The Thing About Forgetting Kids in Cars
I read this post on Facebook last night. It was written by a mum – Amber Emken (who has given permission to post this blog) – and shared on one of the mum’s sites. It resonated with me in two ways, but it also gave me nightmares.
The post was about forgetting kids in cars, and how it is both shocking, but also (and disturbingly) a common and understandable occurrence.
I would probably consider myself ‘one of those people’ that cannot believe how a parent could leave a child in the car – resulting in the death of a child. I am probably pretty vocal about this issue, and I was, until I read this post.
It’s about a family, and specifically about the father, that didn’t realise his son was in the car and went to work. His son’s name was Tyler, the same name as my son. And it wasn’t as though he ‘just left’ the child in the car and went to do some shopping or ran into pick something up. He honestly didn’t know that his son was there – he was distracted, there was a change of routine (his wife usually took Tyler to daycare), and he was most likely tired with the day to day chaos of raising two young children.
“The brain is a funny, complex thing (I will not pretend to understand it all).”
Truthfully, I’ve had those moments driving home from work – pre-kids. I pulled up outside my house and saw a car in the driveway and thought, ‘I wonder who’s here, I don’t know that car.’ I then realised, I hadn’t lived there for over a year. At the time I was going through a divorce, IVF, moving houses, and stresses at work. My mind was so pre-occupied that I was running on auto-pilot.
Please read the story below and listen to the audio. It’s heartbreaking to say the least but it’s also a good reminder. This story outlines some great tips on things that can prevent this kind of tragedy, tips to prevent you from forgetting kids in cars.
The Thing About Forgetting Kids in Cars
words: Amber Emken
It’s hot out in case anyone missed that this weekend. And with the heat will come tragedy. It’s inevitable unfortunately. Within the next few weeks and months we will hear stories of kids who were left in cars for too long in the heat.
Often, very often the immediate impulse is to castigate the parents as monsters and the worst people on earth. But lost in the roar of anger is the reality that *often* these cases are horrible, awful accidents.
The human brain is a weird thing. When we’re busy or stressed or scared we sometimes default to what scientists refer to as our “lizard brain.” [This is] basically our most primal functioning brain that just autopilots us until we can refocus. In those moments things can happen, sometimes small things like suddenly you got to work and have no real memory of the trip there, you just defaulted to driving there.
Ever taken a turn towards work on a day you’re not working ’cause that’s the way you just always go? That’s your lizard brain. It’s great sometimes. But sometimes in those moments when things suddenly fall out of routine and you’ve got a kid in the back who you’re not used to having there you can for a minute totally forget they are there. Which can lead to disaster in hot conditions.
We all like to say, “it could never happen to me. I’m a good mom or dad and I love my kids too much to ever forget them.” But thinking like that and failing to take basic preventative measures to ensure the worst never does happen to you is what sets people up for this.
I used to say the same thing. Then something scary happened. I forgot my then 5 month old in the car. Let me repeat that, I forgot him. How do you forget your kid? Well for me it was the perfect storm, as it is for most people who it happens to. I was back in the US visiting family with my two kids, I was still pretty jet lagged and I had left my daughter with my in-laws for the evening. My son who was still nursing came with me in his car seat rear facing. Well my son HATED the car at that age, as in he screamed constantly from the moment he hit the seat until the moment you took him out.
But that ONE time he fell asleep and he was quiet. I couldn’t see him, it was dark in the car and I had no big kid to remind me they wanted out for once. I rarely drive at all and if I did at that point it was always with both kids or none at all. So one kid, asleep, me exhausted and in a rush to see a friend who I was already late getting to, lead to me getting out and walking all the way across the parking lot before I had this moment of “HOLY CRAP, I FORGOT MY KID”.
It seems so crazy right? How the heck do you do that? But I’m not alone. It happens and it happens with scary frequency in the summer and kids die. Unfortunately with the move of kids to the back seat and the advent of rear facing seats it’s happening more often since you can’t see kids in the back. Now I am by NO means saying those aren’t good safety things, just that they had an unintended consequence our parents never faced.
Cars heat up insanely fast on a hot day. If you doubt that, roll up your windows and sit there for 20 minutes some time. It quickly becomes unbearable. *Never* leave kids *or* pets in a car unattended, no matter if the windows are cracked or not. Not for 5 minutes, not for 20.
So aside from the obvious saying, “I’ll never do that.” What can you do to help yourself, and your spouse or partner remember that little person in the back.
Here’s a couple simple tips to prevent forgetting kids in cars:
1. Put your purse and brief case in the back seat, that way you’re forced to look back to leave the car.
2. Put your phone in the back seat for the same reason. It also keeps you from the ever tempting text or call while driving.
3. Throw a shoe back there. You can’t leave without your shoes right!
4. Put a stuffed animal in the seat when your kid isn’t in it, and move that stuffed animal to the front passenger seat so that you see it and go “Oh crap kids!”
5. Make sure if your child doesn’t show up at daycare or school by x time, that they know to call your phone to check in.
6. Don’t be complacent. Don’t believe it can’t happen to you.
And if you still think I’m crazy, read this amazing Pulitzer Prize winning piece that talks about the science of this and the reality for the parents who have made this horrible mistake. Warning: it is an incredibly sad and incredibly graphic piece but it will open your eyes the way nothing else ever will.
>>> What do you do to help prevent forgetting kids in cars?