Home Alone

If you are a parent on social media, it would be hard to avoid seeing posts on this story, about a mother who endured two years of the judicial system after she left her 4-year-old in a car on a cool day for five minutes.

My two cents on this story is that if I had seen this scenario going down, I would’ve called the cops on the creeper taking pictures (or video) of this kid in the car. That’s the person I would’ve confronted. Maybe (in the absence of the creeper), I would’ve hung out in my own car for a bit to see if someone returned to the car in a short time.

I suppose if more than 15-20 minutes passed, I would’ve been concerned.

Now, another writer who participates in a podcast I like (Mom and Dad are Fighting, on Slate) found himself in a similar situation, but with more extenuating circumstances. Or maybe less extenuating. First, there were two children, and they were older (he estimates their ages as 12 and 9). However, it was a warm day with outside temperatures nearing the mid-70s. The author hung out for a bit, then left water outside of the car. He saw the mother return to the car as he was pulling away.

This story gave me a little more pause. I don’t know that I would’ve gone straight for 911, but I find it much more worrisome that it was hot outside.

I leave Kate and Flora in the car sometimes, usually when I am running into pick up M from daycare. I am unlikely to do it when it is too hot. I don’t like to leave to car running, but I have (putting the emergency brake on before I get out of the car), especially when it’s been very cold. And I don’t leave Kate alone in the car. I still judge her on the young side for that. Plus she is more impulsive than Flora.

Furthermore, sometimes, when I run an errand that I know will take me an hour or less, I leave Flora “in charge” at home. We have explicit rules about it; she and Kate know how to call 9-1-1; and my in-laws live right next door, about 10 yards away, door-to-door.

The worst that has happened is that I come home to squabbling siblings. “No one listens to me,” Flora tells me. I explain that I didn’t leave her to boss her sibs around, I left her to hold down the fort. She gets a little power buzz sometimes. We’re working it out.

I trust my children. That is first. Second is the fact that the world, while it has lots of risks, is not full of danger around every corner. We buy into the media drama around the Very Bad Things that can happen to children. And yet: we send them to school, we put them in cars to drive them places, we let them swim, we feed them food. Heck, I don’t fuss too much when my children decide to try dirt. (They usually don’t like it.)

Our children are precious. They are (to us parents, in any case) unique and special and the best thing that we do. Of course, we want them to be safe. We want to protect them. But we also have to teach them how to assess risk and let them take risks. We have to let them know that we trust them to “hold down the fort” for a short time.

It seems that our children are more at risk from well-meaning strangers these days than from our decisions as parents. To those well-meaning strangers: butt out. Unless it is clear-cut neglect or danger, do not call 9-1-1. If you are unsure, hang around and wait for a parent to appear.

Oh, and children playing outside alone? Biking to a park? Walking to school? THOSE CHILDREN ARE NOT IN DANGER OR BEING NEGLECTED. Close your curtains and mind your own damn business.

These children are not in danger.
These children are not in danger.


What would lead you to call the police on a parent? Any of the stories here? Why or why not?

9 thoughts on “Home Alone

  1. 4 is a bit young to be left alone, period. I never leave my kids in the car alone for any reason because of the potential for bad things to happen. I’ll get out and drop something in the mailbox on the outside of the post office but if I have to go in to mail it, even if it already has postage on it and I have only to walk in and put it on the counter I’ll get the kids out of the car.

    There are laws in each state about how old a kid has to be in order to watch another – usually 13. That has little to do with my decision to take the kids out of the car. Leaving a kid or two at home, however, is a different matter.

    • What potential bad things? This is what we need to talk about. Define your terms. The law in my state is no child under 6 alone.

      I’m not trying to pick a fight; I am trying to understand other points of view on the subject. You don’t leave your children alone in the car, and that’s fine with me. Would you call the cops on me?

      • I’d only call the cops in extreme circumstances. Parking in front of the door and walking in the 711 leaving a 6 year old in the car to pay for gas is differnet from going into the grocery store leaving a 3 year old in the car.

        Bad things? Abduction, car theft, stuff like this does happen unfortunately. And no, I don’t see you as trying to pick a fight, and I am not either.

      • “these things happen”. They do, and they are extremely, extremely rare. I think you and I have similar risk assessment judgements. But I wouldn’t use the thought of abduction as part of my risk assessment, because while it’s possible, it’s not plausible.

        Anyhoo, thank you for your comments! I appreciate it.

  2. While I wouldn’t leave my 3.5 year old alone in a car, in a few years, as long as it wasn’t hot, I wouldn’t be against leaving him out there when I ran in somewhere as long as the doors were locked– my mom did the same with me and I’m just fine. One thing 911 callers need to consider is that older children might have opted to stay out there since they didn’t want to go inside– that’s not neglect.

    • Yes, there is an age factor at work. I’m sure I stayed in the car as a child, and I’m sure I was 8 or 10 or 12. And I’m sure I had a book to pass the time. 🙂

      Before I decided getting Kate and Flora out of the car at Michael’s daycare was a huge hassle, I did go look at the laws for my commonwealth. I felt good about the risks (very, very low), but I wanted to have the law on my side in case of a nebby Nancy (or Nate, I suppose).

  3. I was talking to a woman I work w about this the other day. She was scolded for leaving her 12 yr old daughter ‘in charge’ while she runs little errands, mostly in the afternoon or evening. She’s in charge of a 10 yr old brother. I was mostly baffled. I was being paid to babysit other people’s children at 12 regularly.

    I agree w you though, how can you expect a kid to deal w conflict of they never have to deal w conflict. I understand keeping kids safe, but not allowing them to learn how to make good decisions on the fly isn’t helping them, it’s setting them up for a rough adulthood I’d think.

    Also- creepy dude videoing a kid in a car like that? That seems the more heinous of the 2 offenses. Why wasn’t HE charged w something equally ridiculous? Passive Aggressive Nebby Nancy. If you’re going to be like that own it, don’t be all creepy about it.

    • Who scolded her? Because that person would’ve gotten an earful from me.

      We need to have faith in our children’s abilities. There are parents who don’t let their kids cook. Or use a knife. How would one expect them to learn such things? It’s like deciding not to let your child learn to walk because they will fall down.

      • Her MIL of all people. And she didn’t stick up for herself. And she should have! Totally agree, teach them well & trust that they week do well. When they don’t teach them how to do it better. 🙂

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