Social Question

jca's avatar

Can you envision accidentally leaving a baby or young child in a car all day?

Asked by jca (35976points) July 16th, 2014

I was discussing with my coworker the recent case of the father in Georgia who left his toddler in a hot car “accidentally” while he was at work all day. He supposedly forgot to drop the child off at day care.

Not to make the question about this case with its odd details like that the dad was recently Googling information on what happens when you leave a child in a hot car, but just in general, most people I talk to cannot imagine leaving a child in a car.

We talked about how when you drive to work and know you have to take the child to the day care, you know you have to drive that way first. At some point during the day, would you not realize you forgot the child?

I don’t know, I can’t imagine it. Can you? Can you imagine leaving a toddler or child in the car for the whole day?

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27 Answers

ucme's avatar

No, never, under any imaginable circumstance.

hominid's avatar

We all feel that we can say with confidence that we would never make this mistake. I’m just not sure we are justified in making this claim. I’m sure there are people who have done this who wouldn’t have imagined that they could have done this.

None of us intentionally make any mistakes. But we do. Sometimes – very rarely – those mistakes have consequences that are devastating.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Yes, it happens, and it’s very understandable. We’re all creatures of habit who do many things by rote and repetition. Close the door, turn the lock, and remove the key. Start the car, leave the driveway, and follow the usual route. Our days are filled with mechanical and unthinking routines that use little intelligence.

If a parent doesn’t have a day care agenda – he/she always goes directly to work, while the other parent always takes the child to day care – it can be easy to forget that extra, nonroutine stop. Because the child’s in the back seat, unseen, and the parent’s rushed and already thinking about the upcoming work day, it’s sadly but very human to leave the child behind.

The internet has all sorts of tips for not forgetting. Put something that you need and take with you everywhere, such as a pocketbook or cellphone, in the back seat near the child. Before you even get into your car, put your watch on the wrong wrist; when you arrive at work and check the time, you’ll immediately remember the child. Put a large stuffed animal in the front passenger seat, as a constant reminder that your child’s with you.

Never say never.

zenvelo's avatar

I can say I envisioned it, because it used to scare the crap out of me that I would forget them. But when my son was really small, I got mirrors to keep an eye on him, and I always was able to get him out before I did anything else.

Unfortunately, it has happened just enough that I don’t think of it as impossible.

Kardamom's avatar

I’ve gone to the store, specifically to buy something frozen, or milk and have then, left that item in the car and not realized it until the next morning. Stuff happens, the phone rings, a neighbor comes over to chat while you’re putting your key in the door. You don’t mean to do it, but it happens. Luckily I don’t have kids, but I can see over worked, exhausted parents accidentally leaving their kids in the car. I see people drive off with coffee cups on the roof of their car every now and them. My neighbor often forgets to close his garage door at night.

So yes, I can see why it happens and I’d love to have more of the suggestions about how to avoid it come up more often.

By the way. I do think that the man in this particular case did kill the child on purpose.

JLeslie's avatar

It’s hard for me to imagine doing it, because I know when a child is around I am the one with my always on them. However, I can completely understand a change in routine causing someone to forget. Most parents are overwhelmed and exhausted and we all kind of go into mindless hypnotic routine mode during the day. I’ve missed an exit, because my car automatically drives to my work exit, but today I was going to a friends house. If a parent is not accustomed to having their child in tow, I can see how it happens. There was that famous case made into a movie of a teacher or school principle, I can’t remember which she was, who left her baby all day in the car while she was at her first day of work for the school year, and I absolutely believe she just forget and that she lives with the horror of it every day.

Still, even though I can imagine it, it is still very difficult to imagine.

canidmajor's avatar

Add to the mix that the parents are distracted by having a young child and are probably sleep-deprived. I can understand how it could happen by accident, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I’ve screwed up often enough to know better than to declare it impossible. I once watched a woman place a baby in a carrier on the roof of her car. Her phone rang. She turned her back on the car, retrieved the phone from her coat pocket, and proceeded to chat with her back against the side of the car. She continued chatting while she opened the door to the automobile with her free hand, backed into the seat butt first, then pulled the door shut with the kid still on the roof. She never had a chance of driving away with the kid still on top, because there were others in the lot watching, but my one thought at the time was, “Thank God I’m at a point in life where most opportunities for such a screwup are behind me.”

