In Case I Get Arrested Today . . .

by | May 6, 2015 | Can of Worms, Parenting | 66 comments

This article is the scariest thing I’ve read in a long time. A zombie apocalypse has nothing on “good” Samaritans hell-bent on protecting children from the reasoned decisions of their parents.

“What a horrible mother:” How a call from a “good samaritan” derailed these mothers’ lives

Really, you should head over and read it, but if you are a parent who enjoys making informed parenting decisions based on your particular circumstances at that moment, it will ruin your day.

As a mother, I spend the majority of my time assessing situations. All day long . . . I decide if giving my kids a snack now will ruin their dinner. If letting them decide not to bring a coat will be a good lesson in natural consequences, or a genuine inconvenience or risk. If leaving them in the car for a few minutes is actually safer than having them walk across the parking lot with me.

And that last one, as it turns out, is the game changer. Because that article is the story of three women who determined that, in their particular circumstance, their children could be safely left in the car for a few moments, but ended up facing serious and lasting legal repercussions because of it.

The stories are horrifying. And the experiences of these women is actually worse than my worst fears. I always figured, hey, someone might call the police on me someday. I would explain why my children were not in danger and that I had actually made an informed parenting decision based on my particular circumstances. I would make a point of being polite and respectful even though I was mad, and the policeman would be reasonable. Or, worse, the prosecutor would be reasonable. Or at the very least, worst case scenario, I’d have to go to court and the judge would be reasonable. It seems like that did not happen in any of these cases.

I’m still not going to make what I believe are bad parenting decisions because of bad laws and bad samaritans. I won’t be bullied. But it is deeply, deeply scary. And it could absolutely happen to me.

We live in this bizarro world of perfect connectedness and complete anonymity where some people would happily call the police before asking a question or offering to help. A world where expectant mothers can choose to kill their unborn babies, but are vilified for having a glass of wine or a ham sandwich.

We live in a world where people are so disconnected from the facts that they honestly believe that a nine year old child walking to the park will probably get kidnapped by a stranger and that a two year old asleep in a car will immediately die if his mother walks more than five feet away. Maybe it’s ten feet. But he will die. For sure.

I understand that these laws and policies have been made in response to very real tragedies. But arresting reasonable parents who have made reasonable parenting decisions appropriate to their particular circumstances isn’t going to save all children from accidental death.

My child could be killed because I left him home. Or he could be killed because I brought him with me in the car. My child could be killed because I left him inside the car. Or he could be killed walking across the parking lot at my side. There is not a law that can guarantee that my child will be safe. It is unsettling, but true. And no one is better suited to make decisions for the safety of a child in a particular situation than his parent.

These laws and the people who enforce them are deeply misguided, and the way they undermine a parent’s ability to make decisions for her own child should concern everyone.

I am going to continue to be a person who makes decisions based on real life and not on one-size-fits-all laws. I am going to continue to hope that someone who worried about the safety of my children would take a moment to really assess the situation, or stand by my car to keep an eye on my kids until I got back, then leave with a smile, or come search me out and gently express concern (although this one would certainly be my least favorite in practice, I would take it).

I am going to continue to hope that my fellow citizens and those in positions of civil authority would make reasonable decisions based on the facts of a particular case.

And I’m going to figure that if I get arrested, you guys will have my back, and maybe bring my family some meals.

You might enjoy these other times I have poked the internet with a stick:

There’s Not a Rule Book for This Job

Hey America, Pregnancy: You’re Doing it Wrong



  1. Ashley Sue

    Well said! I told my husband a little awhile ago that here in NY, I am more afraid of CPS than kidnappers, murderers, etc. I have to be honest and say that i have let that fear of CPS guide my decisions occasionally. Welive in a small small town on route 11 (like under 4000), so most people know me and the kids. Some of them have offered to watch the kids in the car for me as I pay for gas or get a coffee at the fabulous little cafe we have. I have even asked the local police to watch them if they are parked close, and they have.

    However, the other day I encouraged Leo to walk across rt. 11 to the gas station for a soda. I was outside watching him. there were no 18 wheelers coming. No traffic. The neighbor lady came out screaming and hollering for me to help him. Thankfully, it was diffused quickly and she apologized.

    • Erin Klarner

      We live in a NY town of less than 4000 on route 11, also :), and our apartment is on the main street on the second floor. On instances where my grandmother is visiting, we have expressed concern to each other that someone out on the sidewalk will hear the 4-year-old having a tantrum and call social services. I agree, they're scarier than anything else! Which seems ridiculous, given all the cases where children were in dangerous circumstances and they did nothing, and then something bad happened…

  2. Marian Ninja

    I feel as if this is a way in which the devil is trying to rip apart our families and communities-through ridiculous laws and paranoia like this. These women are unjustly being bullied by others and law enforcement, which puts strain on their families and even caused one woman to miss her daughter's first day of school! It seems as if all of this is putting more importance on the State than it is on the family, community, and proper communication.

    From personal experience, growing up as the second oldest of six kids, there was always a slight "fear" that CPS would be called because a random stranger saw one of us kids with an injury (which we would have gotten from simple, everyday activity, not abuse).

    The really unfortunate thing is that all of this obsession from random strangers is criminalizing good parents, and probably not doing much to help stop abusive parents.

    • Anne McD

      I agree with your first statement. The devil will use any trick up his sleeve to ruin families.

