Bad mommy? Or bad trolls?

“I Left My Son Alone in the Movie Theater: Any Mom Would Have Done The Same, Right?”

This rtrhnhbeaf
mom, S. Holland Murphy, takes on the parenting peanut gallery the way we all must: With our wits, and a reality check. Her piece, “A Note to the Great Mommy Shamers of North Texas,” ran in D (for Dallas) Magazine:

I stand before you a guilty woman. The worst kind of woman, really: a freshly branded Bad Mother.

Granted, I willingly put myself before judge and jury when I accepted an assignment from my boss, Tim Rogers. Tim, father of two, had seen one of my Instagram posts and suggested I expand the tale of a family outing gone wrong into a page for the back of the magazine, a humor page of sorts, though many of you would now argue with that definition after reaching the climax of my story, the heart-pounding moment I left my son in his movie theater seat to buy him a hot dog.

That moment was just a small part of the story, but Tim put a spotlight on it when he wrote a fantastic clickbait-y headline and subhead: “Yes, I Left My Child Alone in a Movie Theater: Any mom would have done the same thing. Right?!” While the story, which includes my email address, has not elicited a single addition to my inbox since it hit stands and went online, it did receive a deluge of negative comments when it ran on Facebook this Sunday.

“No! No! No!” “Hell no!” “No way!” so many of you said. And I’m glad. Absolutely. I agree, no one should leave her 3-year-old alone in a movie theater. Silly Tim. When he wrote that subhead, he surely thought it was a given that no mom would actually say yes. It was meant to be rhetorical, but it did end with a question mark, and many answered. I do not blame those of you who said they would never do such a thing. You are a community of fine parents. I would like, however, to respond to a few of the more verbose comments on the story:

To the gentleman who said that people should only go into parenthood knowing they will have to give up things such as time alone, I wholeheartedly agree. Because I see that we have a Facebook friend in common, and perhaps my name might come up at a dinner party one evening, I’d like to let you know that I actually didn’t go into parenthood knowingly. I’m not ashamed to say that my son is a happy accident, and upon finding out I was pregnant, I did a lot of thinking and research and eventually decided on a natural childbirth, the most painful 21 hours of my life, a night and day so strenuous that I passed out twice while pushing.

Since I’m already oversharing, I’ll also mention that I chose to breastfeed my child, though it was difficult for some time, until I transitioned him to a homemade goat milk formula when my milk supply finally dried up. I’ve written about my breastfeeding adventures before on FrontBurner when I urged the new owners of the JCPenney headquarters to address the lack of lactation rooms, one of the reasons I left my job at JCP to become a stay-at-home mom.

I’m happy to report that the building’s new owner invited me to the campus for consultation, and he now plans to renovate and increase the number of rooms by 200 percent….

Of course, none of us should have to prove how selfless we are to shut up the “You put your baby in danger!” trolls. But she handily goes on to list all sorts of ways people who claim they care about children can make a real difference. For instance, by donating diapers to the needy.

But here let us pause to think about the deeper implications of what the Internet is doing. Yes, it enables all sorts of trolls. But it also seems to enable a new kind of thinking: The idea that one slip-up as a parent, one baby step beyond complete and constant supervision of our kids, and the jig is up: Baby in danger, mommy at fault.

This is fast becoming an absolute conviction, and yet it is so superstitious it puts the ancients to shame. Maybe we don’t believe directly in the “devil” anymore, but we do believe that evil hovers next to every child, just waiting for the nano-second opportunity to pounce. Any parent allowing evil this kind of access is to be burned at the stake…or at least on Facebook.

Kudos, then, to Murphy for battling that belief. It is a crusade we share. – L.


Bad mommy? Or bad new bad mommy-shaming? .


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32 Responses to “I Left My Son Alone in the Movie Theater: Any Mom Would Have Done The Same, Right?”

  1. theresa February 6, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

    It not like she could drag the kid with her if she had to go. How much worse is a hot dog?

  2. Pippi February 6, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

    If the child is still alive and unharmed that’s enough evidence, in my opinion, to prove that it was okay to leave her child in the movie theater. Maybe everyone should decide that there are actually a lot of good and decent people left on the planet.

  3. Backroads February 6, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    Love this piece.

    On the specific note of leaving a kid in the dark movie theater, I’ve done it. Left my 3-year-old in there for about five minutes, watching “Moana.” She was fine.

