Too Many Headless Chickens

By Stephanie

We all have our own boundaries, as Mothers, of just how much we’ll let go. Over time I’ve gone from letting my boys play in the back yard while I hover over their every move, then letting them play while I watch from a window inside, and eventually someday (hopefully before they graduate) I’ll let them venture to the front yard or ride their bikes through the neighborhood. Maybe. I’ll probably still follow behind them in my car.

But there are some things I don’t think we ever should do. We should never leave a child home alone unless they are old enough- which I don’t know what age that would be but I’m guessing I’ll know when the time comes.

And never leave a child in the car. Ever. Not even to run in real quick to pay at the gas station when your card isn’t working at the pump. Or you just need to pick up a dinner order from a restaurant. Or whatever you might think is a good excuse.

I can’t think of anything that is more important than the safety of your children. If it’s just too much work to unstrap the car seats and lug the baby in, then whatever you are doing it for must not be that necessary. There’s been plenty of times I needed to run in somewhere but if I didn’t feel like dragging all the kids in with me, I went at a later time when I didn’t have the kids with me.

Believe me, if Panera Bread had a drive-thru I’d be there every day. But (thank goodness!) they don’t. And I don’t feel like taking all four of my children in with me while I get a latte & cobblestone muffin.

So, I don’t go.

It’s inconvenient. And it is not funny even if you are Maria Shriver.

All the bad things that could happen haunt my mind- what if when I go into the gas station there is a hold up and I am stuck inside while the kids are out in the car and no one knows they are there? Of course there’s the heat and cold issue. There’s also the “curious toddler gets out of his car seat and drives off” possibility. Or just climbs out of the car and down the highway. Or a thief chooses that very moment to steal your car. Or an accident with another car could could occur while you’re parked. Or someone chokes, or in my case has a seizure (which has happened more than once in the car), and an adult is not there.

I could go on.

But I won’t. I hope you get the picture.

We all make mistakes- this is not about putting guilt on anyone because I HAVE left the kids in the car to pay for gas before and pick up dry cleaning. I could see them the entire time from the window. But there was still a wall between us and way out in the big wide open if I had needed to get to them in an emergency… would I have been be able to?

You might have seen that Oprah with the Mom who accidentally left her child in the car, with tragic consequences. And you think how could she have done that on accident?!

Whether we leave them in the car “just for a sec!” intentionally or not, we are running around like chickens with our heads cut off and this is not good.

That’s just too many headless chickens, people.

We do so much that we try to fit even more “doing” into our already full schedule, often at the detriment of our children, the people we love so dearly. I just read the post at Small Notebook: The Difficulty Of Doing Less and found it to be a well-needed revelation. If we start slowing it down a bit and be aware at all times, especially when we are in the car with our kids- whether we’re driving or not- tragedies can be prevented.

We won’t be so conditioned to forget or make a decision we might not normally make.

I hope it’s something that will stick in your mind from now on. It hasn’t left mine.

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Stephanie Precourt is the managing editor of 5 Minutes For Parenting and also blogs at Adventures In Babywearing.

28 Responses to Too Many Headless Chickens
  1. cornnut32
    October 24, 2008 | 12:37 am

    thank you for posting this. this is a subject that is also important to me.

    within the last month, i have witnessed on two separate occasions, mothers who have left their infants in their carriers, in their vehicles, WHICH ARE LEFT RUNNING, in the parking lot of gas stations while they went in to get a drink. their cars left running! with their infants inside! a few years ago a woman in san diego did that. and, lo and behold, her car was stolen. (theives just LOVE cars that are running with the keys in the ignition!) lucky for that woman, the theif realized at some point down the road there was a child and abandoned the vehicle. where someone found it, and the child, who was safe.

    can you imagine if the theif had not chosen to do so?

    we, as parents, need to be smart. we need to put the safety of our children above convenience.

    i completely agree with you. if it isn’t worth the hassle of hauling your kids in with you, then go at a later time. or don’t go at all.

  2. Courtney
    October 24, 2008 | 8:51 am

    I can relate and understand this post to the fullest. I respect the decision that you represent here.