  3. Theresa

    Well said. It's a sorry state of affairs when I have to consider what the neighbors will think when I send my kids out to play in the front unsupervised, or what fellow shoppers will think when I ask my kids to go get me something from the opposite end of the grocery store. I often dream of moving to the country and parenting in a vacuum 🙂

  4. Anna

    It is so ridiculous. But, I worry about CPS. And since me getting arrested would pose a legitimate threat to my children's well being I do generally try to honor their rules, though the rules do annoy me so.

  5. Lindsey

    So bizarre and scary. As a pediatric nurse, I see true neglect daily and and so little attention is devoted to it. The time and resources directed towards vilifying these mothers is shocking. Thanks for discussing!

  6. Jennifer

    Oh yes. This is so real. Its really terrible that in a certain sense, we need to be so aware and afraid of CPS when making decisions about our child's well being. We have some very nosy neighbors currently, who seem to always be on the watch for me to make a (in their opinions) wrong step with my kids. Why can't people be more willing to lend a helping hand instead always ready to wag an accusing finger? Its really a shame.

  7. Karyn

    I left my sleeping son in the car with the windows down *with my friend standing outside of the car*! Someone still called the police on me! On the other hand, if I saw a four year old in a car by herself, I probably would at least wait until the parent returned, even in our "safe" little town. I think your most powerful point — we allow for the murder of babies but then monitor everything parents and teachers do, from what they eat to if they vaccinate to if they leave them in the car a few moments.

  8. Amanda

    I legitimately fear CPS more than pretty much any other danger to my kids. I live in Texas which is not as bad as some places about allowing personal freedom, but there are no real restrictions on how they can charge parents for things that are not specific in the law. It's so scary! And I cave. I avoid things that might cause trouble. And when I took my son in for a pinched finger, I worried excessively someone would think it was abuse, not 5 year old carelessness. It's hard to live in a nanny state.

  9. Rosa Patterson

    People can be so ridiculous. I've had neighbors absolutely shocked that I let my kids play in the fenced in backyard alone while I look in on them through the window. What could possibly happen?!? Also if I'm out there with them I'm probably reading a book and paying even less attention to them than I am looking through the window while i do chores.

  10. Rosa Patterson

    And LOL photoshopping yourself into the jail cell is killing me. Is that a look of remorse? Are you sorry you let your kids ride their bikes to the store?

  11. Hannah Gokie

    I had the same thought process while reading the article you linked to: our society's so worried about leaving a child alone for 5 minutes but can't be bothered to even acknowledge the human-ness of a child inside the womb? What a twisted world-view. As Kate's only almost a year, I haven't had any experience with these types of situations yet but how scary!

  12. Charlotte (WaltzingM)

    I just want to clarify that in my comment below, I am only talking about the children in cars issue, not bicycling to the park or crossing streets alone. I know that the "free range" parent movement out there likes to lump all of these issues together, but most states don't have laws about those other issues:

    I live in Texas where children dying in hot cars is not rare. In fact, Texas is the leader of hot-car deaths. It happens every summer. The statics I recently saw stated that 36 children die every year due to hot car deaths nationwide. Maybe the writer of the article considers that "rare" or maybe it really doesn't happen that often where she lives. But here, it's a reality. So it's also a law.

    "Leaving a child unattended in a car is a crime that is punishable under the Texas Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 22, Section 10:

    Sec. 22.10. LEAVING A CHILD IN A VEHICLE. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is:

    (1) younger than seven years of age; and

    (2) not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older.

    (b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

    Leaving a child unattended in a car is also a form of neglectful supervision that is investigated by Child Protective Services."

    And being a law abiding citizen who obeys other state laws, I have always obeyed this one. Even if it's 60 degrees outside and I'm parked in the shade. Even if it's winter. Even if it means inconveniencing myself later. Even if it means going without something… PB&J instead of a baked chicken, one more day guarding a fire place from an obstinate toddler, or having to borrow toilet paper from a neighbor. It's not a law that asks me to violate my conscience so I obey. Just like I expect to get in trouble if I choose to ignore a stop sign because I could plainly see no one was coming, or choose to use my cell phone in a school zone because I can clearly see that every child was already in the school building, I understand the consequences of choosing to disobey this law. And knowing how devastating seeing your mother arrested can be, how traumatic even one day in foster care can be, I admit I always err on the said of caution. When my youngest was born after not having a baby in the car for about 6 years and suffering from the sleep exhaustion of an older mom, I was so worried that I would accidentally forget she was there that I used to put my purse right next to her carseat (whether she was with me or not) so that I'd have to see the carseat (and whether or not she was in it) every time I went anywhere.

    Now, maybe some states don't have this law. I would encourage everyone to make themselves aware of what their state says on this matter and any other states they happen to be traveling to.

    I personally have seen children who appeared to be left in cars and I have watched them to make sure that the mother did come right back and that they weren't forgotten. I didn't call the police, but I can understand what some people would. They have no way of knowing how long mom has been gone. then again, our fractured society has made us afraid to interact with strangers… but that's another issue completely. The fact of the matter is that if someone chooses to break the law (or refuses to educate themselves on what the law forbids and allows and is therefore ignorant of it) then they shouldn't be surprised that they have to suffer the consequences if they are caught.

