book purchases would be done via amazon from here on out because they have well-meaning, but paranoid, uninformed, sales clerks telling me how to parent.

    I haven’t stopped teleworking where there’s lots of books for my daughter to read. We go to the library. The librarians are awesome.

    There are sane people out there. And don’t give in. You keep doing what you think is right. I think it’s a good thing to leave kids in the car for errands. They learn that it’s ok for an adult to not be with them every waking minute. The first time I did it, my eldest told me I couldn’t leave her alone in the car. I told her that of course I could. I’d be right back, and she’d be just fine. Now I ask my kids. Come with me or stay in the car? I leave it up to them.

  7. MichaelF December 23, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    My mother brought me up to be kind and considerate and not judge others but I have also come to realize in my old age that there are definitely times you can f-bomb an old person. Crazy and stupid comes in many guises, so you can’t judge a book by its cover.

    With that said, happy holidays everyone! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and any other holiday you celebrate now!

  8. Renee Anne December 23, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Here’s the insanely hilarious thing (to me): if this woman was once a mother of a small child, she did much worse things than leaving them in a car for 30 seconds while she ran into the post office. Of course, there could be several other reasons for her rudeness…

  9. PaigeN December 23, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    Sigh. It’s not like you tied your child in the trunk while you shopped at the mall. Or, gambled all night with your sleeping child in their car seat locked in the car in the parking lot of the casino.

    Before you know it, it will be illegal to have your child with you in the car at all…

    Good Job mom! Hang in there!

  10. Helen December 23, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Chin up, Catherine! We’re all behind you! It would have rattled me too, for sure, but this wasn’t about you or your son. Who knows what it was about really, but who cares? You’re going through your life doing the best you can for your little family and this woman doesn’t know the first thing about you. My daughter is just a couple of months younger than your son and if I have a moment where I’m less than free-range, it’s because I’m afraid of people like the one you encountered, not because I’m afraid of predators! I try not to let the judgment of strangers impact how I parent, but sometimes I just don’t want to run the risk of my daughter being put through a tirade from a stranger.

  11. Coasterfreak December 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Yeah, I got screamed at twice by a lady at my kids daycare once because I was carrying my 6 month old 20 steps from the car into the building without a cap on his head in 40 degree weather. She screamed at me on the way in, and then waited by my car to scream at me again when I came out. I have no “calmness override” when confronted like that, so I quickly got into my car and drove away before I did something I would regret.

    Another time I left my 5 and 8 year old kids in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble while I looked at other things. All of a sudden I notice the 5 year old being led by the hand by an older lady toward the front of the store. He looked like he was trying to pull away from her, thankfully. I went up to her and said “What are you doing with my kid?” and she started telling me that I was a bad parent and that he just “walked off with her” and that anybody could have just taken him. She said she was taking him to the front so the store employees could watch him. My calmness override was working that day (probably because she wasn’t yelling) and I asked her how I would know that SHE’S not trying to kidnap him? She huffed, said (and I swear this is true) “Well, I NEVER!” and stormed away. Then I reminded my kid that when a stranger tries to walk off with him, he should SCREAM!

    So, don’t worry, you’re going to run into fear-crippled busybodies. Don’t let them get to you.

  12. ank December 23, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    The other day I was taking my girls to school. It was a brisk 45F outside. I take my older one to school first, we park a block or so away so I can avoid the dreaded drop off line and walk to class (she’s in Kindergarten). My younger one REFUSED to get out of the car. Said it was too cold (we are from California, this was freezing weather to us!) and wanted to stay in the nice warm car. I thought about it, said a prayer that no nosy parents would walk past my car and freak out, locked the door and left her (strapped into her car seat) and walked my older daughter to class. I was gone for approx two minutes. What happened? Nothing! No one said a word, no one looked in my car, I came back and everyone was happy.

  13. Warren December 23, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Just tell them, “No I don’t deserve children. I don’t know what I did in a former life to deserve this. Midnite feedings, vomit, birthday partys, buying clothes, homework, puberty and all the expense of raising them………….you are dang right I don’t deserve this! But I chose to have them, so back off!”

  14. Kelly Caiazzo December 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    That was great of her not to drag him in and out of the car for a thirty second trip. Much better for him and for her. Common sense rules.

  15. Uly December 23, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Okay, obviously the correct answer to “Is there a BABY in your car?” was “No way, lady, you’re delusional!”

    Memorize that line for next time, it’ll be on the quiz.

