Parenting

We Need Conversations -- Not Cops -- When Responsible Parents Make Honest Mistakes

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Every day, in big ways and small, parents make mistakes. We try not to, but we are only human. Most responsible parents are driven to make ourselves and our parenting choices better by a sincere desire to be the best that we can be for our children. I don’t parent the way that I do in order to avoid judgment or to avoid prosecution. I believe that my responsibility to my children is of the utmost importance; my fear of the police is secondary to the fear of injuring, maiming or doing worse to my children.

In a suburb outside of Phoenix this week, a storm is brewing over a mother’s mistake that has landed her in hot water with the sancti-mob (sanctimonious mob — term coined by Free-Range Kids’ Lenore Skenazy) and local police. CBS News reports on the story:

Cherish Peterson, a mother of four young kids, said she was horrified to realize she drove off from a grocery store in Arizona last week without her two-month-old son and since then, there’s been a roller coaster reaction on social media, reports CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano.

The incident happened in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, on a day when the high temperature was 104 degrees.

Peterson returned to the grocery store to look for her baby after about 40 minutes, but she didn’t notice he was missing until she had finished her errands and driven all the way home.

“As I was pulling into the garage, my 3-year-old-goes, ‘Where is baby Huxton?’ I turned around and looked and realized he was gone,” Peterson said.

She told CBS Phoenix Affiliate KPHO she was distracted by two of her kids and forgot her son, who was still in the cart.

Every parent has had a moment when they didn’t know where their child was. You turn around and look back to where they were standing, and they’re gone. Over 99.9 percent of the time, it’s a non-story and your eyes scan the area and quickly locate your child. In those few seconds, as any parent can tell you, time stops and your heart stops beating. It feels as if all of the air around you has been sucked out of the room and the only thing that can bring it back is locating your baby. It could be a newborn, a 7 year old or a 17-year old — if a parent is scared about her child’s safety, nothing is more scary than not knowing where that child is.

I would speculate that most individuals commenting on stories about the incident saying “I would never forget my child” either have no children or had easy babies, easy lives, or only one child. Those with challenging lives know that no parent is incapable of error.

Two years ago one of my friends, a mother of seven living in Israel, wrote in a blog post for the Times of Israel about the day she forgot one of her children in the carSo few mothers will admit to these failings because of the sancti-mob, but it’s of the utmost importance to do so, because with these admissions comes advice on how to prevent such mistakes from happening again. Knowing it could happen to Laura, one of the best mothers I know, made me realize that I too was capable of such a mistake, and I have made an effort to count, out loud, when I get out of the car to make sure I have both of my children with me when I take them somewhere.

Before I had children, I too thought I would never forget one of my own. While I count on my way out of the car, I never used to count when I got in.

Sometimes, in the beginning of my son’s life, I would put his car seat down behind my car while I strapped my daughter into her car seat. The entire time I was strapping her in, I would be overcome with mental images of running my son over in his car seat by mistake. These mental images would sometimes send me into panic attacks and I would have to collect myself in my driveway before pulling out. I decided, after too many panic attacks, to change my routine. I would leave him on the porch, walk my daughter to the car, strap her in, and return up the stairs to get the car seat.

One day I was running late for a doctor’s appointment for my son, who was intensely colicky in his first few months of his life. I was running on no sleep while also caring for my 18 month old. I strapped my daughter in, as I always did, got in the car and pulled out of my driveway. I wasn’t used to having two children yet and was out of my driveway putting my car into reverse when I heard my son’s cry. I thought to myself as I shifted into drive, “Wow, he sounds so far away.” I looked in my rear view mirror into the backseat and realized he was still on my porch. I slammed the car back into drive, peeled into my driveway and ran to the porch. I snapped his car seat into place in my backseat, jumped into the driver’s seat, and sat in my driveway at the wheel, shaking. I was mortified and hoped the neighbors hadn’t seen. But more than that, I was deeply shaken at what could have happened. Had I not changed my routine on where I put his car seat … I can’t bear to finish that sentence.

Could I have been charged with a crime had I actually injured my son? Frankly, I don’t care. The idea that I could have seriously hurt my baby is far more painful than anything law enforcement could have thrown my way.

Charging parents for mistakes that any of us could make on a bad day won’t stop these mistakes from happening. Criminalizing parenthood’s errors sends their very mention underground. I shared my mistake with you, dear readers, to serve as a cautionary tale. Before ever putting my car into reverse now, after my keys go into the ignition, I count “one, two” out loud. Before I get out of the car I do the same count.

Parenthood isn’t a competition. Society should be working with all of us in order to help parents churn out the best adults possible. The police department’s decision to charge Cherish Peterson and the sancti-mob’s descent will have far reaching implications, but certainly will not make any child more safe or any parent more effective.

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