    • Bailey

      I live in Texas as well and I am TERRIFIED of forgetting my child in a hot car. The day my kids can unbuckle their own carseat belt is a happy day for me (2 of the 3 can). But what people are talking about is not forgetting kids in a car (which is almost always done by parents unintentionally and out of their daily routine). It's making a conscious parenting decision to leave them in the car for various reasons.

      The law that you posted states that is is only unlawful for LONGER than 5 minutes. Now, in some cases, the parents do break that part of the law. But in other cases, they don't. Are the "good samaritans" standing next to the car with their watches, only reporting the parents when more than 5 minutes has elapsed? I doubt it.

      Personally leaving my kids in the car while I run into the grocery store is not something I would feel comfortable doing, legal or not (although apparently it IS legal to leave my 8 year old there). But I don't think I should have to fear arrest because I left my daughter in the car for less than a minute to pick up my son from school less than 100 yards away. According to the law, that is a perfectly fine thing for me to do. Unless someone else decides it isn't.

      I also think the main problem with this particular issue isn't the legality of it as much as it is the disproportionate response to it. There are many children put in much, much more dangerous situations every day by truly neglectful parents and they fall through the cracks of the system. Arrest those parents, not the ones who make a (possibly) misguided decision to run into the store for chicken.

    • Deltaflute

      From what I've read hot car deaths are either completely accidental (such a child getting stuck in the car) or completely neglectful (such as the man who "accidentally" forgot his child in the car so the child would die).

      I don't know of any instance in which a parent consciously let a child stay in the car for 15 minutes and the child died from being over heated. Do you? And I used to live in Arizona which doesn't have such laws. It's just common sense.

    • Charlotte (WaltzingM)

      I agree with you. That's why I think parents need to know what the law states for their particular state. I can't say whether or not the response was disproportionate or not because I don't know what the laws state for these particular examples. Here is the thing… disproportionate response happens all the time. Because some parents have killed their own children, all child deaths are investigated thoroughly… including clear cut cases of SIDS. What horror a family who has just discovered their child dead has to deal with, but it's what happens. We make rules and regulations all the time that inconvenience law abiding, reasonable people based on the actions of a few guilty ones. Because some people have robbed banks, people are not allowed to carry a concealed weapon into a bank even if they have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. I'm not saying that the laws are right. If you believe they are wrong, then work to change them. But you must obey them in the meantime.

      A passerby who sees a child sleeping in a locked car has no idea how long that child has been there. They need to educate themselves on the law as well. But in cases of doubt, I can understand why they would call the police to investigate whether or not criminal neglect (under the law) had occurred. I wouldn't do it because I am more of an understanding person than that, but I can understand why others would. They just don't know for sure and they are probably afraid to get involved in the situation personally. (Like I said, that is a whole other issue.)

    • Charlotte (WaltzingM)

      Please understand. I'm not saying the law is a good one or right. Just that it is the law. If you don't like the laws in your state, work to change them, but in the meantime, you still have to obey them. Whether hot-car deaths happen due to accident or negligence is not really the issue. That would have been an argument against the law before it was passed. The fact of the matter is that the law states what it does now. If you break it, you shouldn't be surprised by the consequences. If you believe that strongly that it is an unjustified law, then work to change it.

    • Kendra

      In California, where I live, the law states: (a) A parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child who is 6 years of age or younger may not leave that child inside a motor vehicle without being subject to the supervision of a person who is 12 years of age or older, under either of the following circumstances:
      (1) Where there are conditions that present a significant risk to the child's health or safety. (2) When the vehicle’s engine is running or the vehicle's keys are in the ignition, or both.

      My interpretation of the law in California is that I may leave my kids in the car if I determine that there is not a significant risk to their health and safety. But clearly, that wouldn't stop people from calling the police.

    • Charlotte (WaltzingM)

      Sounds like just the kind of law that could be used in favor of reasonable people or against them depending on the attitude and prejudices of the people enforcing it. I would consider a law like that even more dangerous than one that spells things out (like our law does).

    • Kendra

      It does make it more confusing, but I'd rather deal with some confusion and protect my parental rights.

    • Charlotte (WaltzingM)

      I don't feel comfortable leaving my kids anyway, never have, so I don't see it as encroachment on my parental rights. If it's a matter of choosing which hill to die on, this just isn't it for me. But this natural and normal difference of opinion between people is why these problems come up. What you determine as "not a significant risk" might be different than what a policeman or a judge determines not a significant risk.

    • Kendra

      Charlotte, if it's not something you feel comfortable with, then I totally support you not doing it. It goes both ways. :0)

      I thought about this all the way to and from my OB appointment this morning, and had to get my blood pressure taken again, because I was concerned about it. You're right, with this post I am supporting people in some states (although I don't believe in my own) who break the law. And that's not like me. I'm a big fan of law and order.

      But I really do think that in this case, some controlled, reasonable civil disobedience is not immoral, and would bring needed attention to a problematic situation. The more good parents that have to deal with the fallout from bad samaritans the more hope we have of getting the laws changed, right?

      Because I do believe that child death in cars happens almost exclusively by accident. And I believe that these laws that unnecessarily burden parents have a profound impact on how open to life we are willing, as a society, to be.

      If I can put on my tin foil hat for a moment:

      A society (or a government) that wished to limit the number of children that its members had would do well to create laws and widespread misconceptions that meant that . . .

