Mother of disabled child leaves her alone in the car

Posted on Apr 7, 2013 | 16 comments

Would it shock you any less if you knew that the mother who left her daughter alone in the car was me, and that child was May?

Parents of disabled children have to make many adjustments to their lives, and some of those are to do with ideas of what is acceptable with children and what is not. Leaving a child alone in a car is completely unacceptable behavior to much of America, and probably much of Britian, where I live.

I asked people to look at the context – and perhaps show compassion rather than judgement, in a post on BabyCenter.

But, of course, I failed in this endeavor! Some people told me I shouldn’t take her out at all or wait until there was someone else around to assist me.

Maybe I was too abrasive, or maybe it is just that too many people believe that crime is going up, instead of down – as it is. In the whole of America, there are only just over 100 violent abductions of children by strangers every year. Out of 800,000 missing children, half are runaways. And, most of the others are done by either family members or friends and acquaintances.

Here’s part of the post. What’s your take on it?

I left my baby alone in the car today. And, I may do it again tomorrow.

I did it for all the right reasons, though you wouldn’t know those reasons if you happened upon him. Before you hear them – do you think I deserve to be called “Neglectful, Ignorant, Stupid, Dangerous, Idiotic, Selfish…”?

My son is a year and a half and I also have a daughter, May, who is a toddler. If I have to run in for something, I’ll frequently run in only with him. Not because I’m lazy, but because driving in the car sends May to sleep and waking her up suddenly can cause her to have a seizure. What’s more dangerous: a seizure or five minutes sleeping in a locked car?

May is severely disabled. We live in the city, two floors up. Every time I leave or return to the house, I can only carry one at a time. When we return, I could lead my son by the hand while I carry May upstairs. But, he is a squirmy little thing and May can not grip me. There is a strong possibility he will escape and run headlong into traffic. What’s more dangerous: him escaping or five minutes waiting in a locked car?

I wouldn’t advocate leaving babies in cars and, like all parents, I can’t help but judge sometimes. But, to hurl abuse at a stranger, over a situation where I don’t have all the facts? I can’t understand that.

Parents juggle a minefield of choices every day. Sometimes we make the wrong one. Who among us has not justified a bad decision to themselves?

Perhaps ridiculing the mistakes of others is a process whereby we weigh up our own parenting mishaps. Or – and here is a controversial thought – maybe other people really are better parents than I am.

Where do you stand?


  1. Our car is in the alley behind our flat. I also have two kiddos, one at 8 months, the other almost 5. He (5) goes into the car first and stays in when we return home. I always wonder if I will find someone at my car waiting to give me a ‘what for’ after I’ve taken his sister in and come back for him. Both kiddos stay in the car while I get his wheelchair put together and taken up to the font of our flat and onto the porch. You do what you have to do and five mins is just five mins. I don’t do this when out and about though, because I have too vivid an imagination about bad things happening to good people. :) But we live with seizures too, so I get that.

  2. Completely understand. I am blessed with a very helpful 9 yearoldwho will keep her sister ( my co baby) company in the car while Imay dash on a errand . I slap have left my dog in the car with her while I go to collect 9 yearoldwho and friends who Icarpool with. I am more likely to be chastised for leaving the dog in the car than the child . That’s Ireland for you. Luckily we have no seizures to deal with, but with little help we have to justeat on with things and if that means leaving May in the car so be it. Lovetheblog!

    • “I am more likely to be chastised for leaving the dog in the car than the child.” hahaha!

  3. I find it astounding that everyone has an opinion about everything and they want to let you know about it! If you left May in the car in a driveway which was an equal distance from the house no one would have shouted at you. I have honestly had so many people fling their opinions at me over the last 2 years that I am actually scared to jump out of the car and get milk when Henry is fast asleep after a particularly full on physio session because of someone walking past and abusing me. Only this weekend I had someone tell me I shouldn’t push my child around in the buggy all the time because he wouldn’t learn how to walk. Fortunately I had just had a coffee so I was able to laugh at them instead of punching them but it was a close call…

    • It is astounding. And utterly offensive. Congratulations to you for not belting that person :)

  4. If you lived in the states and someone reported you and actually stood by your car until police arrived, unfortunately, they would charge you. I can only imagine how hard this is for you and parents do this all the time but if you get caught there is a lot of explaining to do and I would rather not run the risk. I wouldn’t worry about kidnappings or something bad happening but the people who think they are doing the right thing and then you get in massive trouble. You run that risk unless you are unloading in your driveway or in front of your house. Here even those in front of a 7-11 are arrested if someone reports you. They don’t give you a chance to explain.

