Last month a photo was circulated of a baby asleep alone inside a car. There was a note on her blanket that read, “My Mummy’s doing the shopping. Call her if I need anything”, followed by a mobile phone number. Several passers-by were concerned about the baby and apparently called the number and waited by the car until the mother returned. Media reporting has been a mixed bag, with some seeing the decision as inexcusable and others having a more lenient approach towards what they assume is a frazzled mother. The motivations and situation of the mother is unknown, as she was never identified.
Looking around the internet the feeling from those discussing the incident on social media is generally more negative. While there is some compassion for the plight of parents juggling everyday life with a baby, most say they would never have done a similar thing.
However, when you modify the search to leaving a baby while you pay for petrol, rather than nip into the shops, the mood changes. Now most replies seem to agree that it makes more sense to dash into the service station that is only a few meters from the car and pay quickly, rather than disturb the baby and bring them with you for such a short and nearby trip.
What is the key difference here?
Probably not the time or the distance away from the baby. Arguably you could park just as close to a shop as to the service station and spend the same amount of time paying for petrol as buying milk. I think it must be something about the necessity value. Shopping seems to most people as something that could be done another time, somehow a little luxurious, while getting petrol an unavoidable requirement that needs addressing, whether there is a baby with you or not. Maybe it’s to do with how well you can see your baby? From the service station perhaps you can see the baby through the windows and in a shop you may not be able to. Personally, I don’t see that there’s much difference.
What about when your baby is sleeping at home?
It’s illegal in all states and territories of Australia to leave a child unattended in a car. The laws about leaving a child in the home are less clear. While you are required to ensure your child’s safety and can be charged with negligence if you are deemed failing to provide adequate care, there is no strict ruling about circumstances you might leave your child alone at home. If your baby is sleeping, as the baby in the car was, would you hang out the washing? Put out the bins? Put mail under your neighbour’s door? Move your car to a new spot? Go the shop at the end of the street for formula…? How far is too far, how long too long, what task too unimportant?
I once heard a story about a friend of a friend of a friend who lived above a small grocery store. She would pop down when her 6 month old slept and do the shopping. Her baby monitor was still in range and she would bring it with her. The story was told to me with shock and disapproval. I’m not sure this is vastly different to parents who live in houses with 2 storeys or more who move downstairs while their baby sleeps. But again, the shopping in itself somehow seemed to make the mother seem reckless and selfish, whereas perhaps going to your basement to put on laundry while your baby slept would not?
Clearly as a general rule you need to be near and watchful of your baby and young children. But, the tendency of this generation to hover over their children like never before is well documented, and largely thought to be contributing more negative than positive outcomes to the children, themselves. Where is the line between vigilance and unnecessary worry, between concern and paranoia, between safety and smothering??
Have you left your baby in the car while you popped into the shops or to pay for petrol?
Would you leave your baby sleeping in their cot while you went downstairs, or outside, or next door, or to the end of the street?
Do you think it’s ok to do some things while your baby sleeps and not others?
What do you think?