      A pregnant woman had to abstain from a wide variety of food and drink and activities that, statistically, are very unlikely to harm her baby.

      The mother of a toddler who has fallen asleep in the car felt compelled to wake him up to run to the ATM or inside to pay for her gas, because she couldn't guarantee she'd be back inside of five minutes. She'd then have to deal with a miserable toddler the rest of the day.

      The mother of a school aged child feels that she has NO options other than to drive the mile to school to pick him up each day. She has to wake up her younger child or keep him from napping at all because her older son will probably be kidnapped if he walks home, and no other children would be allowed by their parents to walk with him, and no other parents can give him a ride home because they don't have a car-full of extra car seats for eight year olds.

      Where we are now means parenting is scarier and more inconvenient than it needs to be. I think one morally acceptable course of action is to make reasonable parenting decisions and be willing to take the consequences and make a public stand to bring awareness to the situation. But only if you want to.

    • clairesd

      I think the clause "in the supervision of a person older than 12" is key here. We cannot advocate lawbreaking if it the situation involves leaving children unattended or "in the care of" another young child.
      Once, a friend and mother of 7 (most of them grown) told me the story of how she was totally shocked once to come home, after leaving her youngest alone for awhile, to find that he had inadvertently started a fire in the house. It was contained and it did not burn anything but a hole in the floor, but he had been playing with a candle or match or something and other stuff had caught on fire. He was 8, and not trying to be naughty. He just thought he had control of the situation. And she had left him to go pick up her grandson from school, assuming that her littlest guy would exercise good judgment.

      Folks: kids under 12—and plenty of over 12s—are not always mature enough to exercise good judgment. That's just kids for you. They need good supervision until they do.
      And really young kids REALLY don't know how to take care of themselves. They might choke, they might hurt themselves inadvertently in any number of ways. They might hurt each other, badly, however inadvertently.

    • clairesd

      (Pt II)
      One time I told my kids I needed some alone time and they were not to bother me while I was in the other room "unless it was an emergency." They were not toddlers, but the eldest was still only 9. Later they told me that the 6 year old had started choking his sister and wouldn't stop. "Why didn't you come get me!" I asked, furious. They just stood there looking at me, confused and silent.
      And then I realized: they don't even know what qualifies as an "emergency." They just don't.

      But I have another reason for not advocating for leaving children in cars. And that is because it may be putting young children in a situation that they are not prepared to handle. It may not be dangerous, it may just be uncomfortable, or confusing. Like: "why are strangers gathering around staring at me?" or "Oh no, that person is getting mugged. What should I do?" And if they don't know what to do, it can be very stressful for them. Too stressful. Unnecessarily stressful.
      On the flip side, when kids know their mom is right there with them, they know that SHE has their back. She will handle all the unknowns and they don't have to. It's a great perk of being a kid.

    • Kendra

      Hey Claire, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I deleted your part III because it violates my comment rule: *We don't always have to agree, where's the fun in that? But no name calling or speculating about what people "really" think or mean.*

      Your characterization of my motivations and parenting goals related to this issue isn't accurate, and I prefer to get to speak for myself in that regard.

      Perhaps I'll write another post all about that some time.

    • clairesd

      As I re-read the comment I posted, I realized how it could be read as a personal attack. I apologize.
      My intent was to measure pros and cons in a theoretical sense, but it is true that I worded it carelessly and that was not, um, classy.

      A better phrasing would have been: "what is the benefit for children?" And I agree that we might not all come to the same conclusion on that question.

      Thanks for your graciousness.

    • Lauren

      Charlotte, I live in Texas, too. Along with 27 million other people. A google search indicates that 31 children died in hot cars NATIONWIDE last year. So far, in 2015, one child has died in a hot car … and it wasn't in Texas. It happened in Arizona.
      I would consider that to be exceedingly rare. I think when you say that deaths in hot cars are "not rare" in Texas, that is exactly the fear mongering that Kendra and other commenters are taking issue with. Scaring parents with phony or exaggerated statistics (or even general terms like "not rare" in the absence of hard data) is uncalled for and not helpful. Because the only people scared by these tactics are the bad samaritans, who apparently are either too gullible or unintelligent to sort fact from fiction, and their fear is based on faulty, inaccurate, exaggerated facts like these.
      Discourse on this topic is good and necessary, but it HAS to be based on hard, cold, data.

    • Richard Stanford

      Lauren, that's a very good point. Over 5,000 people die every year in Texas from being hit by cars while waking, so you could even argue that waiting in the car is actually the safest option.

      Its become popular to assume that kids today couldn't possibly handle situations that we – their parents – typically handled all the time without it ever being a big deal. That's not healthy for them, and its not healthy for us either.

  13. Jenny Cook

    I had a really long comment and just deleted it all. Why? Because the internet is forever…and this post will likely get lots of hits and shares…and the bullies and trolls are online as well as in the parking lot.
    I think part of the culture of death is a culture of fear. I would like to think that there can be some kind of grassroots antidote to this, but at the end of the day, we can only truly say, with the Psalmist, "When I am afraid I will trust in you; in God, whose word I praise. In God I trust, I will not be afraid; what can mortal man do to me?" (Ps. 56:3-4). Mortal man can do a lot of damage (as the article you linked demonstrates with chilling detail), but the only infallible defense against the culture of fear is a culture of trust. Jesus, I trust in Thee!