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

It’s unthinkable, but it does seem that the child in George died by homicide, not by accident. Both parents had done internet searches about children perishing in hot cars; how high the temperature needs to be, and how long it takes. The father had been reading online about the joys of a child-free life. When the mother arrived, at the end of the day, to get her son and take him home, she started shrieking about her husband leaving the child in his car. To me, that’s the most damning thing of all. I can come up with countless reactions that would be normal and typical.

“They never showed up this morning?! That’s weird.”
“Maybe my husband decided to take our son to work, and spend the day with him, instead of bringing him here.”
“I hope they didn’t have a car accident after they’d left home. Maybe I should call the police and the hospital?”

The list could go on and on.

Kardamom's avatar

If I’m ever accused of a crime, the detectives are going to get an eyefull of my internet searches, all in the name of Fluther research.

I’ve looked up all sorts of crazy and sick stuff, just to try to help Jellies that had some sort of a problem with some of the crazy and sick stuff, some of which I’d never even heard of before.

The only one that would probably stick, though, is murder by eggplant.

filmfann's avatar

Sure, I think people have moments where they lose their train of thought, and neglect something important. Everyone fucks up.

I also believe that in this current case the father killed his child on purpose.

marinelife's avatar

No, but I tend to be hypervigilant.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Never by accident, but once, just to teach the little tyke a lesson.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

I could never. I can imagine it happening sometimes, but not with me.
As @SadieMartinPaul pointedout, sometimes parents switch off on having the kid(s). That would certainly add an element of uncommon occurances to one’s life. Being a single parent, I am accustomed to having my baby (child) with me unless having left the little one myself with a trusted sitter. Although leaving a child in the car is not like a can of soup tumbling from a grocery bag undetected, there have been cases of people driving off having left a thenty thousand dollar bank drop on top of their car.
If someone has had a very startling experience, like narrowly missing a dog in the road, feeling certain someone is following them across a parking lot, or impending foreclosure this week, I can see being uncommonly distracted.
Perhaps part of my certainty comes from something which happened when I was in my middle teens.
I got home from high school to find my four year old brother watching tv. My mom shouldn’t be home for another two hours, so I was concerned that something wrong made her come home early. I asked “Curt” where she was. He simply stated that she was at work. After some empty results pumping a four year old for information, I tried to find her. She was nowhere. My other brother came home from school, and became as confused as I. I called my mom at work.. She answered!
Confusion, fear, panic swirled around the room like some persistent specter. She thought I made it up. I felt sick. I put him on the phone. Stuff started to come out.
She had been late starting out that morning. She took him to the daycare, and instead of walking him in, told him to go on in. This was before mandatory car seats. She saw him reach for the door handle as she left the parking lot. She didn’t see the note taped to the door explaining the caregiver had run out for supplies and would return in ten minutes. My brother couldn’t open the locked door, and knocked. No-one answered, so he looked around. Everything seemed quiet and lonely, so he walked the half mile or so home. Fortunately it was a fairly peaceful little town. Fortunately the highway he had to cross was quiet at the time. Fortunately the back door wasn’t locked at home. Fortunately there was an unopened box of Twinkies there to comfort my brother while he spent the day watching tv.
Yes, this is the same boy I mentioned in the other recent forgotten kid thread, who a year later we left at a truckstop during our vacation.
I had my fear of abandoned babies built as I was growing still myself. The memories were tightly chained within me,and no, I will not, would not EVER forget where my child is.

ibstubro's avatar

I try not to think about it. I don’t want any mental pictures.

Remember the case where a school teacher hit a man, drove home with his skull embedded in her windshield and parked the car in the garage, where the man (who was still alive at the parking) died.

I still feel tremendous empathy for her. I can see where something could be so firmly out of your realm of experience that you convinced yourself you would awake soon.

I could imagine where a parent might have hot oven syndrome, where you obsessed over something so thoroughly that when something actually did happen you believed it was just another obsessive moment.

I hope the child in the car in Georgia proves to be an accident. Living with that alone is more punishment than one person should have to bear. If it was on purpose, they should just give him a tall room with a strong iron loop in the ceiling and a length of rope. Then seal it for eternity.

