Last week I read a news story that really disturbed me. It was about a woman who was arrested after leaving her kids in a vehicle while she shopped for a phone. The story is really short (you can read it here), and there aren’t many details given. But here were the things that I thought as I read it:
1. She obviously didn’t go anywhere out of sight of the kids, because the story says as soon as the officers approached the car she came out.
2. In April in Connecticut, it is unlikely to be dangerously hot in a car.
Perhaps there is more to the story. She was reported to be “uncooperative.” Maybe she was belligerent and if she’d been rational and calm, they wouldn’t have arrested her. Maybe in the course of the confrontation, she revealed other things that showed her to be an unfit parent. I don’t know. But purely on what was reported, this story disturbs me.
I’ve debated for a week whether to blog about it because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I say publicly, “This is an overreaction. This is not child endangerment. What did this woman do to deserve being arrested and having her children taken away from her?” that it puts me at risk of having someone knock on my door and say, “If that’s how you feel, maybe we need to take your kids from you.”
And this, at heart, is what I find so disturbing. I shouldn’t have to live with that fear.
We live in a society that is becoming steadily more judgmental about parenting decisions. In the back of our minds, we’re always aware that if we misstep in public, or if someone disagrees with a choice we make, we could be reported to the authorities. There’s always that threat of having our children taken away. Case in point: a blog reader told me once that she let her child play outside with another kid, and DFS came by and did an investigation because they thought she was endangering/neglecting her child.
Making parenting choices based on the fear of what other people think is not a recipe for good parenting.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think child protective services are the enemy. There are a lot of children who need much more and better than what they’re given. And there is such a thing as endangering a child by leaving them in the car. But there’s got to be room to weigh individual circumstance. There’s a big difference between someone who runs an errand at a strip mall, within sight of the car, for ten minutes when it’s 50 degrees outside, and someone who goes into the Mall of America for an hour or three when it’s 85 or 90.
Most parents weigh their decisions carefully, taking into account a wide range of factors unknown to anyone on the outside.
It makes sense to me that police officers would come up to a car when they realized there were kids in it and no adult. It does not make sense to me that when the mother immediately appeared–making it clear that she did have her eye on the children–they would arrest her for not having her eye on them.
Like I said, there could be more to the story. But this is what has been bothering me for the last week. What do you think? Have you ever made a parenting choice based not on what you thought was the right thing, but on the fear of being judged unfit by others?