  14. Stephanie Lathtum

    A mom I know had her 2 year old and still breastfeeding 1 year old taken for 10 days because her older child broke his leg while at grandma's. That, and stories like those you shared make me so afraid of other people and CPS. I agree with what someone else said, that CPS is more frightening than a kidnapper.

  15. Bailey

    This post particularly hit home with me today because I went on a rampage yesterday over a viral video on Facebook.

    In said video (you may have seen it, 30 million people have apparently), a man attempts to demonstrate how easy it is for a stranger to lead a child away from a playground by asking if they want to see his puppies (he previously asked the permission of the parents). That wasn't what made me angry though. I think it is important that kids understand they cannot wander off with a stranger no matter what. What did it was at the end of the video he states that "700 children A DAY are abducted." Immediately I knew this was a gross misstatement and it took me a 30 second Google search to confirm that, in fact, only about 100 children PER YEAR are abducted by a stranger. But apparently he thought it was ok to lie and strike fear in the hearts of parents everywhere.

    Was anyone on the comments pointing this out though? Of course not. They were all clutching their pearls and talking about what a public service this man had done by pointing out how dangerous it is to be a kid at a park whose parent is sitting on a bench nearby.

    I immediately pointed out the ridiculousness in the comments to both of the friends who had posted the video and posted the video on my own wall with the correction. Of course, most people probably didn't read what I wrote and instead watched the video and vowed to never let their children out of their sight.

    My mom couldn't understand my frustration when I called her to vent a short time later. Of course she didn't. She raised me and my sisters in the 80s and 90s when it was still perfectly acceptable to leave your kids alone in the car for 5 minutes while you ran into the store or to let them play outside unsupervised. For every parent I meet now that longs for the "good old days," I meet 3 others who are ridiculous helicopter parents that I don't dare tell that I *gasp* let my children play outside alone.

    These days I'm almost more terrified of getting in serious trouble for my parenting decisions than I am something actually happening to my children. I feel like what we consider "dangerous" is so misguided. It's all about fear now.

    Sorry for the novel of a comment. As much as I needed to read something like this today it still makes me so sad that this is what it means to be a parent in America right now

    • Kendra

      I haven't seen that video, but it is SUPER frustrating that someone would lie about facts to scare parents.

    • Emily Q-F

      That video made me mad too! I posted a link the a "creepy adult" page, because you're right, it's NOT strangers! And I felt like the video was so misleading. What if the child say the parent talking to the man with the puppy? Wouldn't that signal to the child that person was safe? The whole "stranger danger" thing it's such a blanket statement, I think it does more harm. Because then we aren't talking to kids about going with ANYONE without asking our permission. We say, "Oh beware of strangers!" and nothing else. And we constantly counter that by talking to strangers ourselves, and even encouraging our children to. How confusing! That's why I use the "tricky adults" tip list, like telling my kids that grown-ups that ask kids for help are being tricky, to never go with anyone without asking me/dad first, etc. Plus that encompasses people my children know a little bit, a lot, or not at all. Ugh. Sorry, I was so frustrated with that video too! Way to make everyone afraid stranger puppy guy!

    • Carisa

      I had the same exact thought about the "700 children a day" part.

    • Richard Stanford

      Not only that, claiming that because some people get kidnapped (around a hundred out of 75 million kids every year), nobody should ever go outside and play? Ridiculous. Far more people, including kids, die in house fires every year. Should we call CPS every time someone takes their kids inside? What if they all fall asleep AT THE SAME TIME? How dangerous would that be? After all, you can never be too safe…

  16. Sarah

    I believe it was Chesterton who said that when we start to ignore the big moral laws, we start needing more small laws to govern our behavior. Yes, we live in a society where abortion is a right, pornorgraphy is freedom of expression, etc., and it's no surprise we are increasingly losing our common sense and relying on laws to micromanage society (Chesterton also said that when laws begin to micromanage like this, people start breaking them because it's impossible to live by all of them… so basically, ignoring the big laws of life leads to a lot of problems). That said, I am super uncomfortable leaving a child in a car. I can't fathom calling the police, though (unless there is obvious immediate danger).

    • priest's wife

      I never leave my kids in the car….but I wouldn't call 911 on a mom- I would wait there for her- ask the kids what their mom's cell phone number is, etc, etc….(unless it seems hot- then I would call AAA and maybe even break the window, so I might get into trouble!)

  17. priest's wife

    My 8 and 5 year olds come with me less and less- because my 15 and 14 year olds can stay with them at home. So, the little ones see less of the real world- but I don't have to explain magazine headlines like 'Bruce Jenner- her inspiring journey' to my 8 year old

    • Charlotte (WaltzingM)

      Amen! Having teens at home is so wonderful for helping the littler ones! I have joked to my husband before… "They are such a huge help… why didn't we start with teens?" 😉

  18. Emily @Zweber Farms

    It is kind of funny that the other day the kids and I were discussing who their Godparents were and what Godparents do. My 8 year old told our 6 year old that Godparents are for when your parents go to jail. WHAT! I have no idea where he got that, nor do I plan on going to jail, ever. But… then again, I leave my kids in the car when I quickly run into the gas station to buy bread. I might end up in jail any day now.

  19. Patricia Shepard

    The comment box ate my comment!