Feta's avatar

You would think that if every time you went in somewhere, you took your child with you (rather than leaving them in the car), it would be force of habit to look in the back.
I’ve looked this up before and one woman said that rather than her husband taking the child to daycare that morning, she had to and he was just so quiet in the backseat that it completely slipped her mind that he was back there when she got to work.
She did remember eventually and took him to daycare.

Apparently it’s a good safety measure to put your purse or your cellphone in the backseat with the kid if you have to remember to get them.
A little bit sad, though, that it’s easier for someone to remember their phone or their bag than it is to remember their own child in the backseat.

I think everyone’s capable of forgetting. Just today I walked out to my car three times while thinking, “Don’t forget your keys.” And each time I forgot my keys.

ibstubro's avatar

That’s a great idea of putting something you will soon miss back with the child, @Feta.

Aethelwine's avatar

I can’t understand how a person can forget when another person is with them, especially when that other person is a helpless child that you are responsible for. I’ve been overworked, tired, stressed and had routines changed on me, but I’ve never forgotten one moment when my children are with me. It’s unimaginable.

ibstubro's avatar

That’s because you’re an engaged parent and a caring person, @jonsblond. Think of all the kids you’ve seen in the toy department, untended, banging on all the toys. Or the screaming brat with the mom that says, “I’m not going to tell you again!” by rote, ever 3–4 minutes.


Kardamom's avatar

@ibstubro And just about everybody I see in the parking lot at Walmart or Target or the grocery store, the second they step out of the car, they’re texting or talking on their phone. Those kind of people easily get distracted. That’s why they’re always stepping out in front of my car without looking. They’re in another zone. Those are the type of people who could easily forget their child in the car.

ibstubro's avatar

I agree, @Kardamom. Just yesterday I had 2 different people almost walk into my moving car. Neither was using a hand-held, and the guy would have hit the side of my car if he hadn’t veered off suddenly.

jca's avatar

I agree, @ibstubro, about the guilt that the father (or anybody who does this) must feel when they imagine what a terrible, painful death the child dies. When I was talking about it with my coworker, we discussed another case from about 8 years ago, of two addict parents, one who was outside while the mom was passed out on the couch, with the kids in the tub. Water was running, scalding (they lived in a housing project, and if you know housing projects, you know their hot water is about as hot as could be). The two kids, a toddler and a baby, scalded to death in the tub. I don’t think I could live with myself if I were those parents, whether or not they could try to justify it by thinking they were addicts at the time. There were hand marks on the tub tiles of the kids trying to claw their way out of the tub.

My coworker told me this case in Georgia with the toddler who was left in the car, the car windows had marks like the kid tried to claw his way out of the car.

Coloma's avatar

No, I can’t imagine but I guess I can see how it could happen, but not for an entire DAY! Maybe a hour, but seriously, hours and hours on end, no way!
I did read that fathers are more likely than mothers to forget their children, I hate to stereotype but it does seem that men are often a little more duh, than women at times when it comes to kids. Hey….I read this fact recently , so don’t shoot the messenger! lol

I remember being FURIOUS with my ex husband when our daughter was about 15 months old and he said he was “watching” her while out working on his truck in the garage. He set her in the seat next to a toolbox and she got her hands on a screwdriver, pulled out the cigarette lighter and stuck the tip of the screwdriver into the socket and then, put the red hot tip to her mouth burning her lip!!!!
OMG! I was so freaking furious I could have killed him.

She was fine save for a nice blister on her lip. Jerk!

stanleybmanly's avatar

I can tell you that it is a risky thing entrusting an infant or toddler to someone unfamiliar with the requirements of minding a child. And by someone, I pretty much mean men. But I wouldn’t be too hard on your ex. My daughter at 15 months was “busy” to the point that I considered buying a cage. The girl had a penchant for trouble and mischief that I hadn’t believed possible.

ibstubro's avatar

I do not wish to have these images in my brain, @jca.

My OP, “I try not to think about it. I don’t want any mental pictures.”


majorrich's avatar

I have contemplated leaving certain adults in a locked car all day.

JLeslie's avatar

Here is the story of the school principal who left her daughter all day in the car if anyone is interested.

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