To the Mom Who Forgot Her Child in the Car – So Did I

As the weather is getting hotter–already 100 degrees in some places–here is a timely reminder to avoid a tragedy that happens far too often when little ones are in the car.  

This morning on Facebook one of the first posts to greet me was a picture of a sweet little baby asleep in a carseat. The caption read “If you need reminding that I’m in the car…you should NOT be a parent.”

Really???

Nearly every summer we read stories of how babies and young children are somehow inadvertently left in a hot car–sometimes with tragic results. It’s easy to think that only careless, neglectful, terrible parents could forget they have a sleeping child in the backseat of their car.

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After all, if only terrible parents could do such a thing then it is certain it will never happen to you, right?

I want to offer my heartfelt plea that it can happen to anyone, and that by remembering that it truly could happen to you,  you are better able to  protect your own child.

You see, I’m one of those moms who apparently should not be a parent.

I’d like to share my story for anyone who has been in this situation or may have passed judgment on someone who was.

My little boy Mikey was not yet two. His sister Kristalyn was sixteen or seventeen and needed a ride to work at the local mall. She usually drove herself, but for some reason now forgotten she asked me at the last minute if I could drive her. I told her yes, and just as I was leaving, Mikey put his chubby arms  up to say “Take me, too, mommy!” He could have stayed home with his dad, but I said okay and picked him up, buckled him into his car seat, and drove off.

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The drive to the mall took less than ten minutes. After I dropped Kristalyn off I suddenly decided to go to the nearby Target and pick up something—a long-forgotten item that seemed important at the time.

I got out of my car, completely forgetting my little son who had fallen asleep during our short drive.

I went into Target and about ten or fifteen minutes later was walking back out to my car when I suddenly realized I had left Mikey in the car. It was summer. It was hot. And he was strapped in his car seat, locked in the car. I started running and when I got to my car I quickly unlocked and opened the door. My baby’s face was red and sweat was starting to roll down his cheeks. I took him out of his carseat as quickly as I could and held him tightly against me—tears falling from my eyes– tears of gratitude that he was alright, and tears of sorrow that I had somehow forgotten my precious child was in the car.

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I had forgotten him.

According to many this is impossible: you can’t forget you have a child in the car. But is that really true? Can you forget that that child—the love of your life—is in the car? Yes, you can. You get busy. Your mind is somewhere else, and you forget.

The point of this post is not to excuse or explain why things like this happen. I only know they do happen far too often.

A couple of things happened that afternoon that I will never forget.

The first is that I have never, before or since, been in and out of Target so quickly. I will be forever grateful something spurred me on that day. The second, is that I know that if Mikey had suffered heat stroke or died I would never have forgiven myself. It would have changed our family and me forever. I wouldn’t have needed strangers on Facebook to tell me I didn’t deserve to be a parent. What I would have needed was compassion.

I am not writing this to excuse parents who abuse or deliberately mistreat their children. But I am asking each of us to do two things—the first, to be more careful. No one wants to feel the horror and shock that I felt when I realized I had left my little boy locked in a hot car. No one wants to put their child’s life in jeopardy. Put a note on your steering wheel, set the alarm on your phone, or just get in the habit of turning around and looking before you get out of your car. One commenter passed on a suggestion she had heard to leave your purse in the backseat. If I had done any of those things  I would not have forgotten my child.

But I wasn’t in that habit because I never thought I would forget I had a baby in the car with me.

The other plea I’d like to make today, is to be kind.

It was many, many years before I shared my experience with anyone. I was afraid of what their reaction would be. But I decided that I didn’t want to stay silent any longer.

Maybe you’ve never left your child in a hot car. I pray you never have and never will.

Maybe you’ve never lost your child for fifteen minutes in a park or a stadium or a grocery store. I have.

Maybe you’ve never forgotten to pick your child up from kindergarten. I have done that, too.

But I have also spent countless hours on field trips and helping in the classroom and stayed up all night at After Prom. I have held and comforted my children while they cried—whether it was because they had croup and couldn’t stop coughing or because their heart was breaking and they couldn’t stop crying.

I have taught them to cook, and pray, and whistle, and how to drive a car.

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I am just like you.

None of us are perfect parents, and we should all treat each other with kindness and compassion. As much as we hope otherwise, we never know when we might need it in return.