    All I said was, I agree 100%, and you should check out Lenore Skenazy's work on these issues — I would send her a link to your blog post if you are ok with it! The more people that are made aware of what's happening to parents and the louder the voices against it, the better!

  20. mel

    And my state has no laws…somehow that is scarier. Just open to interpretation.

  21. donnafontenot42

    Well, I guess I'm a bad Samaritan. I called the police for this once. There were two small children left in a car. The <1 year old was asleep, the 2.5 year old was awake and calling "mama" repeatedly through the cracked windows. I am in Texas. It was not that hot, so I was not concerned about that, but I am definitely always thinking about that. It was not in what I would consider a safe location. I went back and forth between sitting in my car and standing outside waiting for a while, hoping the mother would come back. I couldn't sit there forever and I truly could not leave those children there with that baby all alone and calling for her mama without doing something. I called the non emergency number. I told the operator and luckily the mother walked up right then, I told the operator everything was ok and hung up. I really don't think I made the wrong decision. It is not my job to figure out if the mother is doing something illegal or not. If I'm worried someone is unsafe I have to make a judgement call just like you do. We may not always make the same one. That's why we do have police and laws and judges to make those determinations. And before today I really never would have thought that this many parents thought it was okay to leave your very young children in the car unattended for long enough to run into the pharmacy. It wouldn't have occurred to me that I would be in the minority on this. For me this really wasn't even one of those moments when I thought, hmmmm, is this one of those issues where other people just have differing opinions and we have to agree to disagree? Like, I really never for one second thought that it was ok to do this, on purpose. Because even though the odds are small that my child would be taken or get hurt, why would I risk that for a nap? Is that thing I need that important? Not that I'm disputing that if you have a different opinion you are wrong. I guess I'll be thinking about this one for a while. But just to say from the other side, that some of us were probably raised to think this is hands down not okay. And it probably didn't help that I was a teacher and therefore a mandatory reporter for years. So that's just my mindset. I'm supposed to report suspected neglect or abuse. Because after all, we are talking about something that is illegal in my state. So maybe those of us who make these kind of calls aren’t bad Samaritans, but just doing what we genuinely thought was the right thing to do. And you just happen to disagree. Why are you right and we're wrong? Apparently the majority of legislators in Texas are actually on my side. But I am also shocked by the discussion of how civil disobedience here would not be immoral. Really? Waking your child from a nap, or not being able to get your prescription that moment without waking them, warrants civil disobedience? I guess I just don't see that. Write a letter to your congressperson; discuss whether we've become too "helicopter" on the internet, sure, fine. But promote civil disobedience over this?

    • Anonymous

      I agree with you. Just because you are inconvenienced by the situation doesn't mean you can ignore the law. If you disagree with the law then work to change it. This does not rise to the level of promoting civil disobedience.

    • Tia

      Maybe you think you are doing the right thing but I disagree very strongly. I think you are doing more harm than good. I am honestly surprised that anyone who has children could be surprised that people sometimes leave their kids in the car. After all, this was how I, and many many many other people, were raised in the last several decades. My parents left me in the car on my own all the time from the age of about 4 or 5 on to do very quick errands, like picking up the dry cleaning. Personally I would ask people who are calling the police whether they are accurately weighing the risks. On one side, there is the very real possibility that a non-negligent parent could have their kids taken away and placed in foster care, where their odds of being abused and molested are sky-high, against the infinitesimally small risk that a child will be abducted or die in a car. 100 children per year are abducted by strangers and 38 die in hot cars (most unintentional, not deliberate), but there are 23.7 million children under age 5 in this country. Even if only, say 1 percent of parents are leaving their little ones in cars deliberately and make up all the people who have these bad outcomes, that's a 0.05% risk of something happening. By contrast, 650 kids a year 0-12 die and 148,000 are injured in car accidents. Based on those statistics, I would argue that putting your children in the car is a negligent act and we should call CPS. I would also argue that calling CPS on a family where there is very little evidence of harm is a form of harassment, and YOU are then morally responsible for child endangerment that ensues.

    • Lauren

      I think the outrage over civil disobedience is a bit dramatic. Ever driven over the speed limit? I sure have, and I'm guessing you have, too. But I still consider myself an upstanding citizen with a well functioning moral compass… who periodically breaks a traffic law.

    • Amanda

      Donna, you're saying the odds of the child being taken or hurt are small, but you're not considering that there are risks to taking a child in also, They could be hit by a car in the parking lot, wander off in the store, or be assaulted while you're facing the other way. ( They almost certainly WILL see what is basically porn on the cover of magazines in checkout lines. Society is pushing us to believe the least convenient option – wrangling the kids into the store – is the only safe choice, but that's not necessarily true at all.

  22. Andrew Copley

    For whatever reason my comment this morning didn't post so I'll try it again…lol.

