I have already heard about two babies dying this summer after being forgotten and left in a car all day. Sadly, before the summer is over, we will hear about others. We will shake our heads and wince at the thought of those poor babies. Then most of us will say something to the effect of, “What kind of parent could do that?” or “How could anyone just forget to get their kid out of the car?” In our tone, and implied in our words, is the answer: “Only a horrible parent could do that. Thank goodness, I am not a horrible parent, therefore I would never do that.”
There will be self-righteous pats on our own backs for not being that kind of parent. There will be smug tsk-tsk-ing at the heartbroken parent in the news who now has to live with the fact that he or she just wrecked dozens of lives in one terrible moment of distraction and whose world just breathed its last breath in a hot car and who apparently, no matter how attentive and loving and devoted a parent they were for all the months of that baby’s short life, was really just a monster who hadn’t been exposed yet. At least, that’s the way most people will see it.
Now, I get told almost daily that I am Supermom. People say they could never do what I do. I have been called a saint. My heart gets blessed all the time. I get comments from people on my Facebook statuses telling me that I am a great mom, and sometimes even a perfect mom, ridiculously enough. I get placed on some kind of pedestal for having six kids, or for being a stay-at-home mom, or for homeschooling–I’m not exactly sure why but it happens.
So who is the monster, the horrible parent who forgets their kid in a hot car?
Well, it’s me. I forgot my kid in a hot car.
It was a very hot evening in late summer or early fall 2010. (Thankfully, I don’t remember exactly because it ended up being a non-event.) We drove two cars to church for some reason. All the kids hopped into one car with Clay, who had carried a sleeping, one- or two-month old Silas in the infant seat and buckled him in the back of my car. I think I knew Clay was putting him in my car, but somehow my mind just processed the fact that all the kids had gotten into Clay’s car, and I kind of checked them off on my mental mommy-checklist as being taken care of by someone other than me. Somewhere on the drive to church, which was not even a mile, I completely forgot that there was a baby in my backseat.
Clay left and got to church a few minutes before I did, so they were all already inside before I got there. I got out, hit the lock button, shut my door, and went inside. I think we were having a meal because I remember walking into the fellowship hall and sitting down. I had been in there only a few minutes when my friend came up and said cheerfully, “Where’s the baby? I saw Clay with the other kids.”
It took me a few seconds to process. Then, I remember gasping and jumping up without even answering and running down the hall, up the steps, out the door and across the parking lot. I unlocked the door and lifted my still-sleeping son out of the car, safe and sound.
I was shaking, but they were teasing me about having new-mommy brain or having so many kids I was forgetting them. No one really thought anything of it. I was the brunt of some jokes for a few minutes and then life went on.
But I haven’t forgotten. And every time I hear of a parent forgetting their baby in the car and the baby dying, I remember that moment. It is with a deep, unspeakable thankfulness that I acknowledge the fact that my baby wasn’t harmed by my forgetfulness.
But what if I had been on my way somewhere else instead of church? What if I had gone somewhere where no one knew me to ask me where the baby was? As a nursing mom of an infant, I was never away from my baby so I probably would have missed him pretty soon anyway, but would it have been soon enough?
It hurts my pride to tell about that day, and I don’t think I have ever spoken of it before now. I didn’t want anyone to find out that it had happened. Why? Because it proves that I am not Supermom. I am flawed. I am the same as the parents who, tragically, didn’t have a friend there at the right moment to remind them that their baby was absent. The end result is different, and I shudder as I bow in gratefulness for that. But if those parents should be charged with a crime, then so should I.
I share this now because my heart has been hurting lately as I see all the ridiculous judging and criticizing that goes on in the World of Moms. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m the first to admit that I do it, and you do it too. “I would never let my kid dress like that.” “My kids would never act like that in Walmart.” “Those kids have never been taught to mind.” “She’s pushing her kid too hard.” “They just buy that kid whatever he wants.” “Her kid got pregnant–I’m not really surprised, are you?” “They don’t pay enough attention to their kids.” “What kind of mom would let her kid ______________?”
“What kind of mom would leave her kid in the car?”
This Supermom did. This mom who gets praised almost daily for being a good mom left her kid in the car. And whatever kind of mom you are could have and might eventually do it too.
So stop patting yourself on the back. Stop the tsk-tsk-ing. Stop being smug and self-righteous about this issue or any other issue in parenting in which you have compared yourself to others and somehow decided you rank higher on the Hierarchy of Good Moms. Stop acting as if you have it all figured out simply because your mistakes are different from someone else’s mistakes.
Jesus told a story (Luke 18:9-14) about two pray-ers. One looked at the other, and smugly said, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like that guy. I am so much better than him. I do everything right, and I would never do what he has done.” The other, looking at no one but himself, simply said, with much grief over sin, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” One felt no reason to depend on anyone, the other recognized the truth that his only hope lay in complete dependence on the Lord.
Whether it’s unintentionally killing your kid by leaving him in a hot car, or having your daughter announce that she’s pregnant at 17, or having your toddler throw a fit in the middle of Kroger–none of us are immune. None of us can look down at any other parent and assume we would never make the mistakes that parent has made. Walk in humility, walk in recognition of your inadequacies, and let that prompt you to turn in hope to the only perfect Father and to Christ who offers His blood to cover all your parenting mistakes, no matter what horrible end result they have. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
***This post was prompted by recent stories and Facebook responses, but also by this article I came across from the Washington Post in 2009. I highly recommend reading it, although it is kind of lengthy: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/fatal-distraction-forgetting-a-child-in-thebackseat-of-a-car-is-a-horrifying-mistake-is-it-a-crime/2014/06/16/8ae0fe3a-f580-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html
***Obviously, I am writing this in response the majority of these stories which involve parents who accidentally left their kids in the car. Parents who intentionally mean harm to their children are another story altogether, although I will dare to say that not even they are out of the reach of Christ’s redeeming love.