    On a lighter note…Our Panera does have a drive through lol but i have never eaten there since it opened 2 years ago. I have only eaten at the one in Tampa Fl.

  3. casual friday everyday
    October 24, 2008 | 10:17 am

    Funny how things have changed. I’ll hear my MIL tell me “my kids didn’t even sit in car seats” or my memories of Mom leaving us in the car to run into the store or leaving us home far too young.

    And you know what? Sure, we survived but we could have easily not. Just because something was done a very long time ago before we knew better doesn’t mean it’s okay to do so now.

    I never leave my kids in the car. I’m always watching them outside. And I won’t leave them home alone until each of them is responsible enough to handle that…not to mention they aren’t scared to be home alone like I was.

    It is a pain sometimes. Plans have been changed or put on hold until I can go alone or only with my oldest child. But I know in the end it’s the right things to do. I would never forgive myself if something happened to my kids while I “ran in really quick to buy milk”.

  4. Kim
    October 24, 2008 | 11:27 am

    I totally agree with this. I have saved so much money by having kids. No more stops at 7-11 for a Dr. Pepper! I just don’t want to drag the kids in and have to tell him NO they can’t have anything. 🙂
    It is hard to remember that we are Mothers before all else and our childrens safety is most important.
    Thanks for the reminder

  5. Lisa
    October 24, 2008 | 11:49 am

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with part of this. If my children are asleep in the car when I get gas, I will pull up and park by the door and go in to pay. I turn the car off,I lock the doors, and I take the keys. The kids can’t get out of their car seats yet, let alone out of the car. They can’t drive off in my car without the keys. I don’t think that my being in the car is going to magically prevent another car from running into mine. If there is a hold up in the store, I don’t WANT my children inside with me. They are much better off waiting in the car where the cops will notice them. Heat and cold is not an issue. I turn the car off when I pump the gas too. They are better off in the car that may be retaining some heat or a/c than me dragging them through the elements to spend a minute in the store. Perhaps my kids should just never leave my house at all?

    I’d never leave them in the car to get food, I’d never go shopping, even for milk, without taking them in, but paying for gas when I can see them the entire time? I fail to see the danger in that.

  6. Rachel
    October 24, 2008 | 12:19 pm

    I completely agree!! Great post and thoughts!

  7. Steph
    October 24, 2008 | 4:42 pm

    I was talking about this with Annisa just the other day, as she was on the same Oprah show – the lady who left her child in the car is from very near to my hometown. When it happened, and still, really, there was a huge uproar in the area. The woman was a school administrator, if I remember correctly. She had remembered to stop and get donuts for her faculty. I don’t want to judge her, and I can’t imagine the guilt and horror she will live with for the rest of her life, but I can’t imagine being that distracted. I hope I will never let myself get anywhere near that distracted.

    Thanks for the reminder.


  8. Byranie
    October 24, 2008 | 5:04 pm

    I am actually one of those moms that has given into the temptation to run into the coffee shop or post office and leave my young kids in the car.

    The funny thing is I can’t imagine accidentally forgetting about your child in the car and here I am doing it intentionally. This post has challenged me to give up a practice I have guiltily continued.

    I have to agree with Lisa about the gas station. If I park and lock the doors to get my change, I feel okay about that. Picking up a drink or snack while I get my change is pushing it too far.

  9. Erin
    October 24, 2008 | 6:55 pm

    I completely agree with this, and I won’t do it, even at the gas station, even for two seconds… because you just never know. I know we can’t keep our kids in a bubble forever, but I just feel so strongly about never leaving them in the car unattended. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’ve been so tempted to do it, but in the end, I just couldn’t because what if?
    And for that reason, I am eternally thankful that Starbucks has a drive through.

  10. zjojor
    October 24, 2008 | 7:36 pm

    You know, as a mom I can definitely side with you on this. Sometimes we get so busy we forget that we are “mothers” first and that our children are our responsibility.They are not inconveniences. I still don’t let my children go off by themselves, I know sometimes it is tempting to leave them in the car and run into a gas station real quick but we are all aware of how dangerous even a few seconds of this can be. Never leave kids at home alone is my motto, so I totally agree with you.