  4. Vicki Bradley February 6, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

    I, for one, refuse to live in a constant state of paranoia and fear, even if a good many of the rest of the people on this planet choose to do so. I wasn’t afraid to leave my kids for a few minutes when they were younger, nor was I afraid of some busybody informing CPS or the police and have them swoop down on me for doing so. An example of not living in a paranoid state occurred this weekend, whereby my husband and I are in the process of buying a house that comes with a rented alarm system – I told my realtor I am not remotely interested in keeping the alarm system, and would not be paying for its continued rental. There are still times that we don’t lock our doors when we go out or go to bed because I trust that the odds are on my side that we won’t be robbed or murdered in our sleep. People should not be made to feel that they have to live like prisoners in their own homes and communities.

  5. brian February 6, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

    When I was 11 and my sister was 9 my parents sent us to see Home Alone while they went to Godfather 3. My sister threw up 1/2 way through the movie and I had to walk into the Godfather 3 looking for my parents. Fortunately there was a funny part and my dad laughed. It made it easy to find them!

    Just recently I took my 7 and 5 year olds to see Star Wars. About an hour in I had to pee too much to keep sitting there. I left them, ran to the bathroom and returned. No issues. No dirty looks.

  6. Christopher Byrne February 6, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

    My dad used to drop us off at the movie theater with enough money for a kids’ ticket. We could use our allowance for snacks if we wanted to; that didn’t come with the deal. This made us feel extremely responsible and make choices, and we saw a lot of other solo kids in the theater, too. You should feel sorry for my father, however, he missed the apogee of cinematic craft, “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” Not to mention other fine and memorable films such as “Son of Flubber,” “The Ugly Dachsund” and so many more.

  7. EricS February 6, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    Aye, aye Vicki! Although, I do lock my doors when I go to bed. Even safe communities get hit with random break-ins. Though this happens rarely, I’d still rather not put myself in that position. It’s also harder to pay mind when your asleep. During the day, especially on weekends, in the warmer seasons, I too don’t bother most of the time to lock my door (the back door at least) when I go for a stroll with my kids and our dog, in the neighborhood. Less to fumble with with kids and dog in tow. We are usually out for an hour or so. Longer if we decide to stop by a local diner to eat. If we are going to be out all day, or further away from our abode, I lock up.

  8. marie February 6, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    Thinking about the “not if this is in a high crime area” argument…what kinds of crime make it a high crime area? Is it muggings of children at the movie theater or is it drug deals gone bad and burglaries?

    So, even in a high crime area, I would leave my 3yo (assuming he/she didn’t pitch a fit) to visit the concessions stand or to use the restroom UNLESS there has recently been a string of crimes committed in movie theaters.

  9. Papilio February 6, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

    “Although, I do lock my doors when I go to bed.”

    This reminds me of the time I went cat-sitting for a friend of the family, and only after she’d left I found out the front door didn’t lock (old house) and the key to the back door (which had been open all day as it was August and hot) wasn’t there. The backyard was not easily accessible from the street, but still.
    So I texted her about the keys and the door, and she told me she always/regularly left them unlocked. I didn’t feel too comfortable with the situation, you know, sleeping in an unfamiliar house that people could just walk into after climbing over a shed at the end of an almost private little alley away from the street, and then leave through the front door with her tv and stuff, and then I’d have to explain all those unlocked doors to the police. Yay.
    After she came back, she began to give me this ‘the world is way less scary than you think’ talk, as if I was a paranoid nut for wanting locked doors while I’m asleep…!

  10. Jane February 6, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    Actually, it was this very situation that got me on FRK.

    My grandson, born in October of 1998, came to visit me for a week during the summer of 2008. I wasn’t working and was donating plasma to make extra money.

    It was donation day but my grandson wasn’t allowed inside the facility since he was not 18. There was a movie theater right across the street and I asked him if he would like to see the latest Batman movie. He jumped at the chance so we ate a quick lunch, went to the ticket window and got the ticket. I asked if it was crowded and was assured it wasn’t, even though school was out. I explained about my plasma donation and the usher said she’d keep an eye out for him.

    As soon as I finished I went back to the theater and walked in to get the little guy. He was sitting in the middle of the theater watching the closing credits. There were three other people in the whole place, LOL. He loved the movie and was excited that he was able to go by himself.