  16. Becky December 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    “Yeah, I got screamed at twice by a lady at my kids daycare once because I was carrying my 6 month old 20 steps from the car into the building without a cap on his head in 40 degree weather.”

    Well, crud. I did this same thing just this morning. Can’t imagine anyone would yell at me for that in Michigan, though. Here, 40 isn’t considered cold.

  17. Denise December 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    Catherine in Richmond, VA- this is Denise in Bumpass. It’s nice to know that there are other parents who share my feelings so close by!

  18. Michelle December 23, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I have frequently left my twins in the car when they are in my line of vision.( there strapped in there car seats and not going anywhere) I learned recently that it is actually illegal to leave kids alone in your car in my state if they are younger than 7. I still do because honestly I am not going to haul my 5 year olds out of the car to pump gas. I never do it in warm weather or leave my keys in the car with my kids. They actually ask to be left if I am running a small errand.

  19. SKL December 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    I’ve had a similar situation, except that the “concerned citizen” called the cops on me. In my case, I left two second-graders in a locked car for 3 minutes at sunset. I thought the call to the cop was ridiculous, so I vented online. You would not believe the “what-ifs” that people insisted could happen to my kids in those 3 minutes. Ridiculous.

    Even though I think they are all crazy, I still kept my house spotless for about 3 weeks in case the cops called CPS.

    Where do people get the idea that parents are guilty of neglect until proven innocent? I mean, after all that we’ve gone through to have a live little kid in our car, people think we’d just leave him/her alone to die? We need an old lady to scream us into giving a dang? The world is nuts.

  20. David DeLugas December 23, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Catherine,

    You are a loving parent, caring for your child well. Yet, as Lenore and I have discussed, your concern about having broken some law is, unfortunately, somewhat justified.

    There are laws around the country that criminalize such acts such as leaving a child under a certain age (as if age alone is the criteria one should use in evaluating reasonableness or risk) “unattended” (defined as in the care of someone not yet of a certain minimum age, as if another child of a certain age reduces the perceived or claimed “risk” sufficiently to take the act or omission from a crime to not a crime). No harm to the child? Not relevant to the law that would punish a parent including a fine AND imprisonment!!!

    Many such laws are, in the view of the National Association of Parents, not in keeping with the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court that has stated that the rights of parents are not to be infringed except where there has been a showing by clear and convincing evidence (a higher standard/burden of proof, but not the highest) of actual harm. The National Association of Parents is in a membership drive to increase its voice for parents in the USA – millions of members = a powerful voice in numbers and in funding.

    JOIN today, LIKE our Facebook page. Collectively, parents can have a powerful voice! Preserve the parent-child relationship by protecting the rights of parents.

  21. Ellery December 23, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    I was at the doctor’s office the other day looking at a poster on the wall with the words, “Don’t ever leave your child alone in the car – not even for an instant – they are at risk for overheating, suffocation or ABDUCTION!”
    My mantra these days is “No, kids, you can’t stay in the car while I run into the grocery store. It’s not the 70’s anymore and someone will call the cops on me!”

  22. AB December 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    Left unstated is the true danger here.

    At 22 months, what’s to keep an enterprising child from using a screwdriver to remove the ignition cover? Then, all he’d have to do is identify, strip and connect the power wires to each other. Then connect the power wires to the starter wire.

    That’s right, any child left alone in a car could easily hotwire that car and drive off (or listen to inappropriate content on the radio.)

    We have no safeguards, people. We should pass a law.

  23. Amy December 23, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    I have been there, and it does make you fearful that some one will call child protection on you. Sometimes it feels like they want something to happen to your child so they can be right. I try talking to older “concern” individuals (including family). I point out how they were raised and how they raised their children. I have yet to have someone concede there on the spot but I hope I have planted the seed.
    I am thankful to have this community.

  24. Papilio December 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    “…even if they are telling you that you should be sterilized.”

    This is such a priceless remark. Really, it’s so incredibly dumb I think it’s hilarious.
    How exactly is sterilizing the mother going to keep her from putting her already existing kid in (hallucinated) danger?

    I’ve read people say the same thing about Lenore after that subway ride. As if she – at 48! – was planning on having MORE children than the 10 and 12yo she already had and could put on subways with or without the ability to reproduce…!!!

  25. lihtox December 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    David’s comment about laws makes me think that this site could really use a wiki (or some other page) covering the various state (and national) laws which intersect with Free-Range parenting.

  26. Jayna Moar December 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    The reason I explain to my child she can’t do certain things- Because people are full of fear and I don’t want them to call the people that would take her away from me. Bad when we live in fear of Children’s Aid and our own legal system.