    • We don’t really have a choice Madge. We will continue to take the risk because we have to. It’s that, or not leave our houses ever. What a sad and cruel society that would arrest us for it. We can’t make choices on the safety for our children based on the remote possibility that some over-zealous police might use poor judgement.

  5. My mother and I have both kept an eye on children left in cars just to be sure someone came back. No need to hover around the car or call police or chastise the driver when it’s pretty clear someone was just trying to make everything work, maybe I would have done otherwise, but the child has come to no harm. If it were a hot day and the windows were closed and the child was in a five point restraint that’s a different story. And if I feel compelled to say “this is a problem” I had better also feel compelled to help alleviate the problem. (I’m in the US. Urban.)

    • See, I can understand that. I think I would do the same thing on a hot, summer day. What I don’t understand is the people who learn the context and then still send venomous judgement our way – or as you say don’t help to alleviate the problem. Thanks for your comment, families like mine could use a lot more help, and a lot less judgement.

  6. I also think there is a slight difference in making a very quick run in (anywhere, home, store) and being gone for an extended period of time. I don’t know the whole story behind that picture but that is what bothered me about. The note implied that she was not making a dash in and out…but that was only my take I could be wrong.

    What you describe, is different. You sound like you are just going in and out. Doing what you have to do to survive. Not taking lesiurly strolls around the store.

    Does that make sense?

    • It does make sense. And, as you suspect, I don’t abandon May in the car while I take my son into the mall for a few hours.

  7. Judgemental people annoy the help out of me… I think I have a “don’t mess with me!” face now so don’t get many people having to stick their noses in my business… in fact I miss the arguments lol :)

    I am very conscious in life not to judge people before knowing the full picture now.

    We all do what we can in life, I leave my boys in the car while I nip into pay for petrol or nip in a shop for a bottle of milk or bread and also would leave one of them in the car while I took the other child in the house, then also leaving child in house on own while I get the other one out of the car. 😉

    I live on a main road too, so my car is on street parking too, but not as busy as yours so usually I can park outside my house. xx

  8. You’re pointing out a problem I would love for people to understand – seizures leave us with choices we wouldn’t really want to make. We live with seizures too and they force us to make horrible choices. No one should have to consider that. I’m with you on this one and hope this post helps people understand. THanks for sharing.

    • I should probably write something that explained it further even. People think there is a right choice and a wrong choice, whereas we are trying to find the best choice at any given moment. Glad you understand Heather!

  9. I so get this. We don’t have seizures to deal with but I have 3 kids. Aged 8 (CP – wheelchair or walker, depending on the day), 6 (autism spectrum disorder – mood and compliance variable) and 3 (typically unpredictable and always super busy). If I suddenly realise on the way home that we are out of milk or something similar I am often faced with the decision about how best to deal with it. To take my 3 kids out of the car for a quick run into the shops is exhausting. By the time I’ve dealt with any potential meltdowns, taken the wheelchair or walker out of the car, unloaded the 3 kids walked to the shop, navigated our way through aisles that are invariably overcrowded and difficult to get a wheelchair through etc etc a task that should take 5 minutes takes closer to half an hour and my nerves are frazzled as are the kids. SO I make a judgement call. ONLY if we are at our local small shopping strip and ONLY if I can get a park directly outside the shop I want to go into and ONLY if it’s not hot or even rather warm (in Australia here, the heat is a huge danger factor when leaving kids alone in the car) do I occasionally park the car, lock the doors and windows and run in to buy the few items I need. I don’t like to do it and it’s against the law here. But I don’t think it’s a crime. It’s just doing what you need to do. So yep, I get it. Totally get it. It’s a tough one. The only answer I have for me in my situation is to do as much as I can without the kids. But it’s hard to be organised in every situation and this is a challenge I often face. Hang in there, and ignore those who just don’t get it but are still willing to give as much unhelpful advice or damning comments. Dianne

  10. Oh don’t worry. I once read of a little girl being left alone in a hotel room. Guess what happened- she was kidnapped. Yes, I’m referring to Madeleine McCann. She has never been found either.

    My theory is that she was killed by her kidnappers. When Noah was born, I had to leave him each night in the NICU. I’ve also left him alone during appointments sometimes when I needed to use the toilet. I don’t feel bad about it either. I’m only human after all.


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