    When he went back home he related the story to his dad (my son) in eastern NC and later to his mom when he got back to Maryland. They had absolute fits that I would let a boy his age go to the movies alone. Never mind the fact he had been a latch key kid since he was eight.

    Long story short, I haven’t seen him since that summer. He graduated high school last June and is now in college.

  11. Vicki Bradley February 6, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    Jane, that is so sad that you haven’t seen your grandson since 2008! Now that he’s an adult, hopefully you can re-connect with him. Your son and daughter-in-law sound like horrible, cruel people to have done this to you.

  12. Jenny Islander February 6, 2017 at 2:45 pm #

    @Marie: What little I’ve read of conversations between soccer moms and gangers suggests that it would go down like this in a high-crime area:

    “Yo, man, that kid’s all alone in the theater. What is he, like, three?”

    “I dunno, bro, maybe four and he’s short?”

    “Let’s keep an eye on him, see if his folks come back. We don’t see anybody, you go look for an usher and I’ll keep watchin’ him.”

    (a few minutes pass)

    “Yo, here she comes now, with a hot dog. It’s cool.”

    “OK, now, how many cars we plannin’ to boost tonight?”

  13. Jenny Islander February 6, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    Funny stuff aside, I don’t think there can ever be a cutoff age for leaving kids alone for a few minutes because every kid is different. I have one child who, at the age of two, marched her little butt out of the McDonald’s Play Place and pushed me around a corner and out of sight so that I wouldn’t throw her off her game. I had another one who couldn’t be left alone in a car for a few minutes at age seven because he got too scared.

  14. Taed February 6, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

    I’ve also done it when my son was 3 or 4 and I took him and his friend to see _Piglet’s Big Movie_ or something. I also briefly left to get a drink or something, and told them that I was briefly leaving and that I’d be right back.

    When I came back, my son was gone!

    I didn’t panic, but did have that awful parenting feeling that I’ve probably only had 5 or so times. I asked his friend where he was: “I dunno.”

    At that point, he came walking back in. He had gone to the bathroom. By himself.

    While some may be shocked at that and think that he’s some wandering kid, he was not a wanderer. However, ever since he was about 3 and could navigate the bathroom, I’ve let him go himself if he didn’t think he’d need help (though I’d often have to open the heavy doors). I thought it was an easy way to foster independence, and I’d just wait outside since there would sometimes be a “Dad, I need you to wipe my butt!” emanating from therein.

    So, while I had a parenting fear moment, I knew it was my issue, and I said nothing to dissuade my son from doing it again in the future. We want them to be independent, and while I would have rathered that he stay put until I got back, I certainly didn’t want to say anything that would put any fear into him since there was no actual danger.

    He’s 15 now. He was never kidnapped or molested or anything like that. He’s not as free-range as we’d have thought he’d be, but he spends lots of time at the game store away from us for the last 7 or so years and will take the bus himself sometimes. And he’s on his own to get to/from school and after school until we get home, so he’s always eager to make mac n’ cheese and whatnot.

  15. Cassie February 6, 2017 at 3:27 pm #


    I sent my 3yo to buy bread all the time.
    My 3yo walked 50km during a 10-day family bushwalk (hike).

    3yo kids are not babies…. not grown-ups, but not babies.

  16. Cassie February 6, 2017 at 3:29 pm #


    I grew up in a rough neighbourhood and experienced that same ‘heart of gold’ stuff.

  17. Stacey February 6, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    When my friends and I were 7 or 8 our parents would drop us off at the movie theater and pick us up when it was over. We knew how to behave and we didn’t cause any trouble. Sometimes we had to wait outside for them to show for a little while. It didn’t require 10 text messages, 3 emails and a phone call to coordinate. They just told us, when the movie is over, wait here. And we did
    By the time we were 11 or 12, we had to check the movie times for ourselves, figure out which one we wanted to go to, figure out what time we had to leave, in order to catch the bus that would get us there, and then we went by ourselves to the movie of our choosing. And sometimes our little brothers or sisters were in tow who we were responsible for.When we went to see Star Wars in 1977, (the original, don’t ask me what # I have no idea) we had to wait in a line for an hour. No biggie.
    I wonder if that’s why ‘Lenny’s (millenials) are always late. They have no idea how long it takes to go anywhere because they never had to plan.

  18. Papilio February 6, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

    @Jane: That is awful. Has he never contacted you in another way? He’s old enough now to visit you on his own? I hope you manage to get in touch again.