  27. anonymous mom December 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    @CJ, yes. Why not volunteer to keep an eye on the baby?

    I needed to stop at an ATM for some cash one day when I had two sleeping kids in the back of the car. I wanted to find a drive-thru ATM nearby, but I couldn’t, so I found a bank with a lobby ATM and stopped there. I was able to park JUST close enough that I could keep an eye on my kids, but I was a bit hesitant (I realized it wasn’t rational, but I was, and I wasn’t sure about the legality of it, plus we live in Detroit).

    I was fortunate that, rather than yelling at me, TWO older women–both running their own errands at the bank–offered to stay by my car to keep an eye on the kids while I went in to get my cash. It was so kind, it made me feel better about both the safety and legality of the situation, my kids stayed asleep for another forty minutes (I had been on the way to pick up my oldest from his school) ,and I got to meet some very nice ladies. So it ended up working out really well, because not one but two people decided to offer their help instead of just judging others.

  28. pentamom December 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Right on, AB, that is barely more ridiculous than some of the arguments I have actually heard. “You can’t leave a six month old alone in the car strapped into a five-point harness in the backseat, haven’t you ever heard of a child putting a car into gear?”

  29. Holbyt December 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Catherine,
    This exact thing happened to me when my son was 3…and it was mortifying. The man actually told me that he had called the police and they were on their way. I waited for 20 minutes in the parking lot just to be sure, but no one came. I decided the urban area I live in has more issues than a kid watching a DVD in the backseat of a locked car. I actually wrote to Lenore about it. But, I survived and continue to do what is comfortable for my son and I. Even at 8 years old, I’ve had mothers question me for allowing him to go to public bathrooms alone. I just look at them with a smile, suggesting that they absolutely must be yanking my chain.

    Carry on and stay strong.

    Lisa

  30. marie December 23, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    Amy said, Sometimes it feels like they want something to happen to your child so they can be right.

    YES.

  31. Asparagus December 23, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I grew up in the 70s. I remember being 4 years old and tumbling around in the backseat of our car with my little brother, who was 2, because those were the days before seatbelts were enforced (let alone carseats). One day we pulled into a gas station, and after filling up, my father left to pay for the gas. He’d left the car keys in the ignition. So I climbed into the front seat, turned the key like I’d seen him do, started the car, put it in reverse, and inadvertently set us on a course to back out onto a busy boulevard. I still remember my father sprinting at top speed to catch up with the car and save the day. He did get there in time, and everybody was fine. The end.

    Now I’m not saying this misadventure was a good thing, or that it proves anything. But all of us in our 40s today somehow survived the 70s, when stuff like this can and did happen; and that old lady was probably a parent herself during that decade. Some people really need to take a good look at situations that actually ARE potentially dangerous (like a 4-year-old starting your car in your absence) versus those we have been led to believe are dangerous, but which are so obviously not (like leaving a child in a car safely buckled into a seat, no sign of the car keys anywhere, climate not an issue, car locked, child in sight, for a few moments).

    I would have dropped an f-bomb on that lady, age be damned. If she has the energy and temerity to yell at you like that, she should certainly be prepared to handle your possibly impolite response. Maybe that’s my 70s upbringing showing through! Or maybe next time just tilt your head at the yelling maniac quizzically and say, “I’m sorry, did I ask for your opinion?”

  32. Vasuki December 23, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Ugh. I remember this. I was at a mall with my son, and had put him in his car seat before loading my stuff. I looked over, and two cars down, a pregnant woman was struggling with her toddler and her bags at her car. I walked over to help (just two cars away!!) and helped her load her bags in her car while she put her daughter in the car seat. Returned to my car in a couple of minutes. I was within hearing distance of my son at all times. A woman who had pulled up to the spot beside mine was standing there, looking at my son in his car seat, happily playing with his board book and proceeded to lecture me on safety (very condescendingly assuming that since I didn’t look “American” I didn’t know how to keep my children safe). I was more angry at her than upset though.

  33. GES December 23, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    Sadly, I now have no time for these ‘perfect people’ by turning everything into a drama and judging us when I know their parenting wouldn’t meet my standards but because we are all different not because I right and they are wrong – even if they have a point into longer want to listen because it is always accompanied by invective and judgement.

