Shaming moms doesn't make anyone's kids safer

In 2011, writer and editor Kim Brooks had the police called on her -- and ended up pleading guilty to contr...

Posted: Aug 30, 2018 7:13 PM
Updated: Aug 30, 2018 7:13 PM

In 2011, writer and editor Kim Brooks had the police called on her -- and ended up pleading guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor (to avoid the risk of losing custody of her child) -- because she left her then-4-year-old son in the car for few minutes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against doing this for any length of time and Brooks in no way diminishes the horror of children who die in overheated cars, but as she notes in an essay published in the New York Times, it was a cool day out and she was nearby. And judging from the fierce and immediate response to the essay by moms on social media, many, many parents out there could imagine being in her shoes.

This terrifying experience became the basis for her book, "Small Animals. Parenthood in the Age of Fear," which was published this week. There, Brooks not only shares her own story but also tries to analyze the role of fear in parenting and how raising children has become a stressful, anxiety-ridden and, most of all, shame-inducing undertaking. She makes particular note of how this shaming, in practical terms, results in criminalizing low-income mothers who may have no choice to but leave their kids in the car to do things like interview for jobs (her essay cites one such case).

Children

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Demographic groups

Families and children

Family members and relatives

Law enforcement

Parents and parenting

Policing and police forces

Population and demographics

Society

"I felt like a terrible mother. I felt, I think, what just about every woman feels when someone attacks her mothering: ashamed," says Brooks in the introduction to her book.

The epidemic of parental shaming -- of which calling the police on a mother is only the most extreme symptom -- makes it clear that somewhere along the way, we have changed the way we view our fellow parents. Instead of seeing them as reasonable adults who can be trusted to make the best decisions for themselves and their children, we assume that they are idiots who need constant surveillance.

I know exactly how this feels because that same year, I too had the police called on me. Not for leaving my kids in the car, but because my explosive eldest daughter, then full in the throes of the Terrible Two's, had one of her epic temper tantrums as I was picking her up from daycare. A woman saw me trying to get her into the stroller. My highly energetic girl insisted on walking but that was out of the question because the daycare was too far away from our home and we had to cross many streets and canals on our way there. So, I kept trying to get her into the stroller (and hoping that my 6-week-old baby wouldn't wake up), and she kept beating and kicking her way out of it. From a distance, it must have looked like I was hitting her. I was not, but the woman thought otherwise. She ran down to me and said, "You are abusing your child. I'm calling the police."

Luckily, the police, once summoned, listened to both sides of the story, then decided that I wasn't, in fact, abusing my child and let me go. This is after all the Netherlands, a country which is famous for its live-and-let-live attitude towards other people, including parents. But I read similar stories from the US all the time. The parent-shaming affects not just numerous "mortal" moms but even celebrity parents such as Charlize Theron, who also had the police called on her because of her son's tantrum.

The reasons for shaming parents, and moms in particular, for "not taking adequate care of their children" are becoming increasingly ridiculous: letting a child play alone in the backyard or leaving a baby in a stroller outside a restaurant. But at the same time, statistics tell us that our children have never been safer -- not only are they much less likely to die than in the past but there also have been fewer cases of child abduction.

I'd like to believe that all people who might intervene in a situation between a parent and a child have good intentions; indeed, very many do. But too often, people think the choice is either do nothing or call in the authorities. That binary presents a false choice, where calling the police is always the right thing because "God forbid, what if we didn't and something awful happened."

But calling the police isn't your only alternative to doing nothing at all; sometimes it's as simple as thinking, what can I do to help in this situation? For instance, a teacher in Chicago recently sat with her former student's infant child so that student could attend a job fair. That student now has a job and plans to attend college. It's worth noting that one of the mothers in Brooks' essay who left her child in a car alone was doing so because she had a job interview and couldn't secure affordable or workable child care.

And in my case, instead of threatening me, those bystanders could have said hello, or expressed their concerns to the daycare staff who could have vouched for me, or tried to distract my fractious toddler with a friendly word so I could settle her into the stroller - before escalating to the point where police were called.

And it's important to remember that children's caregivers, just like the children they care for, can have their mental wellbeing shaken to the core by being threatened with the loss of a child. An experience like this will change you forever. Never will you just be able to go out in public with your children. When you leave the house, you'll be continuously praying that your kids will behave. When they do have a tantrum as children sometimes do, you do things that are counterproductive just to keep them quiet. Most of all, you're afraid it will happen again -- but his time, with the result that they'll take your children away from you.

For days, I thought about the incident and concluded that I was the worst mother in the world. I started thinking that maybe this woman was right -- that my children would be better off being cared for by someone else. I still think about it sometimes. I probably always will.

