The Article ‘Fatal Distraction’ – My Take

This Pulitzer Prize winning article “Fatal Distraction” was brought to my attention by Jill at Baby Rabies. The article centers around the cases of parents forgetting their children in hot cars, and finding them dead. I warn you right now, it’s an incredibly hard article to read and it made me sick. I literally wanted to throw up. You can read the article here, and please do before continuing on to my thoughts.

The beginnings of my thoughts are copied from the comment I left on Jill’s post.

It was an amazing article, and one that I felt nothing but anger toward the offending parents throughout, and sympathy and sorrow for those babies that died. The line where the woman talked about the child pulling all her hair out before she died? I literally almost vomited. My stomach lurched and I looked down at my sleeping 12 week old in my arms and I wanted to throw up.

I’m not having the same views as a lot of the other commenters. This article was amazingly written, and I think it’s very important to bring stories like this forward so parents can become hypervigilant and aware of their children. I am going to say the thing that hundreds of other parents have said: This could NEVER happen to me. And I know that a bunch of people who were in this article said the same thing, but THIS. COULD. NEVER. HAPPEN. TO. ME.

This article made me angry. And sad. And sick. I feel bad for the parents who did these things. I’m not going to say “who this happened to” because it’s not like it was some random catastrophic event. They left their children in hot cars until they DIED. The one woman who stated that it felt like “God had taken her child away from her while she was at the peak of happiness” made me want to scream. It’s not like that baby died of cancer, or of SIDs, or of anything else that couldn’t have been prevented. SHE left her baby in that car. God didn’t leave that baby in her car. SHE DID. On one hand I understand that maybe her brain cannot process the fact, and that she has to feel like maybe it was some sort of injustice toward her that made it “happen”. In my mind, she is responsible.. Plain and simple. I don’t care if you are distracted. I don’t care if your cellphone is ringing off the hook and you have a THOUSAND other things on your mind. NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SAFETY OF YOUR CHILD. And I’m sorry. “If you can forget your cell phone, you can forget your child”? I’m sorry but my Pink LG Chocolate slide phone is not the same thing as the tiny human being that I carried for nine months, gave birth to, and who is solely reliant on me and my husband to keep her safe.

My opinion may not be popular, and people may shake their head at me and say, “Never say never” in regards to my statement that it could never happen to me. I stand by it. And no, these people aren’t bad people or parents. But they also aren’t victims of some horrible accident that couldn’t have been prevented.

I feel pity for these parents, because I cannot imagine the amount of guilt they now carry, and the hell that their lives have become. I cannot fathom what it would feel like to be directly responsible for the death of your child. Not even a little bit. Ugh. I need to go snuggle Nellie for the rest of the day (she’s passed out on my lap right now).

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  1. Emily E. says:

    You say "nothing's more important than the safety of your child" but that's not what this situation is about. These people weren't being unsafe- they didn't leave the kid in the car for five minutes because they thought that would be ok and then never go back for them. Their heads were in such a place that they didn't realize that the kids where there. They could be the most child safety-conscious parent out there. That's not what this is about. I'm not disagreeing with your assertion that the parents have fault in this- because they definitely do. I'm curious as to why you think that it definitely couldn't happen to you? I'm not trying to be snarky- what is your reasoning?

  2. KarmaPearl says:

    I realize that's what the article says – that the parents' heads were elsewhere… I guess I just cannot imagine how your head can be SO "elsewhere" that you forget your child is in the backseat of your car. Forgetting keys, wallet, hell even forgetting a playdate is one thing but forgetting that your child is in the backseat of your car? I can not even wrap my head around that.My reasoning for this not ever being able to happen to me I can't really explain. I typed that as my daughter was sleeping on me, and as horrible as it sounds I was thinking of the line "the child had pulled out all of her hair" and I was just filled with such a conviction that it just could not happen. I'm not talking a, "SIDs couldn't happen. Cancer couldn't happen." because I know well and good that both of those things COULD happen to my baby but when it comes to something that *I* have the ultimate control over, or that my husband has ultimate control over? I am just filled with a conviction that it's not possible for me to forget my child is in my car.

  3. Natalie, I think MOST parents believe nothing like that could happen to them. I'm sure most people truly believe that their minds could NEVER be so somewhere else that they would forget about their own child. That's why this article is so important, because it points out that no matter what you believe and feel, it still COULD happen to you.I think it's important to take from this article the knowledge that it's embarking. Instead of thinking "This will NEVER happen to me," I'm going to think instead "I'm going to do whatever I can to make SURE this never happens to me." Does that make sense?I also cannot fathom this happening, but it obviously does, and so we just need to be extra vigilant and take measures to make sure that WE do not fall victim to the faulty memory. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I CAN'T forget my child, instead of just assuming that I won't (although I'm sure you're not just assuming that, just from your comments, it's not clear).I truly hope I didn't offend, I just took the article differently than you I think.