  34. Marcie December 23, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    The thing I have always wondered is does no one ever consider that it could be MORE dangerous to get the kids out? In my case I have 5 kids from ages 10 to 2. In a busy parking lot, at a gas station…to me it becomes much more dangerous to make multiple short trips in and out of the car through the parking lot with all of my kids. After several stops the kids are tired, annoyed and not listening as well, and I am tired, sweaty (no matter the weather) and overwhelmed from the physical effort of lifting the smaller kids in and out of the vehicle and car seats so we are not at our best. It seems much more likely that one of them could get hurt by another car in the parking lot than have any issue from siting in the car for a few minutes watching a movie. My oldest can call me if they need something (which usually consists of a potty break that comes out of no where).

    In this case above it would seem the 22 month old would have a higher likelihood of being hurt if the mom got him out. He was tired, and an independent tired toddler will likely be defiant, maybe try to run away to the street, refuse to allow his mom to help at any stairs encountered, and even just trip and fall from being tired but refusing to allow mom to carry him or even hold his hand. Strapped in his car seat in mild weather for a minute is likely at least as safe as taking him.

  35. Marcie December 23, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    The thing I have always wondered is does no one ever consider that it could be MORE dangerous to get the kids out? In my case I have 5 kids from ages 10 to 2. In a busy parking lot, at a gas station…to me it becomes much more dangerous to make multiple short trips in and out of the car through the parking lot with all of my kids. After several stops the kids are tired, annoyed and not listening as well, and I am tired, sweaty (no matter the weather) and overwhelmed from the physical effort of lifting the smaller kids in and out of the vehicle and car seats so we are not at our best. It seems much more likely that one of them could get hurt by another car in the parking lot than have any issue from siting in the car for a few minutes watching a movie. My oldest can call me if they need something (which usually consists of a potty break that comes out of no where).

    In this case above it would seem the 22 month old would have a higher likelihood of being hurt if the mom got him out. He was tired, and an independent tired toddler will likely be defiant, maybe try to run away to the street, refuse to allow his mom to help at any stairs encountered, and even just trip and fall from being tired but refusing to allow mom to carry him or even hold his hand. Strapped in his car seat in mild weather for a minute is likely at least as safe as taking him.

  36. Papilio December 23, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    @Vasuki: “very condescendingly assuming that since I didn’t look “American” I didn’t know how to keep my children safe”

    Fun fact: In the same child well-being report I referred to yesterday, one can read that, out of 29 rich countries, the USA ranked 25th for “Health and Safety” and 23rd for “Behaviour and Risks”…

  37. North of 49 December 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Been there. Done that. Screamed at by busy bodies with nothing better to do than harass a mom with young kids.

  38. lollipoplover December 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    The judging never stops. I can let my older kids bike in cold weather and get tsked tsked by older neighbors who thing me lazy to not fire up the car every time someone needs to go somewhere.

    Getting a toddler in and out of a car seat is a pain in the ass. You have every right to make a good parenting call to leave him in the car. This old lady totally did if she ever had kids and took them anywhere. She is rude to judge, plain and simple.

    I would have told the busybody that he was allergic to post offices. Let her wrap her judgemental mind around that one..

  39. April December 23, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    I completely do not get some people’s need to confront and scream at strangers. If she were actually so concerned for the child’s well-being, it seems keeping an eye on him until his parent returns is a much more logical course of action. I also sincerely doubt anyone who has ever dragged kids out of car seats into a store for a twenty-second errand has not at least considered the option of leaving them in the car. I do it with my five and two year old all the time when I’m just running in somewhere for a minute. The only thing I worry about is someone calling the cops and getting me in trouble, which would be pretty distressing for my kids – one more example where people are more bent on being right and getting someone in trouble than the actual welfare of children.

  40. Karen December 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    I had a very similar experience when my son was about 3 (he’s 22 now)and he had fallen asleep in the car. Knowing what my son’s reaction would be to being woke up and hauled into a store, I decided to “let sleeping babies lie”. (I first took into consideration the weather, what he was wearing, how long I thought it would take me, the proximity of parking…I did put a little thought into it). I wasn’t in the store two minutes when I was paged to the front register by the store clerk and some woman started screaming at me about how that was a good way to get my kid snatched. I started to walk away and both this woman and then the store clerk said “If you don’t go get him right NOW, we will call the police.” So fine. I went and got him…..and he screamed at the top of his lungs the whole time I was in the store. And I let him. As I checked out, I looked at the store clerk and yelled (I had to yell to be heard over the screams of my child)”Oh yes, THIS is a much better solution than leaving him asleep in a locked car for 5 minutes.”

    Keep the faith, you’re doing a fine job!

