When strangers question your parenting choices


I dropped my daughter to pre-school and left the car parked opposite with my 5-year-old son inside. It took moments, less than a minute, but I popped back to tell him I was going to the bakery and not to open the doors or windows. He was happy to sit and play with his stick from forest school.

The queue was long and the service slow, but we needed fresh bread and organic eggs for the weekend and I wouldn’t get another opportunity. So I waited patiently, got the goods and returned to the car, only to find an elderly gentlemen and wide-eyed woman on her phone next to my vehicle.

She continued on her call, which I’d immediately gleaned was to the police and declared, “The mum is here now and seems surprised that I’ve phoned you. Do you want to speak to her?”

I asked what the problem was, if he [my child] had done something – and that’s when they attacked. I was interrogated, patronised, accused of putting him in danger. What if a car came around the corner and smashed into the back your vehicle? What if it caught light? Do you know what you’ve done is a criminal offence?

I thanked the kind people for their concern and explained that I understood why they felt this way. I also agreed that the hypothetical scenarios were horrendous, however the risk was very small as I’d only been gone a few minutes, five to seven, perhaps. I kept my cool.

They weren’t satisfied with that and continued: You’ve left your child in a locked vehicle, what if something happened? I’m worried that you don’t even seem concerned about this. Do you understand if anything happened you would go to prison FOR THE REST. OF. YOUR. LIFE…

Actually, the threat of my dear little son being injured or killed is far more of a deterrent than the prospect of life imprisonment. So that was a moot point.

There’s also the risk that someone could break in and attempt to snatch him, or he could escape and wander off into the road. The sun could come out and he would dehydrate and die of heat exhaustion, he could choke or suffocate. I could be run over and he would be left alone, I could lose my keys and he would be trapped forever. Though all of these things were highly unlikely to occur.

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Would you wake these guys up to pay for petrol…?

While I am comforted that there are people in the community looking out for each other, I am similarly infuriated that I was told off for something so trivial in the grand scheme of things… For those of you that know me or have read my other blog posts, you will know that all I ever want to do is the right thing.

Not necessarily the legal, recommended or commonly accepted practice, but what I deem to be morally and/or logically correct under the circumstances. I have given the last five years of my life to ensuring my children are safe, secure, healthy and loved. It has been my mission.

Given that I had weighed up the risks of leaving him for a short time, it did not feel like the wrong thing to do. It was raining and he has just been in hospital due to ongoing pain in his legs.

In most cases, it takes longer to get children out of the car, walk at a snail’s pace and then strap them back in again, than to perform the required activity. Modern life is not set up to facilitate the taking of time. We rush around trying to get things done efficiently and if we need to nip into a shop for a couple of items, particularly with the car in clear view, that should not be a crime.

Surely of bigger concern to the public should be people who regularly put their children at risk. Where are the parent police then? Smoking around them, giving fizzy drinks, drip-feeding sugar into a diet of white bread and processed meat, dosing with Calpol and antibiotics at every opportunity, dressing them inadequately for the weather…

These actions are not only risky, in most cases there is a certain negative outcome (particularly asthma, obesity, early onset diabetes, impaired immune response, and more). Yet because these lifestyles are considered mainstream, there is no uproar. As for the choices people make with babies, I won’t even start…

Children are probably more at risk on a climbing frame or in a swimming pool. But we make judgements; we take measured risks. We assess and act, we don’t plan for the worst-case scenario every time because nothing would ever get done – no driving, playing, cooking, flying, crossing of roads or bathing.

Am I alone? I’ve browsed opinion on mummy forums in the past and the majority seem to take the view that people who leave their children in cars while they pay for petrol are disgusting and don’t deserve to have kids. These are the same mums who think women who breastfeed are smug, and believe co-sleeping is more dangerous than leaving a newborn alone, so I’m not too concerned.

Yes, I get it. And if it had been much longer, then it would have been unacceptable. To me, this was a gross overreaction, but lesson learned: I can’t leave him even for a moment. Not because I have been brainwashed with paranoia, but because the biggest risk is having social services question my parenting.

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