  11. abbyjess
    October 24, 2008 | 7:53 pm

    I totally agree. There have been many times I’ve been tempted but for what really… to drop a book in the library return, to grab a drink? I think that one of the most difficult aspects of motherhood for me has been the slowing down. The realizing that I can’t do it all, that I have only one CRITICAL responsibility. This is just a small part of that. Everything else can wait if pulling the baby out of the seat is too big a hassle. And I agree with Erin, thank goodness Starbucks has a drive-thru.

  12. Meagan Francis
    October 24, 2008 | 8:26 pm

    Another perspective:

    I’ve done the mental gymnastics over this one and in some cases, it really just seems safer to walk ten feet from my car, fork over the cash and run back then it does to walk across a crowded parking lot with the bolting toddler and the five-year-old who no longer likes to hold my hand in public and the two older, easily distractible kids.

    Terrible things can and do happen to kids but it is far, far more likely that they won’t. Kids have been snatched out of their beds in the dead of night. They can choke while a parent is sitting right next to them at the table. There are many walls and doors in my home and often one of my children is on the other side of one of them. If the gas station were held up while I was in there paying for gas–extremely unlikely!–would I really want them in there WITH me?

    Probably the most unsafe thing I ever do with my kids–and I do this on a nearly-daily basis!–is put them in the car and drive them somewhere. But we don’t seem to attach nearly the level of judgment to that every-day activity. Why?

    My husband works out of town and commutes home on the weekends. In any given week there is often NO time that I don’t have kids with me, so running an errand later is not an option. Does this mean I leave my kids in the car while I go grocery shopping? Well, no, of course not. Does it mean I might run in to pay for gas while they’re parked in a locked car in broad daylight in a safe neighborhood no more than twenty feet away? Maybe. Luckily it doesn’t come up too often, because I pay at the pump, and am careful to arrange most of my errands for times that I do have some help (or I just bring them in with me.) But yeah, every now and then, it just doesn’t make sense to pull everyone out of the car and deal with that busy parking lot. So I don’t…and honestly? I’m just fine with that. It helps that my older kids are 9 and 10, old enough to jump in and use their wits if the youngest was choking or something, but there are plenty of people who also don’t believe that a ten-year-old should be left alone, like, ever, much less momentarily put in charge of a younger sibling.

    I’m all for safety, but sometimes there’s no one obvious right choice and I’m all for parents being able to use their own common sense to figure out what that is.

  13. Nicki
    October 24, 2008 | 8:33 pm

    I totally agree, Steph. Thank you for writing this. I remember hearing a story on Oprah once about a woman who left her kids real quick while she ran into the house. One of the children got a hold of a lighter and set the car on fire. Her babies were buckled in their carseats and suffered horribly. It’s just not worth it.

    And, I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time understanding the justification between leaving them in the car while paying for gas vs. buying something to eat. Leaving them in the car, is leaving them in the car…no matter what you are doing inside.

  14. Meagan Francis
    October 24, 2008 | 8:49 pm

    Nicki, that’s awful and tragic, but in some circumstances what else are you going to do? Case in point: I come home from the grocery store with my kids. I can’t safely escort my kids into the house AND carry my groceries at the same time. So I either: take them in first or leave them in the house unattended, OR leave them unattended in the car while I bring in the groceries. Either way they are not supervised for some period of time. Either way they are not 100% safe.

    Bad things happen, and sometimes they happen to people who’ve done nothing wrong at all. Bad things happen, but they don’t happen as often as it sometimes seems.

  15. Adventures In Babywearing
    October 24, 2008 | 9:10 pm

    I do think the older children would be different- I am always just concerned about an emergency that might happen and me not being able to get to them for a long period of time and them not being able to get out (talking baby in car seat)- or doing it so often that it lowers our instinct and awareness causing us to go a little bit further each time.


  16. laura
    October 24, 2008 | 10:09 pm

    Stephanie, you are right. This is so important, and no, not enough people think anything could happen, but something could. YOU JUST NEVER KNOW! I feel the same way about taking children out of carseats when the car is moving. Can you get on a soapbox about this too? 🙂 The safety of your children comes before EVERYTHING, even to someone who considers herself very laid back, these are two things I will not and can not ever be laid back about.