  41. Melanie Jones December 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Dear Catherine in Richmond and Denise in Bumpass. I am Melanie in Charlottesville and I believe we live in a state with some of the most fear-mongering overprotective citizens you will ever encounter. Unfortunately, despite our refreshing common sense it appears we are currently in the minority. This year a person called the police as soon as I walked in to make a quick return at Lowes leaving my five year old and two year old who requested to stay in the car behind. When I returned seven minutes later I saw my children calmly sitting in their carseats sipping water and looking at books where I left them. But there were also five police officers waiting for me. One proceeded to loudly yell at me in front of my children and call me an idiot – a fine introduction to protect and serve for my children. I told him there was no law against leaving a child in a car in Virginia, and that I had made the rational choice to leave them based on the circumstances and my judgement as their parent. He proceeded to inform me that he would forward my case to the district attorney and that I would have a visit from CPS. I thought I was dealing with one irrational citizen that would rather call the police than say, “excuse me miss, are you forgetting your children?”. I thought i was dealing with one irrational police officer who chose to flip his lid over a situation that clearly left everyone involved without injury or concern. So I was not worried when the CPS case worker came to interview me and tour my home. Everything changed when she quickly told me how happy she would be to take my kids away and that leaving kids in cars was something you couldn’t do anymore. I asked if you can’t do it anymore, why isn’t there a law against it? This question went unanswered. Eventually the case was “substantiated”, which means I am in the CPS system for three years. If some other fear-monger calls me in in the next three years, then I could face things like parenting classes and having my kids taken away. Seriously. I consulted a lawyer in Charlottesville and was surprised to find even she was so uneducated about the liklihood and circumstances of death and injury when a child is left unattended in a car for seven minutes that if something were to happen I would be unlikely to find someone to come to my defense. I am very concerned about my rights as a parent in Virginia. Leaving my children in the car is often the best, safest, and most logical option. But apparently the legal and judicial system believe the best thing is to remove my kids from their “well-appointed suburban home” and their “child centered environment” as the home study described our situation. I encourage each of you to contact your representatives and explain for yourself why this approach is not acceptable. There are lobbyist groups like Kids and Cars that are filling the ears of our politicians with all kinds of rubbish. They need to know that these apporoaches are not acceptable. The scariest thing in my opinion is that proposed laws about unattended children in cars have been defeated multiple times in Virginia. So Merry Christmas, and find a moment to write your representative this Christmas.

  42. Asya December 23, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    How about an archive of witty responses to lunatic grannies who put children into more danger by simply driving at their old age? In that situation I would be more angry than witty! Sorry that it happened to you.

    We avoid driving altogether, and that’s not changing anytime soon. A lot cheaper, safer, relaxing, and sane way to live. America is funny for assuming every young person drives, therefore restrict that damned beer in exchange for more road $$$ for MORE ROADS. Everyone must drive, so your place of residence for insurance purposes is determined by… “where you park your car at night.” “I do not have a car, I seek home insurance.” “… Sorry ma’am but we need to know where you park.” “I do not drive.” “What.” “I have no car.” “No ma’am, this cannot be, where do you park your car at night?” “I have no car.” “(pause) Ma’am, how can you live?” “… I take the water taxi.” “… Are you located in the US, ma’am?”

  43. claire December 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    Auuugghh great story but the car seat usage is deplorable! Free ranging has nothing to do with car seat safety. That child should be rear facing. His harness is loose if this picture is current the seats expired and the harness is below their shoulders.

    please promote proper car seat use

  44. SKL December 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    I just got a brilliant idea. FRK needs one of those gift joke books. Just short little quips, witty comebacks for crazy screaming old ladies like this one, real-life examples of idiotic police reports and arrests, and heroic acts of free-range kids!

  45. SKL December 23, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    Oh my gosh, I’m on a roll. What we need is a FRK board game. You roll the dice and land on stuff like “busybody reports your child for riding his bike, lose a turn arguing with LOE” or “school is locked down, go back three spaces.” And you can draw clever FRK cards like “your kids sell their invention for $100″ or “get out of CPS free.” LOL.

  46. Lin December 23, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Hang on, if she was old, she would have been a baby in the 40s or 50s. The time when parents routinely left babies outside in the pram. On the pavement. Unsupervised. Maybe her parents didn’t deserve to have kids. Though I’m sure they would have also taught her nice manners but she clearly forgot those too…

  47. Margo December 23, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    My sympathies are with you! It has seemed to me, at least in the online world, that it has become disturbingly acceptable to tell people that they “don’t deserve to have children” whenever they parent in a way that is different. I was once informed that I should not have children simply for expressing the opinion that children need to learn to entertain themselves at times, rather than being continuously entertained by their parents. Oh, the horror! So sorry you were made to feel so terrible!

