Now that I’ve been navigating the choppy waters of parenting for the past 8 1/2 years, I’ve learned to give fellow moms and dads the benefit of the doubt. I assume you are doing your best. I assume if you’re grumpy that your 3-year-old probably peed on the couch that morning and your tween said she hated you because you wouldn’t buy her $100 jeans. We are all in this pot together, and should support one another. The one parent, however, that I don’t have a patience or much time for, is the sancti-parent. The mom or dad who would “never do that” or whose kids “would never do that.” Really? Do you have a crystal ball that ensures that in five years, you’ll never mess up with your teen? Are you so infallible that there is zero chance you’ll ever make a parenting mistake? Are your kids cherubs from heaven? And one topic that tends to bring out the “I would never” parents more than any other is the fear of forgetting your baby in a hot car.
We hear of these tragedies every summer, and they are heart-breaking. Sometimes parents get a break. Sometimes they catch their error and the baby is fine. Others end in horrible pain, with the death of a small child. According to noheatstroke.org, “718 children left in vehicles have died of heatstroke since 1998.” Britta Eberle, who blogs at This is Motherhood recently confessed that it could have happened to her. Britta’s story resembles the one so many parents have told: “Our family arrived at a friend’s house and in our excitement we all darted out, assuming that someone else had remembered to grab the youngest member of our clan. But no one remembered her.”
Thankfully Britta’s child was unharmed, although she was upset. “She sat for about twenty minutes crying alone before one of us grabbed her. It was such a small mistake but it could have had devastating consequences,” Britta says in her Facebook post. “Thank God we were parked in a safe place. Thank God it wasn’t hot outside. Thank God she wasn’t alone for long.”
Britta was lucky. Several factors saved her little girl—the short time span she was in the car, the cooler temperature, and the fact that someone noticed. But Britta also made a mistake, and she’s owning it. She did the one thing so many parents say they’d never do. How could you forget your baby? Yet it happens far too often. It happens when our routines change. Years ago, I forgot my 2nd and 3rd babies in the car (each for only a minute, but I did forget) because I was used to chatty toddlers and older kids in the car. When I was alone with just a sleeping newborn, I forgot the baby was even there. TWICE. And I too always thought, “I’d never do that.” Until I did.
It took a great deal of courage to tell her story, knowing she’d face some negative comments from parents who judged her. But Britta’s judging herself plenty anyway. She confesses in her Facebook post:
“Thank God she has already forgotten about it and forgiven us. But it will be a long time before I forgive myself. I usually think I’m a good mom. But I made a huge mistake today and I feel terrible. There are no excuses for what I did. And part of me doesn’t want to share this. I don’t want the world to know how badly I’ve failed. But then I think that I have to share this. I have to own up to my mistakes. I have to tell the world how far I am from perfect. And how if I did this, anyone could do this. And that scares me but also makes me judge a little less and makes me pay attention a whole lot more.”
The point is, if you want to judge moms like Britta or me who have made this mistake, go ahead. She knew she’d face some of that. But rather than sitting atop Judgment Mountain, perhaps you should focus your energy on taking extra precautions so this doesn’t happen to you. Because I’ll bet if you asked the parents who have lost a child in a hot car death, most would admit to having said, “I’d never do that.” Until they did.
None of us is perfect. None of us will get through the journey of parenthood without making mistakes. Britta closes her post by saying that night, looking at her daughter sleeping, she “felt so incredibly lucky. We are always so much closer to the edge than any of us realize.” And she goes on to say, “Hug your babies tight and practice forgiveness. Forgive those that make mistakes, even if the person who you need to forgive is yourself.”
I hope Britta finds a way to forgive herself and see this event as an opportunity from God. Making a mistake like this is a gift. Now she’ll be more careful, and hopefully other parents will read her story and be more careful as well. We can all work together to keep our babies safe.