    …Can’t help noticing we’re talking about a 9-year-old boy doing something on his own in 2008….! It must have been mere months after Lenore let her 9-year-old ride the subway and practically got lynched by the media! You two are made for each other! You should go and adopt her and officially become World’s Worst Grandma! 😀

    (Excuse me for my weird sense of humor…)

  19. lollipoplover February 6, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    We had an Amber Alert go off last night during a Super Bowl party issued from Berwick, Pa (nowhere near where we live in PA). It went off on everyone’s phones, soon lit up all social media posts, of a 2 year-old little girl in pajamas. The information just had the car and that she was missing.

    A 10 year-old girl at the party who has a phone and got the alert along with the rest of us became extremely upset and started crying. She was still upset today, my daughter said.
    News reports later said the missing child was found- right down the hill from where she was reported missing. Apparently, the mother didn’t put her car in park as she unloaded groceries and the vehicle rolled down the hill and she was found in a wooded field, in her car seat.

    The online comments are vicious and ridiculous. Parent shaming is a new sport and apparently no one has ever taken their eyes off of their kids.

  20. BL February 6, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

    “I wonder if that’s why ‘Lenny’s (millenials) are always late. They have no idea how long it takes to go anywhere because they never had to plan.”

    Without roaming, they don’t even know how to get anywhere.

    Even the modern free-rangers talk about spending a whole summer doing dry runs so their kid can walk to school. I remember moving to a new town (of about 5000 people) when I was eight years old and taking off on my bicycle while the moving van was being unloaded (the bicycle was one of the first items out of the van). I just started exploring and learned the major landmarks of the town, schools included, on my own in one day – without ever having seen the town before that day. I didn’t think I’d done anything extraordinary. I still don’t.

  21. Jenny Islander February 6, 2017 at 4:19 pm #

    @Cassie: Libby Ann over at Love, Joy, Feminism has identified a kind of two-box mindset in American conservative sexual morality, such that all non-approved sex is thrown into the same box and presumed to be equivalent–hence a man wanting to marry another man being spoken of as if he also wants the right to legally marry children, dogs, or toasters. I wonder if there isn’t a similar two-box mindset in the way a lot of Americans think about criminals. Look at some of the stuff that shows up here, like that police chief who assumed that carjackers who found kids in the back seat would instantly decide to cross a hard bright line and become child molesters or child murderers. Wanting to sell somebody else’s object in order to make money =/= wanting to hurt a child in any way. But if all crimes go into the Crime box in a person’s thoughts, the connection gets made.

  22. Jetsanna February 6, 2017 at 4:21 pm #

    I can top this. The year was 2011. It was Easter time and the movie “Hop” came out. My boy and his best friend Autumn wanted to see it. So, her mom and I took the kids to the movies, bought their drinks and popcorn, got them seated – in a completely full theater – and took off to have lunch. Came back, got the kids, they loved the movie.

    Then Autumn’s dad heard about it and was furious because, you know, ANYTHING could have happened. In a theater full of parents and kids watching an Easter movie. He still mentions it.

    The punchline? They were 11 years old.

  23. Jetsanna February 6, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

    And I mean, if anyone says they were able to sit through all of Piglet’s Big Adventure without having to pretend to go to the bathroom…well, they’re lying. So, yes, I have left my child alone in a movie theater at three years of age.

  24. SKL February 6, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

    People obviously have too much free time on their hands.

  25. Donna February 6, 2017 at 4:33 pm #

    For as long as my child has been attending movies, I’ve been leaving her alone while I ran to the concessions or bathroom. Getting these things done and myself back to the movie that I took out a second mortgage to see much easier without bringing along a preschooler pitching a fit because she was just drug out of a movie she was enjoying for no reason other than her mother is old and now has the bladder the size of a pea. I leave her at restaurant tables too otherwise we’d come back to our table being cleared and food gone.

    Which makes me wonder how much of this middle class insistence that someone’s eyes must be on a child at all times comes from the ease of having fathers who are more involved in parenting. As a single parent, I’ve always viewed myself as 1/2 free range parent by nature and 1/2 free range parent by necessity. There is just no way that I possibly be a helicopter parent and still work, take care of the house, cook, bathe. We are frequently out and about alone so there is no extra set of eyes for when I need to get food, put away carts, or pee.