  48. bmommyx2 December 23, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    OMG, ((Hugs)) I have had the same experience. people are nuts

  49. Kendra December 23, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    I know so many others have already voiced their support, but I wanted to chime in, because I know that shaky, angry/guilty/scared feeling too. My boys are older now, and frequently request to stay in the car. In particular, my Asperger’s son would far prefer to have a moment alone than be subjected to the noise and strangers of a store – and it prevents everyone else from being subjected to a meltdown.

    However, on more than one occasion, I’ve returned to find him agitated because a well-meaning person has stared into the car or tapped on the glass. He is, of course, smart enough not to engage with any random person walking by, nor open the car doors to a stranger. We are thinking of making a sign for him to hold up that says “I’m fine. Move along, please.”

  50. Andy December 23, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    What kills me is that she very likely made the decision that was SAFER for her son. I bet if you looked at the data, a child strapped in a parked car in his mother’s line of sight is less likely to come to harm than a child that is taken out of his car seat and into the building, a journey during which he and his mom could get hit by a car, he could fall and hurt himself (yeah, I know falling isn’t “bad,” but apparently some think it is the worst fate to befall a child), a random stranger could touch the child and give him leprosy, etc.

  51. Andy December 23, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    We are thinking of making a sign for him to hold up that says “I’m fine. Move along, please.”

    Awesome.

  52. Sophie Garland December 23, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    I daydream about a blow up doll/ bored person willing to ride around with me so I can run in a place where I can still see my car/ child/ dogs for just two seconds. Ha ha.

  53. Lyanne December 24, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    I was actually arrested for leaving my kids in the car. A “concerned citizen” told the cops I had been gone for 20 minutes and no one would listen to me when I denied it. Thankfully I had been to a grocery store miles away a few minutes before and when my lawyer showed the judge my receipt, compared to the time the police were called, the charges were nullified. But the police blotter in the paper made it sound like the police had to find me, when the truth was that I was waiting in my car for them to arrive. The cop actually told me, during his list of things that “could have happened”, that my car could have spontaneously combusted. If it wasn’t such a horrible experience, I would have laughed at him.
    It took me years to deal with emotionally. I have been an “undercover” free range parent ever since, and I get many compliments about my now almost adult children.

  54. John December 24, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    @Natalie……when that Barnes and Noble employee told you that “she’s seen it happen” (child being abducted), you should have told her that meteorites have crashed thru dentist offices too (That actually happened a couple of years ago but nobody was hurt).

  55. John December 24, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    @Lyanne……that’s when you tell the cop a two-mile wide asteroid could hit the earth too.

  56. John December 24, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    @Margo…..after saying on an Internet blog that lifting weights has been found to be good for prepubescent children if properly performed and supervised, I was told by a couple of other bloggers that I should be sterilized for believing that.

  57. John December 24, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    @Melanie Jones……proposed laws about unattended children left in cars being defeated multiple times in Virginia is good news. It surprises me that there actually are rational thinking politicians around!

  58. Pam December 24, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    Same thing happened to me at a WalMart, instead of an old lady I had some toothless woman and a guy with a tattoo on his neck calling the cops on me! My three year old had an accident on the way to her church concert (where she had to stand in front of the entire congregation) so I needed to get her new undies, tights, and skirt, STAT. She didn’t want to come inside the store because she was all wet. I ran in, grabbed everything, went to the self-serve aisle, ran back to the car and found literally a crowd around my car. I panicked and ran to the car. I checked my watch. I had been gone four minutes. It was around Easter and I remember the weather was perfect; not too hot, not too cold. My daughter was crying inside the car and when I got inside she told me “those people” were banging on the windows and yelling and pulling on all the doors trying to get my car open. I calmly drove away, feeling horrible of course, and then got madder and madder and madder…

  59. pentamom December 24, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    John, I think Melanie’s point is that the laws keep coming up to a vote, and that one of these days, it just might pass. That’s what’s scary.

  60. SKL December 24, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Not to spout religion, but there is something to be said for “get the log out of your own eye before you go after the speck in someone else’s.” Leaving a child (restrained for his own good and safe) for a few minutes can’t be worse than some of the things we all have done. I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes I just think people are rotten.