Other parenting posts you may enjoy:

The Hidden Dangers of Family Fun

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https://www.clarkscondensed.com/pregnancy-and-parenting/parenting/to-the-mom-pregnant-with-her-second/

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To the Mom

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25 Comments

  • Thank you for sharing. I still remember like it was yesterday when that doctor in California forgot her baby in a car and he died. I was horrified. How could she? She must be a horrible mom. Then one day I had to run to the pharmacy. I had to take my husband's suburban - a car I'm not familiar with. I took my daughter too. Not sure why. She fell asleep. I was distracted and got out of the car. Got my prescription and wandered around a bit. Then my heart dropped when all of a sudden I realized I forgot her. Fortunately it was early evening and the sun was going down. It was mild temp and when I dropped everything and ran to the car, she was fine and still snoozing away. But in that moment I realized just how easy it is. You're exhausted and overwhelmed and your mind is going 800mph. Things happen. No matter how loving and devoted we are, things still happen. That was the last time I passed judgement or said "I would never...." I've also lost my son, 10 years old at the time, at my nieces naval academy graduation. And forgot my daughter at art camp because I got pulled into a meeting at work and got sidetracked. Completely forgot she wasn't at the babysitters. I am the most devoted mom. I too have gone on every single field trip, band concert, soccer game, track meet, swim meet. I was PTO president, yearbook mom and front and center at any and every event. I've kissed boo boos, wiped tears and spent countless sleepless nights worrying about anything and everything. My kids are now in college and high school. They are healthy, happy and well adjusted and no worse for the wear. They are my heart and soul and my world revolves around them. And I am a good mom.
    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It really can be easy to think, "Wow who would do that?!" or something similar. I think we all feel that we just love our children too much to let anything happen to them. But something can happen in the blink of an eye to the most diligent of parents. I can tell you are a wonderful parent, as was my mother (who wrote this). Scary things can happen to any of us, and I really appreciate you sharing your story!
  • Thank you so much for sharing this story. We all need a reminder sometimes, not to judge others based on their mistakes. My firstborn once rolled off the change table when she was about 8 months. I had one hand on her, while I leaned over to wash her poo off the other. I didn't think she was strong enough to overtake my one hand, but she was. My heart absolutely dropped! She was laying there on the floor, wailing, and I didn't know what to do at first. What if something was broken and I hurt her even more? My husband walked in as I was explaining my hesitation. He said "for goodness sakes, just pick her up", which I did, and she was immediately quiet. She was scared, but otherwise absolutely fine. I felt truly blessed, and since then, have tried never to judge other parents.
    • Sometimes it takes experiencing something like this to help us to be more empathetic to others! I am glad your baby was okay. We are so hard on ourselves as moms aren't we =)
  • Thank you so much to everyone who commented on my story. It was many years before I told anyone about my experience because I was afraid of what their reaction would be. I am grateful for the opportunity to share it now, and for your kind words.
    • Thank you for being willing to share - I'm glad you decided in the end to let me post this :) I just approved a few more comments you may not have seen.
  • I have forgotten a baby in the car. It was in the winter time. It was baby number 4, who was only a few weeks old. I had just dropped off the other three at their grandmother's. The baby had fallen asleep and when I got to the store I forgot I had her. I went inside and found my mom, who I had gone to meet. She said, "Oh, did you decide to leave the baby at your in-laws?" I didn't even answer. I just turned around and ran back to my car. I was so upset. How could I forget my baby? It was a long time, I'm taking weeks, before I could forgive myself.
    • Thank you for sharing your story. It's scary how things like this can happen - because they can happen to anyone. There's no doubt that you love your child!
  • Your mom is great for writing this. I don't think most moms ever think they will forget a child anywhere, especially not in a hot car! I don't think I ever will, but it could happen. Thank God that everything turned out okay! I agree we need more compassion.
  • What a heartfelt reminder that we are, none of us, perfect. And who are we to judge when we hear the stories that have more tragic endings. Only our Heavenly Father can judge our mistakes and I for one was so grateful for this reminder because I need the reminder for myself that the errors I made in parenting may still make me weep I made them because I am a normal parent just living my trials. Love and thanks to your mom Katie for telling her story. It take great courage to share sometimes but gives great value.