    As a kid I remember my mom leaving me in the car numerous times alone or with my younger brother for various reasons. I used to love people watching if it was a place with more people around. I find it crazy that this seems to happen so frequently. Kids in my old neighborhood still wander the streets all day playing at different houses or even around the tiny creek that runs around the neighborhood. I think CPS would report almost every parent in my neighborhood if they ever showed up. As for myself, when grocery shopping I put my son (18 months) back into his car seat and strap him in before I go to unload the shopping cart and return it. I think it's just safer to have him strapped inside the car than sitting in the cart in a parking lot where he could be hit by a car. Sometimes I'm parked next to the cart return but sometimes I'm an aisle away or a few parking spots away. Reading these stories makes me worry about someone calling the police on me now. Parenting decisions like these are an assessment of risk…how risky is it to leave the kid in the car (accounting for age, maturity, etc.) vs bringing the kid(s) into the store for whatever brief time you are running in. Parents need to be able to make parenting decisions without worrying that they will end up in jail or court because someone else doesn't take the time to even speak to the parent before calling the police when nothing is wrong.

  23. Rachel @ day2day joys

    We live in a much different world now than when we grew up. Yes, there are scary things out there but what's more is having your own kids taken from you for making a thought-out decision, something many of our mother's probably did when we were littles.

    In fact, we were watching ET the other day and the mom left Gertie (Drew Barrymore's character) at home while she ran to the store… nowadays, who knows what would happen if you did that.

  24. Lauren and Joe O'Brien

    I read that story about the mom who left her kid in the car to buy headphones for the flight about 1-2 yrs ago when I was a new mom and it definitely changed my parenting style. I am careful what I post on my blog, and I watch my kids constantly if their in the front yard (not just for safety reasons but because a few times when I have run inside to warm up my cup of coffee a elderly neighbor comes by and starts asking my 4 yr old questions "where is your mommy"? Could be nice or could be nosy/CPS calling type. And when I get gasoline or run in to drop off my dry cleaning I make sure I am parked within like 10 ft to the door and I watch the car from inside so strangers can't approach (and call the cops on me). Luckily my mom watches the kids once a week while I do errands but if I didn't have that I would be way more tempted to quickly run in/leave the 4 yr old with the 8 yr old (seems perfectly safe to me!). I appreciate how leveled headed you are about parenting/pregnancy but I think our culture makes most parents nervous to share anything less than their best side.

  25. Anonymous

    It seems to me that laws on this topic are not well known – either to parents or those who call the police. Whatever the law is in your state – know it and abide by it – and this goes both ways. If it's not against the law in some states, why are so many eager to call the cops? And why do the cops come if it's in a state where it's not against the law? (

    Personally, when my kids beg to stay in the car I answer, "Not unless you want to go to foster care and visit me in jail."

    I remember those days before I had teens and a work-from-home husband. It was beyond frustrating to get errands done. More drive-throughs (think post office, dry cleaners, convenience stores) should go into business for the benefit of both the handicapped and mothers of little ones. Sometimes I have even called a business from my phone in the parking lot and asked an employee for car-side service. If Sonic can do it, why not the UPS store?

    Regarding parking lots, the most thoughtfully designed lot I have ever seen was at a library. Between the parking curbs where cars are faced nose-to-nose is a wide sidewalk running down the middle. Whole families can walk safely on the sidewalk toward the library without frantically scanning for reverse lights or counting heads, worried about that a kid will bolt. Much safer.

    I also wonder if senior citizen centers would ever think of offering volunteers to ride around with moms while they do errands. They might enjoy the outing and conversation, moms could run a few errands for the senior too, and an adult who can operate a car would be present if needed. Just a thought.

    • Emily Q-F

      I think part of the problem with the laws is that while there are specific ones, in my state it says I can't leave my kids in the car if the car is running, a police officer and then judge, has the right to charge a mother with neglect for what they perceive to be neglect. So while the law says I can, if someone calls the police, tells them I left my children in the car unattended, the officer could charge me. Many laws are open to interpretation by the officer, and then, the judge. This has happened to me in a different area, where the law was clear, but the judge ruled how she wanted despite what the law said.

      But I LOVE the idea of an elderly person riding along with mom! Um, yes, sign me up!

  26. Anonymous

    I do not have children yet, but I am 35 weeks pregnant with our first and I definitely get looks and comments when I order a deli sandwich (gasp!) or take a sip of my husband's beer or wine when we go out for dinner, or heaven forbid when I try some sausage at the farmer's market that naturally has nitrates in it… On the one hand I appreciate that people are concerned for the safety of the child in my womb, but on the other hand while I smile and say thank you for the concern but I am okay I really just want to shout, "Mind your own business!". It's a tricky tight rope to walk sometimes, and I don't look forward to having to still walk it after our little one arrives. I live in the state where the cops threatened two parents who let their kids walk home from the park alone…

  27. Elizabeth

    My comment from yesterday hasn't appeared, so I am assuming it was lost. Nutshell version: If you are concerned about the erosion of parental rights in this country, I encourage you to visit and consider supporting the Parental Rights Amendment. You can call your Senator and Representative and ask them to sponsor the legislation, and it really only takes a minute or two of your time.

  28. Jenny

    This was a huge win Italy had over America. Concerned neighbors and strangers, check. Using legitimate common sense and generosity to respond to the needs of a child (or his mom) even when they're not yours? Priceless. Italians have a much stronger sense of communal duty? civic responsibility? And they were delightfully willing to go above and beyond to lend a hand, stop a bus door from closing, reprimand a naughty toddler (I actually loved that one – "be good to your mama, naughty boy!") and gently encourage you to go use the 2 by 4 sq foot restroom in an espresso bar while they held your baby for you. Here I have a mini panic attack if ever I decide to venture in for preschool pick up and leave my sleeper in the (visible, cool, locked) car for 3 minutes outside the building, in sight of the windows! And I don't fear anything actually happening to the kids, by any means…I fear the other parents, my son's classmate's moms and dads. They're the danger factor in the situation.