  61. Clark Cox December 24, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    Never be afraid to f-bomb someone who deserves it. :)

  62. Papilio December 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Off-topic, but

    Merry Christmas (for the actual Christians)

    /

    Merry Mid-Winter Fest to Celebrate that Winter Probably Will be Followed by Spring This Time, Too (for us heathens & heretics <3 😀 )

  63. Wilson December 24, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    Catherine, you do deserve to have children and it sounds like you have a fine boy.

  64. JohnC December 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Strange that an older woman was the antagonist here. You would think that she would agree with the Free Range mentality since that’s what she grew up with. I’m guessing that either she never had kids of her own, or she’s suffering from some mental disorder.

  65. SKL December 24, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    To the comment about older parents being likely to be pro-free range? Not necessarily. In my experience, they often forget how much kids are capable of. When my dad shakes his head at something I let my kids do, I remind him of my childhood, and he’ll say, “I know, I probably should have been more careful.” Sigh.

    Then there’s the whole “when you know better, you do better.” (That just grates on my nerves!)

    My kids have sleepovers at my parents’ house nowadays, and my parents treat them like toddlers in some respects. When I was that age, we were latchkey kids, did chores, and had freedom to play wherever we could get to by walking / biking. I guess their risk tolerance decreases as they get older.

  66. SCS December 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    This is another example of the failure of the ‘zero-tolerance’ approach: people no longer realize that there is a categorical difference between leaving a child in a locked car in cool weather for 1 minute (not dangerous) and forgetting a child in a hot for 5 hours (deadly). Common sense tells you they are different things, but the law and the fear culture doesn’t allow it. As a parent, I am not allowed to assess the potential danger of individual situations and act accordingly; I am required to take the most extreme precautions EVERY SINGLE TIME, whether leaving a sleeping toddler in a car for a minute, letting a child ride without a seat belt for thirty seconds across an empty parking lot, or letting a child leave the parent’s sight in a public place.

    I am not afraid that my child will be hurt because of decisions I have made. I do fear that my child will be taken away because other people do not agree with those decisions. I wish I didn’t have to be afraid.

  67. SKL December 24, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    Yeah, it seems everywhere I look there is a warning that it’s NEVER safe to leave a child in a car for ANY amount of time. Ridiculous.

    Even worse than “you must always be within arm’s length of your kid during a bath,” which is also ridiculous. :/

  68. steve December 25, 2013 at 1:53 am #

    Catherine, reading Free Range Kids and finding this blog is the best thing that could have happened.

    Familiarize yourself with this blog. The thousands comments are invaluable. You could read for days!

    Re-read Lenore’s book. And watch her videos on youtube.

    Then you can calmly talk about the Free Range Philosophy when another “opportunity” presents itself.

    You could even keep a copy of Free Range Kids in your car. You never know when it might come in handy. If somebody else makes a comment you could begin a conversation by smiling and saying: “I understand exactly why you feel that way because so many people these days have been influenced by media stories,” and then go on from there.

    You could even print up a one page flyer with Lenore’s book and blog mentioned to hand them. Being pro-active can change the entire tone of the conversation. At the least, they might walk away with something to research.

  69. steve December 25, 2013 at 1:54 am #

    Catherine, reading Free Range Kids and finding this blog is the best thing that could have happened.

    Familiarize yourself with this blog. The thousands comments are invaluable. You could read for days!

    Re-read Lenore’s book. And watch her videos on youtube.

    Then you can calmly talk about the Free Range Philosophy when another “opportunity” presents itself.

    You could even keep a copy of Free Range Kids in your car. You never know when it might come in handy. If somebody else makes a comment you could begin a conversation by smiling and saying: “I understand exactly why you feel that way because so many people these days have been influenced by media stories,” and then go on from there.

    You could even print up a one page flyer with Lenore’s book and blog mentioned to hand them. Being pro-active can change the entire tone of the conversation. At the very least, they might walk away with something to research.

  70. Pete December 28, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    @CJ Great call. Why do people feel the need to get judgey before they get compassionate?

    I will admit that I used to leave my son in the car when I ran into the deli to grab a coffee and egg sandwich. It was early in the AM, so he was almost always asleep. There was always heat or AC when the day required it, and I ALWAYS call ahead so I am in and out in three minutes.

    The owner, who is a friend, gave me the head’s up one day that three old women, who come in every Wednesday, called the police from their cell phones on someone who does what I do. The owner let’s me park in front of the windows when I have him in the morning now, but that is just ridiculous. He was asleep in his car seat. The temperature was appropriate. There was nothing he could get into to choke on. And his time alone is three minutes. The sad part is that in this case, the guy was tracked down by police and ticketed for neglect.

