A baby tragically died in Sydney on the weekend after he was left in a hot car. In an utterly heartbreaking set of circumstances, he was in the care of his grandparents when he died, and his grandma was taken to hospital suffering shock afterwards. The child’s mother – well, it’s easy to see how she will never recover from this.
The response to this tragedy online has been reactive and unhelpful, to say the least.
Any parent or caregiver can forget a child. Any of us.
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I’m not talking about the parents who leave their kids in the car so they can duck into the shops or run errands, or who leave their kids sleeping in the car because they don’t want to wake them up – this is reckless, negligent behaviour.
But there are countless comments from people on social media saying “I don’t understand how you could forget your child – they deserve to go to jail”.
I don’t understand how you don’t understand! Because it’s not a purposeful choice; people are not consciously doing it. They are regular people going about their day, juggling a million different things in their mind, and their babies have fallen asleep in the car… and that’s when a crucial, tragic, life-ending mistake is made.
A brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning article, Fatal Distraction, was published about a decade ago that deep dives into how this happens. Journalist Gene Weingarten writes:
“Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organised, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A paediatrician… It happened to a rocket scientist.”
Years ago, my cousin’s old boss forgot to drop her daughter at daycare one morning. She was distracted by a big work day ahead of her and went into work, started checking emails, made some phone calls.
It was almost 30 minutes before she realised her baby was in the car. She’s an intelligent, educated, kind, caring woman, but this can and does happen to anyone – especially to parents who are sleep deprived. Luckily the baby was totally fine, but her mother wasn’t. She has struggled with guilt to this day, driving herself crazy with “what ifs”.
Demonising people who do this helps no one, and getting the pitchforks out and demanding “justice” is a fool’s game. Because the reality is, someone who lost their grandchild or child can bear no greater punishment than the natural consequences of their actions.