I Left My Kids Alone In The Car. That Doesn't Make Me A Monster

Is it ever okay to leave your kids in the car while running errands?

I have written many times about kids being left in cars.

A young boy in my town was left in a car, by accident, on a hot day. He died. He was two. My son was two at the time and that story has resonated in my soul for the last four years since the accident happened. Because of that, I have long had very strict views when it comes to kids and cars. I don’t judge scenarios where forgetting a child ended in tragedy. I know that the human brain is flawed, that we are fallible, and that a change in routine can lead to dire consequences.

I also feel pretty strongly that young kids shouldn’t be left in cars. At all. Ever. Not because there have been a number of instances where cars have been stolen with kids in them. Not because of fear of judgment from moms like me who don’t think you should do it. Just because young kids are entirely unable to fend for themselves in the event that something terrible should happen.

That said, I’d be lying if I said I’d never done it. Back when my kids were very young, I would leave them in the locked car, park directly in front of the store, and run in to grab a pizza that I had ordered. Hands up, I did it. I did it and I own it, and nothing happened and we lived to tell the story.

But you know that Dr. Phil saying? When you know better, you do better. I haven’t left my kids in a car alone in a parking lot since the day that little boy died. Not because his death could have been prevented, but because that event lead me to realize the concern surrounding leaving kids in cars at all. 

I used to sit on my throne of self-righteousness and judge moms who would leave their kids in cars for even a second. But now, I am confident that we’re all just doing our best to get through the day with our sanity intact. Moms who leave their kids behind in their cars while they go in to run a quick errand aren’t terrible people. They’re making a choice I wouldn’t. But, I’m sure I make choices they wouldn’t make too. 

Parents who go into malls to shop for hours or bingo halls are another story. But we’re not talking about those moms. We’re talking about moms like you and me who cut corners from time to time to get stuff done faster, because life is busy and hectic and figure, really, what’s the big deal? Like I said, I’ve done it.

If you look to see what age you can legally leave your child alone in a car, you won’t be able to find it. There is no specific law on the books that dictate at what point you can legally leave your child in a car. Canada’s Criminal Code states that anyone who leaves a child under the age of 10 in a severely dangerous or life-threatening circumstance can face up to five years in jail. But what constitutes "dangerous"? With little airtight legal guidance around the subject, how are you supposed to know you’re not going to be judged by the mommy police for breaking the rules? When can you be confident that your children are safe if you do need to run an errand and want to leave them behind?

I have heard moms say they would leave their children in the car, but for the fear of vigilantes—and fear that they will meet a similar fate to Kim Brooks, who was arrested for leaving her son for five minutes. Many are more afraid of strangers casting stones and making assumptions about their parenting than the perceived risk of leaving their kids alone for just a minute. And yes, it is far more likely that someone will see and call the police versus seeing and stealing your child. But at the same time, we put our kids in car seats because we want to protect them in the event of an accident. The seat doesn’t do much if all things are going well. It’s what happens when things don’t go well that the car seat is there for. It would be far more convenient to use no seat at all.

I am a mom who has left her kids alone in a car in a parking lot. It was right in front of the door. I had a full view of the car. But I left them in there locked. I did something I wouldn't do, and would tell other people not to do now. I don’t claim to be a perfect parent. I’m not even close. But I started dragging both kids out of their five-point harnesses, five feet to the door in the dead of winter, to go in for two seconds to grab the pizza.

Not because I’m a perfect parent, but because they’re safer when they’re not alone locked in a car, out of my reach. 

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