Unlike Kim Brooks, I was lucky, and not just because of geographical location. The daycare staff stood by me, waited for the police to arrive and testified in my favor. My husband left work early to voice his support of me and my mothering skills. With time, I've managed to build an online and offline community around me that offered constant and steady encouragement instead of judgment.

To change the paradigm of parenting, the first thing we need to do is to stop treating other parents like enemies and start seeing them for what they usually are: friends, supporters, and just fellow parents in arms. So instead of "I'm calling the police," let's start saying, "How can I help?"

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 480091

Reported Deaths: 6502
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin995591576
Ramsey42700795
Dakota35723383
Anoka32968383
Washington21824253
Stearns18677200
St. Louis14644262
Scott13104104
Wright12400114
Olmsted1167988
Sherburne864873
Carver755340
Clay682284
Rice664190
Blue Earth585535
Kandiyohi576374
Crow Wing514280
Chisago493344
Otter Tail478770
Benton441090
Winona413548
Mower399231
Douglas390168
Nobles385147
Goodhue382468
Polk340762
McLeod336149
Beltrami334449
Morrison321446
Lyon311343
Itasca308245
Becker306841
Isanti303052
Carlton298344
Steele297211
Pine280316
Freeborn275923
Nicollet251241
Todd243830
Brown240037
Le Sueur230120
Mille Lacs225447
Cass217224
Waseca206317
Meeker205534
Martin186628
Wabasha18503
Roseau177617
Hubbard159740
Houston156214
Dodge15114
Renville146840
Redwood146327
Fillmore13638
Chippewa135735
Cottonwood133420
Wadena128120
Pennington125716
Faribault121216
Aitkin117633
Sibley116110
Rock115313
Watonwan11478
Kanabec106619
Pipestone100724
Yellow Medicine97517
Murray9408
Jackson92310
Swift87118
Pope7875
Marshall76615
Stevens7378
Lake72517
Clearwater71414
Lac qui Parle67916
Wilkin66410
Koochiching61711
Big Stone5093
Lincoln5022
Grant4848
Norman4648
Mahnomen4367
Unassigned43568
Kittson40421
Red Lake3534
Traverse3015
Lake of the Woods2131
Cook1190

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 358981

Reported Deaths: 5342
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57492544
Linn20508311
Scott18171204
Black Hawk16156286
Woodbury14835211
Johnson1371072
Dubuque13438192
Dallas1120090
Pottawattamie10678140
Story1011545
Warren549170
Clinton538983
Cerro Gordo530580
Webster514686
Marshall493372
Sioux490468
Buena Vista469436
Des Moines454059
Muscatine445989
Wapello4247107
Jasper404865
Plymouth392277
Lee372051
Marion355967
Jones293254
Henry292635
Carroll284448
Bremer276154
Crawford271235
Boone257530
Washington253344
Benton249254
Mahaska222745
Jackson219638
Dickinson215938
Tama211464
Kossuth206754
Clay192725
Hamilton191041
Delaware188739
Winneshiek186626
Fayette183832
Buchanan183128
Page181319
Hardin179538
Wright179031
Harrison178369
Cedar174722
Clayton167853
Butler165431
Floyd161939
Mills161820
Poweshiek153229
Cherokee153135
Madison152817
Hancock146429
Lyon145341
Iowa143723
Allamakee143444
Appanoose138147
Grundy138030
Jefferson137232
Winnebago136830
Calhoun133010
Cass132248
Mitchell129840
Louisa127741
Union125831
Chickasaw124513
Sac123618
Emmet120840
Shelby119433
Franklin118119
Humboldt116724
Guthrie116128
Palo Alto104021
Montgomery103636
Howard102221
Clarke99020
Keokuk97329
Unassigned9270
Monroe92128
Adair91126
Ida90732
Pocahontas85119
Davis82123
Monona81325
Greene76610
Lucas72721
Osceola69714
Worth6876
Taylor66212
Fremont5819
Decatur5709
Van Buren55918
Ringgold51516
Wayne48521
Audubon4839
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 40° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 28°
Mason City
Partly Cloudy
31° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 22°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 23°
Austin
Partly Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 26°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 21°
More snow melting weather
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Enjoying February Weather

Image

State Patrol Awards

Image

State of North Iowa

Image

Price Gouging Investigation

Image

Vaccines for Kids

Image

Firefighters Get Vital Training

Image

Bill Introduced To Lower Cost Of Prescription Drugs

Image

Youth Vaping Remains A Problem In Minnesota

Image

02-24-2021 For Bri

Image

Social Media and The Police Department

Community Events