About the Dad Who Left His Baby in the Car

by Sarah Knight on October 5, 2012

Last week, I read an article about a dad who forgot to drop his baby off at daycare, went to work, and then discovered the baby in the car nine hours later. It was a horrible story and a tragedy for all involved.

Even though I knew I shouldn’t do it, I glanced at the comments below the article. They were unusually cruel. They berated the dad for being such a terrible person. They said he should be locked in a car and left to bake in the sun. They said he was probably drunk or on drugs and didn’t deserve to have children. They said he never would have forgotten his cell phone.

The last one was probably true. He probably wouldn’t have forgotten his cell phone. Not because it was more important than the baby, but because carrying his phone was probably a habit for him.

I once read an article a few years ago about this subject. Apparently, this has been an issue ever since babies started riding facing away from the front and the situation is usually the same:

  • it’s generally a parent (usually the dad) who is dropping the baby off at daycare when they are not the parent that usually does it
  • it’s a young baby who is asleep in the back and facing away
  • the parent is distracted and goes to work without dropping the baby off
  • when the parent discovers their mistake, it is usually too late

Before I read that article, I was also very judgmental. How could anyone do that?!?

But that article opened my eyes to the power of routine – and the vulnerability of us all. It explained that our brains are so busy that when we are doing the same routine stuff, we often go on a kind of “autopilot” so that we can do our daily chores and still focus on other things.

Understanding the theory of it was one thing, but the reality of it hit me this past summer. I had been working at an office downtown for several months. My routine was to leave the office early and rush across town to my children’s school to pick them up.

However, school was out for summer and they had just started going to a summer camp at a daycare next to my building. Now, I needed to leave work and get in the car and drive a block and then pick them up from camp.

The second day of this new schedule, I was distracted with something that happened at work and started to drive home without picking them up. I realized my mistake only a few blocks later, and I immediately turned the car around and drove back to the daycare. Only a few minutes had passed, but I felt sick and couldn’t stop shaking. I hadn’t even forgotten them – I just forget where they were. I was on autopilot rushing to go pick them up at school.

That experience made me realize how what happened to the dad who left his baby in the car could actually happen to anyone — especially when you are dealing with infants, sleep deprivation and new parents.

I read a very useful tip to avoid this tragedy: it said you should always put your purse or briefcase in the backseat. That way, checking the backseat will become a habit.

I really do believe that most parents out there are doing their best – and we all need to support each other the best that we can. We also need to remember that we are all imperfect and we must allow that this could happen to anyone under certain circumstances.

I think that’s the best way to prevent any future tragedies — with knowledge, understanding, and awareness of our own vulnerability.

Sarah Knight is co-founder of Mamas Against Drama. She is the mother of two young children and you can follow her on Twitter at @sarahsknight.

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