    • Thank you for taking the time to comment Leslie! I definitely often need the reminder to be less judgmental and more kind. I'm glad I have the example of my mother - and I'm so glad that she was willing to share her story.
  • I love this! Your mom is a great writer and I for one feel moved by her words to try and pass less judgement. I remember my son was asleep in the car which was a joyous moment and I saw a sidewalk sale. I parked very close to the sidewalk sale and rolled down the windows. It was the perfect 72 degree day with slight breeze and overcast. As I was browsing the sale a mom saw him and was freaking out. I was there within a minute but the look of horror and judgement hurt. I told her. I never went into the store and as you can see, I was here a couple seconds after you saw him. still she was so upset with me and scowled at me for a while, turned around and got in her car parked next to mine. I didn't do anything wrong. He was comfortably asleep and I was within sight and ear shot (well within) but because he was in a car she treated me like a felon. I honestly felt like the worst mother and so judged. I totally agree. We all need to be a little kinder and pass less judgment- thanks for this beautiful reminder.
    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Anita! I think that when people see a child in the car, they are too quick to freak out, rather than try and help the situation (especially in your situation. She could have easily just said something like, "I just wanted to make sure you didn't forget your baby. Even though you obviously were close enough to him.) I think we live in a "gotcha" society, where people just want to call other people out. I definitely am working on being kinder and less judgmental. It's hard!
  • That was beautifully written Babzanne. Thank you for sharing this. I am sure many mother's shed a few tears of memories that still haunt them. There are no perfect parents. I know my mother would say often "I only took my eyes of him for a second", recalling when my little brother was brought back to life after being pulled out of the swimming pool. And then my panic, when all of a sudden my little one disappeared from my side, to be seen sitting on an escalator going up. I envisioned his little fingers being cut off, then suddenly the escalator stopped, just as I was sure I couldn't reach him in time. It sent me tumbling, I crabbed Tim, turned around and saw the look of judgment on people's faces. Of course that didn't matter, I had him safely in my arms.
    • Thank you for sharing your experience Gloria - you are certainly right. There are no perfect parents. I'll make sure my mom sees your comment!
  • This could happen to any mom. No one is exempt. We all become preoccupied with the demands of the day. I just hope we can slow down and focus on what's important. Surely our children are at the top of the list.
    • I agree completely! Life gets so busy sometimes, it can be hard to remember what is important. Our children should definitely top the list!
  • Thank you for your experience. We are all imperfect people trying to do a perfect job. I have forgotten my children several times at school, work or other places. I've made lots of mistakes, but I love each of my children with all of my heart! I agree, we need to be kind. Babzanne, you are one of the kindest people I know.
  • This post reminded me of when something similar happened to me. My youngest has always been silent whenever he is in a car seat. I needed to run to Costco one day to pick up an ink refill, and at the last minute, decided to take him with me (he was 18 months). When I got to Costco, I forgot about that last minute decision and ran in without him. I was only gone for about 10 minutes and came back out to the car. It was only after I started the car, that I heard him giggle in the back and felt my heart sink! To this day, I am thankful, that I did not decide to linger in Costco or do some grocery shopping. It makes me so sad to see moms be so cruel to one another. I think we are so quick to judge for 2 reasons: either we have not experienced enough humbling moments in mothering yet, so it is easy to judge others who have and think we are exempt, or we are insecure of our own abilities as a parent and belittling others makes us somehow feel better about it. Being judgemental is a big weakness of mine and I have learned the hard way that it all eventually comes back to haunt me sooner or later. Thank you so much for this honest post and I, too, wish we could all just be a little more kind and realize that we are all children of God learning at our own pace and in our own way.:)
    • I really appreciate that you shared your story! I feel like so many mother's feel like they can't tell anyone when something like this happens, because there is so much negativity surrounding the subject. I totally agree with your reasonings for why we are so quick to judge. I know that I've experienced both of those! Motherhood is a very humbling thing.
  • I will never understand why moms are so cruel to each other. We all make mistakes. I heard one time that it's a miracle children ever survive, because there are so many opportunities for bad things to happen. Thank heavens for angels watching over them, because mamas are only human! :)
    • I totally agree with that sentiment! And I don't understand why moms can be so cruel to each other. It seriously makes no sense to me!

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