  29. Elisa | blissfulE

    Thank you for writing on this important topic, Kendra.

    People should know that the time to call the police is when you are thinking you need to break the glass because otherwise a child will die in the next few minutes.

    If the situation does not warrant the concerned citizen risking the penalty for shattering someone else's car window in order to save a life, then it is not the time to invite government authorities to shatter someone else's family.

    For those who see one or more children unattended and not in need of emergency assistance, the charitable options are: pray for them and move on, wait alongside the children until the parent returns, or, if you must, tell the parent about your concerns when s/he returns. But follow the golden rule and try to assume the best, rather than the absolute worst, about others.

  30. Martha

    I actually had to deal with a situation like this yesterday!

    We live in south Florida and are at the beach/pool/body of water a lot. Yesterday we met some friends to go paddleboarding, a sport that my toddler and I have been doing since she was about a year old. She knows the rules – sit on the front of Mama's board, don't lean too far, no standing. We go out a bit (not deeper than I can stand) and then stop, so she can swim or jump off the board, etc.

    As we're paddling around, looking for a good spot free of swimmers, an older man in the water says, "that child really needs to be wearing a life vest." I smiled and said "oh she does pretty good in the water. Thank you." He follows up with "if the cops see her without a life vest, you'll get a ticket!" This genuinely surprised me because I hadn't heard that was a law about this. "Oh really? Wow, thanks for telling me!" I responded. At this point, I'm trying to paddle away from him, because his tone (angry) and proximity is making me nervous – and my toddler too. We're paddling against the current so it's harder than coming over, it's taking a while to get where I want to go, and he says "look if you don't get that kid in, I'm calling the cops myself!" I'm flustered, trying to paddle (couldn't he see that??), and frightened. "I'm going!" I yell.

    I got back to shore, a good 30 feet from where I wanted to put in since that guy was freaking me out so much and I just wanted to get to shore. Then I'm trying to walk while carrying my board and keep my toddler out of the water – cause THAT's safe. When I get back to my friends, they're annoyed since they live on this beach, own paddleboards, and have never heard that law. But moreover, one of the gals points to a stand just a little bit away, right next to that guy's stuff, that I hadn't noticed and said – "the city provides free life jackets for kids – if you want to go back out." But I didn't – I was totally freaked out and knew the guy was watching me. I was nervous about parenting in front of him now, because I knew his first instinct if he disagreed with a judgment call of mine, would be to call the cops. I was there without my husband and it was my newborn's first time at the beach – would they take me away for some reason? would they let my kids go with their godmother, or would they take them into custody?

    I'm a child protection attorney. I know the damage done to families by unnecessary intervention. I know the raw power CPS, police, and district attorneys have. I didn't want to go up against it.

    The exchange could've gone so differently. He could've inquired about my daughter – how old is she, she seems to like it on there, etc. Then mention "by the way, I think it's the law for kids to wear life jackets – I just wouldn't want you to get in trouble when you're having fun! there's actually free ones right over there – want me to grab you one?" I certainly wouldn't have turned down a free life jacket – in fact, the only reason she wasn't wearing one is because I realized as we were walking out the door that her old one suddenly didn't fit anymore! (we haven't gotten out much since I had my son)

    That would have communicated concern for my family and gotten me to comply with what he thought was right. I would have regarded it as pleasant and felt a greater sense of community. It also would have encouraged me to look up life jacket laws and feel glad I did. Instead, I now feel freaked out about taking my kids to that beach and it definitely soured our beach outing. I have a hard time believing he was truly motivated by concern, as much as just enjoying being a jerk.

  31. Tacy

    The definition of bigotry is 'by God, I would never do that. ' if people are unwilling to see the difference between negligence/ abuse/ law breaking vs. a minor mall parenting mistake or something done in good will but ignorance, then there's a problem. That is what drives me crazy about CPS.

  32. Lisa

    I'm as scared of CPS as the next gal, but in reading the comments no one seems to have picked up that in the Salon story all the incidents are described by the accused moms, and the story was written by a person who herself felt she'd been unjustly accused.

    I'm thinking that probably we are not getting the full story on any of those events.

    Some of the facts are pretty hinky. The "I just stopped in for 30 seconds and when I came out the whole police force was surrounding my car" sort of thing, I don't buy it.

    I know there are abuses by CPS, police, and nosy folks. But the fact is that even the most adamant parental rights folks commenting here would certainly, absolutely call the police in certain car situations — they see a toddler looking listless in a hot, locked car and there's no sign of a mom for 20 minutes, the store is far away from the car and large and the mom doesn't respond to an intercom request from the store? You'd certainly call the police.

    So the question isn't whether it's o.k. to call, it's *when* it's o.k. to call. These stories seem absurd because the strangers seemed to have called *too soon*, but the timeline and circumstances are being described by moms defending themselves. The times I have been in situations at all like this, I've certainly waited a few minutes and watched before calling 911. I also know that calling 911 almost never results in an immediate police presence, it usually takes at least 15 minutes for a cop to show up — sometimes it takes 15 minutes to get the information even through to the 911 operator.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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