Last summer my family visited some relatives in Virginia. One day, my husband, sister and I went for a hike in a state park with our babies in carriers, while my parents went to the lake there. After our walk, we had to call my dad to come and get my sister and her daughter, because we only had one car seat in our car. While we waited with my sister, my husband started our car to let it cool down, since it was a 90-degree day, and came to sit on a bench in the shade with us and the babies a little ways away. Then, a couple emerged from the wooded trail and walked to the little parking lot. They stopped and peered into our car. “What are they doing?” I asked my husband. As they continued to look in, cupping their hands around their eyes so they could see through the windows, I head the man say, “I don’t see a baby in there.” My husband, holding our son, walked over and asked them what was up. Having noticed it was running and seen the car seat, they were checking to make sure there was no child in the car. “We were just cooling the car off,” my husband informed them.
OK, so they were just looking out for a child who might have been left in a car alone…while his parents went for hike (who would do that?). But at the same time, the incident made me feel watched and under surveillance. Even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong, it made me feel like a potential criminal. I know, these people didn’t know me. I wouldn’t leave my son – especially to go on a hike, wtf!? – but maybe some parents would. But it unnerved me, that strangers were looking out for the welfare of my child. I felt like it was, honestly, none of their business.
My feelings probably stem from a deep-rooted fear that my child will somehow be taken away from me – I blame post-traumatic stress from my losses. Anyone who dares to intervene, even on behalf of my child, brings out my mamma bear instincts. He is my responsibility. No one else needs to look out for him. This is my job, and strangers have no right to take it away from me. I’ve got this.
I know my reaction probably isn’t rational. But I have seen other people, specifically moms, who seem very quick to judge the parenting of others, as if they know what’s best for other moms’ kids better than the moms themselves do. So when it comes to child safety, when is it OK to intervene? A debate on one of my FB groups arose the other day when a mom observed another woman leave a child in a parked car while she returned a shopping cart. The observer waited until the woman got back, and then took to FB to complain, saying that because the cart return area was far away and the woman had eyes off the car for a couple of minutes, it was not safe for the child. It was unclear from her post whether the car was running or not. The responses from other moms were mixed – some said that they strap their kids in first, start the car and then lock it while they return the cart. Others said they just leave the cart by the car. Others said they unload the groceries, return the cart, then carry the kid back to the car. Some moms argued that the kids were way safer inside a locked, running car than being carried or walking across a parking lot where they could be hit. Some moms were afraid someone would abduct their kids in the few moments they were alone.
We all know that leaving a child in a hot car is not acceptable. But what if the car is locked and running, or if it’s a cool day? How long is OK? Or is it never OK? I was haunted by this story of a mom who left her four-year-old in the car on a 50 degree day to run into a store for five minutes, was reported by a “good samaritan” and subsequently arrested. It seems we are all at the mercy of do-gooders who believe it’s their duty to police parents, all in the name of the safety of children.
I don’t agree with this. Yes, there are instances of immediate danger when action should be taken. But peering into car windows? Posting complaints about other moms on FB? Calling the cops after the fact on a mom whose kid was OK? I think we’ve gotten out of hand. Not only are we now supposed to be helicopter parents, but we are supposed to be helicopter bystanders as well. I support (to some extent) free-range parenting. I don’t believe the world is as scary as we think it is – it’s the media and the overload of information that’s done that to us, because statistically the world is safer than it was when we were growing up. I don’t live in fear of child abduction – I fear more likely occurrences, like car accidents, a lot more.
I’m sure I shouldn’t take offense at the well-meaning stranger looking out for my child at the park that day. Now that summer is here again, we do have to be mindful about children in hot cars, and maybe that guy was honestly just concerned. But I also don’t want to feel that my parenting choices are being judged by some unseen Big Brother who’s going to report my every move. There are a lot of gray areas between what’s OK and what’s not OK. I feel that it’s my right to judge where that line is for my child.
What do you think about strangers looking out for your children? Are you grateful or defensive about it?