Some day we hope Mother's Day will be celebrated by having the kids wait in the car while mom runs into Starbucks to get a latte.
This would be a joyous way to reclaim a parental right that has been disappearing: the right to convenience. Somehow, moms -- and dads, too, but let's talk about moms, since they generally do more of the caregiving and this is THEIR DAY -- anyway, moms have been subtly and not-so-subtly informed that doing anything a slightly easier way is tantamount to neglect.
This is done by "dangerizing" the convenience – pretending that the parenting hack or pleasant practice is actually a threat to the child’s wellbeing. For instance: Moms are strongly encouraged, even hectored, to breastfeed, even though formula-fed babies are still going to be fine. A few years ago the CDC even told women between the ages of about 13 and 50 never to sip a single, relaxing drink, just in case they happen to be pregnant. And then there's the big kahuna of convenience: Car waits.
Moms are routinely harassed and sometimes charged with a crime if they let their kids wait in the car even for a few minutes. Ask Kim Brooks, who wrote a fantastic book about mom-blaming and shaming after this happened to her.
The ostensible reason is that cars heat up quickly and a child could die from hyperthermia. But statistically, more kids die in parking lots than in parked cars. (And they die when forgotten in a car for hours, not in the brief moments mom is picking up the pizza.) So why is the car wait criminalized, but the walk into the store is not?
Because in taking the child with her on the errand, the mom has publicly demonstrated her devotion. She has inconvenienced herself. A five-minute in-and-out jaunt has been turned into the mini-ordeal of possibly waking the child, unbuckling the car seat, getting their hat on or strapping them into the baby carrier or making the triplets all hold hands, and taking them (sometimes wailing) into the establishment, maybe in the rain, maybe in the snow, maybe in the dark -- and trying to do all that again on the way back while juggling some packages (or coffee!).
Most of us remember waiting in the car while our moms did some shopping, and it wasn't a Guantanamo experience. It was part of being a kid. And part of being a mom was being allowed not to be with the kids every second of every day, demonstrating, Kabuki-like, that they have put everything else on hold.
That’s why the neglect laws need to be clearer and saner. As lawyer Diane Redleaf, founder of the bi-partisan child welfare policy reform group United Family Advocates and Let Grow's legal policy consultant, notes, “There are vague laws in just about every state that give discretion to child protection investigators and police to label a parent's actions that were done for convenience as ‘neglectful supervision,’ ‘risk of harm,’ ‘child endangerment,’ or ‘environmental neglect.’ These laws need to be narrowed. Instead of amorphous standards, we need real legal protections for families.”
This idea is not cruel or selfish or risky. It is reasonable and smart to prioritize convenience when children are not in danger. Neglect should be limited to "blatant disregard of obvious danger," not rational decisions.
When lawmakers, police officers, child protection workers and passersby with 911 on speed dial recognize that convenience is not a crime, we will lift a latte and toast to a Mother’s Day gift even sweeter than chocolate chip pancakes in bed.