I read yet another news story this morning about a parent “forgetting” their child in a hot car, with fatal results. The family is described as “devastated”, and the article made mention of the fact that the child was usually dropped off at a babysitter, as if this break in daily routine somehow becomes an extenuating circumstance for leaving one’s child to die in sweltering 90-degree temperatures. It was also noted that there was construction in the area, so the parking situation was different, and oh yes, this parent needed to go to the bathroom urgently, and by the time she was done, she somehow created the thought that she’d brought the baby in the house and put her down for a nap. Which would have also been a break from the usual daily routine, so I’m not sure how this mother was able to remember something that didn’t actually happen, and then go about her day while her daughter was left to suffocate. I’ll leave that to the investigators to figure out.
I have no doubt that the family is incredibly distraught over this tragedy, but if I could question this parent, what I would like to ask is this: how is it that you remembered to grab your cellphone, and your house keys, and your wallet on your way out of the car, but totally forgot your own child?
When my children were small, I went through many a busy day in a sleep-deprived haze, so I know exactly how difficult and draining parenthood can be. I understand that when you have very young children and tons of responsiblities, things can slip your mind, like scheduled appointments and birthdays and picking up the dry cleaning.
BUT YOUR CHILD? No. Not a chance.
The family in this latest case is calling the death of their baby “a simple mistake.” I disagree. There’s nothing simple about being so distracted by other things in your life that you would completely forget the one person who is dependent upon you for everything. There is no greater responsiblity than being a parent, and nothing else–nothing–should take priority over your child.
There was a time when I used to have to do a lot of shuttling in the car for my older two daughters, and always with my youngest daughter in tow. Inevitably, my little one would fall asleep in her car seat, and I hated to jostle her and wake her up just to run inside her sister’s preschool or dance class for pickup. Surely, I could leave the baby alone in the car, even just for a minute?
But no, I never did, because another parent said something to me early on that resonated deeply: “Before you leave your child alone in the car, pretend that she’s actually a stack of $1 million in cash, just sitting out on your front seat, with the doors unlocked. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving the money alone for even a few seconds, then you certainly shouldn’t leave your child–your child is priceless. Never forget that.”
Those words stayed with me through all of those times, when it was raining or snowing or the baby was sleeping and I was soooooo tempted. But no…each time, EVERY time, I lugged my precious daughter inside, even if it meant waking her up. Because that’s what responsible parents do. And once you get into the habit of putting your child first, and never leaving your child alone in a car, even for a second, you won’t ever have to worry about “forgetting” your child.
These parents who have been in the news lately claim that the deaths of their children were accidental, but I believe they all could have been avoided by following one simple rule: always, always, ALWAYS make your child your #1 priority. That means: put down the cellphone, check your Facebook page after the kids are in bed, and read that email later. Put your child’s needs ahead of your own, not because you’re a martyr, but because that’s just part of the job of being a parent.