Stories of children forgotten in cars, forgotten at rest stops have been all over the news lately. It’s always the same story. The mom cries and says, “I just forgot. I can’t believe I forgot.”
It’s hard to read those words. It’s hard to imagine that moment when they remembered. So often the ending is tragic.
Then the online comments pour in and those are nearly as hard to read as the story.
“No one could forget their child.”
“I would NEVER do that.”
“That mother deserves to die.”
“Lock her up and take her kids away!”
The comments shouldn’t bother me as much as they do but they get me every time. Where is the compassion for a mother who made a terrible mistake? She doesn’t need our blame. She has to live with her own for the rest of her life.
What scares me most is when I hear mom’s say that it could never happen to them . . . because when we think we are exempt is when accidents happen. We all get tired. We all get distracted. Maybe we are just forgetting our keys or an appointment but it isn’t that big of a jump between that and having a lapse that can end tragically. Yes, our kids are FAR more important than our keys, but hear me out.
Our brains play tricks on us.
This post from Kars 4 Kids explains the phenomenon perfectly.
“experts have found that quality of parental care is almost never a factor in Forgotten Baby Syndrome. Rather, the parent’s executive brain functioning is overwhelmed by a combination of stress, sleep deprivation, changes in routine, and emotion. The memory circuits are “overwritten” like a computer program, with the conscious mind overcome, too weak to resist this natural brain response.
It’s like a short circuit to the working memory. And it’s completely involuntary, automatic.”
What keeps me on my toes is that automatic part. Our brain has the ability to go on auto-pilot. As a mom, that thought is terrifying.
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Have you ever gone to drive to the store and found yourself pulling up in front of your child’s school instead? I used to head out to a library down the street from my old house and I’d end up at the grocery story every single time.
Our brain is wired to follow certain patterns. We override those patterns all day long but when we get tired or overwhelmed our brain kicks in and does what it thinks needs to be done. That doesn’t make as bad moms it makes us human.
I worry that my brain will go into auto drive and won’t feed me a piece of essential information . . . like the fact that my child is still in the car. That’s why I check all the seats in my car before locking the doors even though I KNOW my kids are all in the house. That’s what keeps me on my guard when we visit crowded places and I KNOW my kids are standing right next to me.
We have to check and double check to make sure that we haven’t gone into autopilot.
I’ve seen this involuntary brain process in action. I saw it the day of my daughter’s near drowning. I’d spend the entire day being told that I was hovering over my daughter too much and then in the split second I wasn’t she nearly died. I KNEW she was sitting on the chair next to me . . . except she wasn’t. She was drowning in the hot tub 10 feet away.
I saw it one day at an amusement park, at the end of an exhausting day when I parked my stroller, got in line for a show, and moments later realized I had left my baby in the stroller. I was still standing next to the stroller but the fact is . . . I forgot.
That moment of sheer panic when you suddenly remember and realize you almost made a tragic mistake is enough to make your heart stop. It’s a feeling you never forget. And it keeps me on my toes.
I consider myself a good mom. My kids are well cared for and have never gone without. So before you write me off and say, ‘oh, she’s one of THOSE moms.” you should know I’m a good mom just like you. I’m not neglectful. I’m not in the habit of being distracted. But I’m human.
A friend of mine had a similar experience. She’s a good mom too. She does awesome, fun things with her kids. She fights for them and watches out for their safety. But she had a lapse.
“My husband and I left our youngest child in the car when he was a baby. It was after the pancake breakfast at church 4th of July and it was like 110* outside. He had fallen asleep on the way home and we both thought the other one had gotten him out of the car.
He was in there for 20 mins.
The ONLY reason he didn’t die was because the van doors were wide open (I always opened them as soon as we’d get home or wherever we were going). He was super hot and sweaty. But he was still sound asleep.
I felt like the worst parent in the history of the world.”
Her story has stuck with me, not because I think she’s a terrible mom, but because I can see that happening to me. And that scares me but it keeps me on my toes too and that’s a good thing.
When I heard about the story of Cherish Peterson, an Arizona mom who forgot her baby in the shopping cart at a store recently I was so glad to hear that there was a happy ending, but the video of her sharing her story broke my heart. Then I heard that the state is now considering pressing charges and removing her other children from the home because of the social media backlash.
“I got into my car and normally I put my cart away, but I didn’t need to because I parked at the front of the store and I never park there, and I drove away. As I was pulling into the garage, my 3-year-old goes, ‘Where’s baby Huxton?’” she explained. “His car seat is right behind me so I turned around and realized it was gone. I thought the whole time he was in my car,”
One mistake could cost her everything.
It restored my faith in humanity when I heard of the support she’s receiving from a social media countermovement filled with moms who are sharing their own stories of near misses and imperfect mom moments. If you want to show your support there’s a Facebook group that has popped up in her support.
Her story terrifies me. I think of all the times I’ve been rushed or stressed or distracted. We get busy and there are so many demands on us as moms. Years ago we would have had a community to help with the day to day stress of raising a family and getting everything done. Today we are proud of the fact that we can do it all without the help of family members or neighbors . . . but we can’t do it all.
I’m writing this knowing that there’s going to be backlash. I’m sharing my thoughts on this for the same reason I share my daughter’s near drowning story though: If we think these kinds of things happen only to “other” parents then we are at risk.
Maybe you’ll never end up leaving your child in a hot car but you’ll probably have some sort of momentary lapse that will cause another type of accident. Maybe you’ll just forget a dentist appointment. Maybe you’ll think your child is on your right side and discover she’s on your left when you stop on her toe.
Kids find all kinds of ways to get into trouble and we, as moms, are stretched to our limit and running on fumes a lot of the time. The lesson I take from these stories in the news is not “it would never happen to me.”
The lesson’s I take from this are:
- Have compassion. Even mother’s who make mistakes need grace
- Mistakes happen. Mistakes can happen to me.
- It’s time to slow down. We try and do too much, too fast, for too many people.
- My needs matter too. If I’m tired I need to take a nap. If I’m overwhelmed I need to ask for help.
- Keep things in perspective. The groceries can wait. The errands can wait. Stop rushing around and focus.
- Admitting that we aren’t perfect as moms can help save a life.
I understand how moms forget. That alone scares me. It should scare me. Every time we hear of a tragedy we should learn from that. We should make changes. We owe it to the children who have died to be better, to learn from their tragedy and save a life. But I also understand the moms. I understand that we are all trying our best and sometimes we fall short. Sometimes accidents happen and when they do, we need to stand by each other and support each other when things go wrong.
I’m an imperfect mom. I try my best but I make mistakes. I hope that I will learn from every mistake and everyday I keep my fingers crossed that I can give my children the best of myself. In the meantime, #IStandwithCherish .
Have you ever had an imperfect mom moment? Is anyone brave enough to share it with us in the comments?
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