  17. Heather
    October 25, 2008 | 9:06 am

    This would be why I rarely leave the house anymore. Even the prospect of getting gas seems overwhelming! I am guilty of leaving some of the kids in the van alone in the driveway when I’m loading and unloading them. I’ve yet to find a way to get a 5yo, a 4yo, 2 2yos and 2 infants into the house in the same trip. And this means leaving someone strapped into the carseat unattended while I run into the house and come back-at least 3 times. I tell myself that my neighborhood is safe but I’m still paranoid.

  18. Alyson
    October 25, 2008 | 9:12 am

    Sometimes it is necessary….

    I would rather leave all my kids strapped in their car seats while I lug all the groceries in my house over and over. Sometimes it is unavoidable.

    I also think…gee what if I bring all three into the gas station with me for the 1 minute it takes to pay and someone robbs the place or the gas station blows up.

    I think common sense prevails here…and so does overprotection. I think some parents go too far…some don’t go far enough.

  19. Madeline
    October 25, 2008 | 12:37 pm

    So true! I know of two families who have had scary things happen when they left the kids in the car for just a sec. One had their car stolen with the kids in it. The kids were later found safe on the side of the road. The other incident didn’t end well at all. The children were messing around and accidently shifted gears. The car hit their mother, and she died. It’s terrifying what can happen in just a second.

  20. Taylor
    October 25, 2008 | 3:24 pm

    I have stared at this screen for over an hour trying to decide what to type. founded after my step-son’s maternal grandmother left him in a car for 10 hours. He was 3 years old and the light of so many lives. Donna didn’t mean to do it-does this mean I never get angry at her? NO-And since it happened I have filled up notebooks with more stories like my own. I can advocate for all the products on the market and stand on every soap box in the world, but I will never change the basic attitude of “It won’t happen to me” or “Just a second is OK”. When you get inside to pay, have you ever had to wit in line. It takes about 8 minutes for a car in 80 degree weather to heat up to over 110 degrees. I am paranoid and overprotective of my children. They all take swim lessons and i have plugs and toilet locks. I put my 15 month old in a sroller and hang the groceries on the handle and make my 7 year old daughter sit on the porch where I can see her at all times. Losing a child is the worst thing that can ever happen to a parent and it further damages things because that sense of security is gone. I know that sometimes it feels stupid and I look like a fool, but i know my children are safer with me than anywhere by themselves. There is no balance of stakes that would make me feel like the gamble was worth the convienience. I feel like I a m being self righteous, and I want you all to understand that i am a real mom, and my words come from my heart and a strong feeling that no mother should ever feel this way. If you are traveling with more small children than it is safe for you to handle, I would suggest bringing another person along.(I know this isn’t always feasible) children are the most precious thing in this world, and I don’t think their lives should be gambled for anything. if you feel stressed overworked and overwhelmed-its ok to ask for help- your child’s life could depend on it.I am grateful to those who read, sorry to those I offend and more than anything beg you to love them and never waste a moment.

  21. Beth - total mom haircut
    October 26, 2008 | 11:35 am

    Great post, Steph. When I was still getting used to the whole two kid thing I kid this once. I was petrified the whole time I was out of the car. I knew, from the way I felt, that it was wrong and something I would never, ever do again. I think that what you said – if taking the kids with you makes it too much work – that’s a great way to gauge how important something really is. Saves me lots of money, probably:)

  22. Miche
    October 26, 2008 | 10:59 pm

    I knew a lady in Raleigh that left her child in the car and forgot she had left him there until a few hours later. (He later died). Sounds crazy, but I can see it happening when you run inside to do something and get side tracked and the time slips by-but anyway, that happened before I had children, so it has been a huge fear in the back of my mind for my children to overheat, so I never ever leave them alone even for a sec. in the car.

    Very good post, I loved it.

  23. Rachel
    October 31, 2008 | 2:44 am

    Thanks for the link Stephanie. Kids being left in cars is one of my biggest fears. I’m so glad you’re writing about this.

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