    At first, I was thankful that I have a tall truck with tinted back windows so these ladies wouldn’t be able to really see in if they wandered by, on the now much rarer occasion I do that with my younger son. I always scan the deli when I walk in and sweat until I walk out. Over what??? Now I am just annoyed that they feel compelled to act this way.

  71. Kate December 28, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    I can’t tell you how many times I left my children in the car. Because I lived and died by an old adage “Never wake a sleeping baby” – well, I never did. Because they fell asleep in the car so regularly, I could often be found running into stores (with the car always in sight) with sleeping babies in the car. I usually just left the car on and locked as I had two keys. I had a similar experience of someone finding me in the store and threatening to call the police and another time a parking lot security guard threatening to call the police. Interestingly, both of these incidents were in the suburbs, not in the city where I live. At these times, I always remembered how often my four brothers and I were left in the car. We had entire games to be played in the car. One was “dentist” where you dropped the seat back and the person in back of you worked on your teeth. These are the things that taught me patience, ingenuity, tolerance, cooperation…. Such a crazy, crazy world.

  72. Emily December 29, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    Sorry, this was needlessly dangerous and something she should not have done. The other woman was fully in her right. Why?

    1) Car could have been stolen. Look it up. Guy runs inside to get ice at a convenience store, car stolen. A mom in my area left sick baby in car when she ran in to get medicine, was out within 5 minutes, car was stolen. Don’t be an idiot. You wouldn’t leave a million in an unattended car.

    2) Child could not release car seat and escape car on their own if something went wrong. Therefore child was too young to be left in car alone. I’m not silly, to me it’s alright for my 6 year old to be in a car alone now and the main reason is because she knows to not get in the driver’s seat and she can get out of a car seat on her own and leave the car if something goes wrong. A 2 year old can’t.

    3) Sure she was still in ‘line of sight’ but if something had happened inside the building no one would have been aware of the baby in the car. And the baby would have been unable to escape the car on his own, and no one would have been able to get him out without breaking windows.

    Infants and toddlers die from parents running in a store quickly to get just one or two items and becoming delayed. That woman getting upset had no idea how long the child had been left. Where I live you can be charged if you step further than 20 feet away from your car with your toddlers/infants inside, and the reason is because if someone comes up to a car and finds a baby strapped inside then no one knows how long they’ve been there, you can’t tell from looking at them if they’re suffering from heat or cold exposure, and you need to act quickly to get them out so the law needs to support these rescue efforts.

  73. Beth December 29, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    “Infants and toddlers die from parents running in a store quickly to get just one or two items and becoming delayed.” Really? When?

    “Car could have been stolen. Look it up.”

    I’d like to see your stats from reputable sources please as to how often either of these scenarios has occurred. And no, “once is enough” is not an appropriate answer.

    FYI, car thieves don’t want kids. A child in a car is probably a deterrent more than anything else!

  74. Melanie Jones December 31, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    @John, the reason I find it scary that the laws to make it some sort of offense to leave your child unattended in a car have never been passed in Virginia is because that is how my kids were alone in the car in the first place. Why do my kids sit in car seats? Not because I spend my day watching videos about the best car seat practices. They may not even have them if they weren’t legally required (especially my 8 year old!) I research these things and do what the law requires. Not more. So when I saw, “Hey there is no law against leaving your child in the car in Virginia” I thought, “Score!” I had NO IDEA that leaving my kids in the car was putting them at risk of winding up in foster care. Just because it isn’t against the law isn’t good enough, because police are “mandated reporters” of child abuse, and police in my area decided every child unattended in a car is a victim of child abuse, I can get my kids yanked without judge jury or trial, or at a minimum have my closest friends and relatives interrogated about my parenting skills in light of my abysmal judgment. THAT is much scarier (to me) than a law that says “Parents who leave a child under the age of 6 unattended (meaning no one present over the age of 11), or who leave any child under age 11 unattended more than 15 minutes…yada yada”. That sucks too, but at least it sucks in a way that is up front and in your face and allows the public to rally for/against it. Everything about the current system says, “shhh – just accept it – everyone thinks this way now, you are just a bad parent. But if you are a good girl and do everything we say we won’t tell anyone about it, okay?” So the issue isn’t out there because most people affected simply don’t want to talk about it (fear that kids won’t be allowed to play at their house anymore, fear of losing standing in social circles, etc),