  26. SKL February 6, 2017 at 5:25 pm #

    I don’t know if it’s the 2-parents-helping thing or the fewer kids per adult thing – probably both. Not only because it makes it possible for more people to “directly supervise” a higher % of the time, but also because if you only have 1 or 2 kids, you have more time to notice and judge what other parents are doing with their kids.

    I have also left my kids “unattended” (but safe) at early ages for various reasons. My situation is a little different because I have 2 kids, so they were hardly ever “alone,” they were “together.” Luckily, my kids did not tend to be adventurous, so I could leave them to entertain each other at a food court table etc. while I ran and did something. Dragging two little kids everywhere is frankly life limiting, not just for their parent but for them. Of course if you say that in most forums, the typical response will be: “you shouldn’t have kids if you aren’t willing to sacrifice for them.” :/ Don’t get me started ….

  27. that mum February 6, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

    Well I would not have left my youngest alone in a theatre at that age because she would have been running along the tops of the seats, my eldest would have not have let me cause she would have been afraid. I do have the luxury of not being a single mum though.

    Here the movie theatre charges a lower price for kids that come with their parents but charges full price if they come on their own (it’s an independent theatre). Lots of kids 10 and up come alone, parents pick them up after the movie.

  28. Jason February 6, 2017 at 5:55 pm #

    Leaving a kid alone in a movie theater for several minutes seems so safe as to not even move the free-range needle.

    But: Your average car thief or carjacker is probably unlikely to also be a child molestor or murdererer, but it’s a good bet that they are irresponsible and put their own needs and whims far above those of anyone else.

    As many thieves steal a car to commit or participate in another crime, or simply abandon it in an unsafe area or wreck it (often with little regard to even their own safety), it’s logical that kids now riding in a stolen car are in considerably more danger than they were when they were sitting in it while waiting for mom or dad.

    I’m not saying that the car is any more or less likely to be stolen if kids are in it. And, in case some Jerk/Punk asks, no, I don’t know what the intentions of some hypothetical car thief are, or of all car thieves, collectively.

  29. Tray Brooking February 6, 2017 at 7:18 pm #

    We moved into a new neighborhood a couple of years ago. It is one of those neighborhoods where the original owners are “passing on” and their kids are selling their childhood homes to new families. We have always pushed our kids outside; didn’t occur to us not to do so. Anyway, they don’t have video games. It is amazing to see the retired folks respond to kids being outside, bikes in the driveway, etc. Funny thing, once our kids got outside, other kids joined them, more all the time. Do they still wnt to be inside sometimes? Sure. Do they still complain they are bored? Yeah. Boredom is a great motivator. Mostly, they seem like kids, at least the way I remember being a kid.

  30. James Pollock February 6, 2017 at 9:18 pm #

    “The idea that one slip-up as a parent, one baby step beyond complete and constant supervision of our kids, and the jig is up: Baby in danger, mommy at fault.”

    Well, this is true, but only because the mommies already think that daddies are hopeless buffoons who can’t possibly be expected to manage anything involving children successfully.

  31. test February 7, 2017 at 5:34 am #

    @Donna I think it is result of unstated cultural assumption that if you don’t do things the hardest way possible and take your own needs in consideration, then you are lazy and bad. Then people try to live up to those expectations and get angry when somebody else don’t.

    It is not just parenting. People are very fast to accuse others of laziness in all kinds of situations, it is almost a reflex. A computer game made by a small studio is not perfect? Lazy! Someone made a mistake? Lazy or stupid! Especially people who have time to spend on discussion forums tend to be quick to call others to be lazy.

    Or maybe it is that too people have a lot of anger stuck in them and lash out at every occasion.

  32. Donna February 7, 2017 at 8:24 am #

    test – I don’t think it is that people try to live up to expectations and are angry when other don’t. I think it is that many people truly believe that their child cannot be left alone or all hell will break loose and absolutely cannot stand for others to have something that they don’t. The fact that it is easier for me to take my kid to the movies actually angers them so they call me lazy when I don’t do what they feel that they have to do.

    This story just reminded me of acquaintances and coworkers back in my kid’s younger years who refused to go anywhere with their children alone for this exact reason. They had to have their spouse or another companion along. It was always bizarre to me. These same people would freak out if said spouse had to work late because who was going to watch the children while they cooked dinner or watch the toddler while they put the baby to bed. It always seemed to me that having an extra pair of hands available made those hands necessary in their mind and they got angry when I breezed through these “hurdles” without that extra set of hands.