  4. KarmaPearl says:

    @Megan no, you didn't offend me at ALL. I'm always hesitant to post about things like this b/c I don't like conflict, and worry that people will think I'm this terrible, narrow-minded person because I'm NOT. But this was one thing that just ruffled me, and made me so mad.I agree that this article is important because it does raise awareness. I mentioned in the post that it's good because it does scare us as parents and raise our awareness and our vigilance. Thank you so much for your comment, I know it's a really touchy subject and you did not offend me at all!

  5. Well, according to the article (that I skimmed, because I read it last year and didn't want to start crying at work again), it doesn't happen all that often. Less than 50 times a year if I recall correctly.I am also not disagreeing with your views or feelings on this subject.When I read the article, I came away with the feeling that this kind of thing can happen to anyone. I especially appreciated the psychologist explaining how the memory works and how this kind of thing happens. Prior to reading this article, I just assumed that all parents who left their child in a car on a hot day were careless idiots who should not be allowed to reproduce.But now I see that is not always the case.It's a heart-wrenching article. And when I have kids, you better believe that I'm always going to be checking the back seat, even when I don't have kids with me.

  6. Christina says:

    I read the article, after you tweeted about it. Well, I read the first few pages of it. I couldnt bring myself to finish, because Im already pretty high-strung today, and I am almost certain I couldnt handle it.When I look at my daughter, I can't think of anything that I wouldn't do to keep her safe from harm. I do my absolute best, sometimes to my own detriment, to keep her happy, healthy, and safe. I can't imagine being any other way, can't imagine doing something that could cost her life.Izzy has never been in anyone's care but mine and hubby's, and as much as I want to have a night out with him, I can't possibly trust her to anyone else's care, not yet. What if, what if, what it?But even with all that being said, I just couldnt help feeling immense sadness for the parents of those children. Do I feel worse for the children, of course, I couldnt even make myself finish reading those tragic stories, but God, i can't imagine what it would be like to be responsible for the death of your child, just because you were so preoccupied. Im not excusing their actions by any means, but I just….I don't know, I guess I feel like they have to be so stricken, so distraught, so haunted by their OWN guilt that I just can't imagine feeling anything but sorrow for them.I couldn't imagine leaving Izzy in the car while I went somewhere, but then again, I don't have deadlines, and clients, or other children, etc, etc, compounding the amount of things on my mind. Izzy is ALWAYS on my mind, you know?I completely see where you're coming from Natalie, and honestly, I almost agree, but there's just something, that I can't quite pinpoint that won't let me be angry at the parents. Im furious that those innocent children died. Im furious that these horrible mistakes were made.

  7. KarmaPearl says:

    @Christina What I feel for the parents is.. I don't know. Disbelief? It makes me sick to my stomach thinking about how they must feel. I honestly do not know if I could live with myself if I did something like that. And to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I could stay with my husband if he did something like that.. I am not sure he would stay with me.

  8. Christina says:

    Im not sure that I would be able to live with myself either. my religious views would probably keep me from committing suicide, but would i think about it? Heck yeah. Probably every second of every day.

  9. Michelle says:

    Yeah.. I cried. I could almost feel that moment of realization those parents must of had- it took my breath away. Accidental death is the leading cause of death in children. I think this statistic says a lot. Obviously, many accidents are completely out of our (the parent's) control.. but not all. Many are completely preventable; many are caused by a mistake or bad decision made by the parent. I do not really understand the science of memory..and to be honest, I sort of skimmed that part because it was sort of boring. I just got that it is basically a biological malfunction that could happen to anyone.I think a really important point in the article was that if we just want to point blame and rely on the "it will never happen to me" mentality.. then nothing will ever change to prevent these sorts of things from happening. Can I imagine ever leaving my child in a car to bake to death? No. But I would rather admit that anything could happen to me and work to ensure that if it does..there is a back-up plan that will keep my child safe. Anyway..great article. Definitely a wake up call. Thanks for sharing it!

  10. The article was horrifying. I'm both glad and sad I read it, its a real eye opener.

    A parent in that particular situation – accidentally forgetting their child – I can stand back and know it's their biggest regret. Living with what they forgot will be worse than anything that the legal system or other people can throw at them. I feel for their children and wish it never happened, but it was a genuine mistake.

    I've got two little girls and the rare times I'm not with them, I still go to the back doors and reach to grab them without thinking. But thats because I'm almost always with them. I'm a SAHM. So everywhere I go, they go with me. My mind is programmed to wonder where they are. Once I went shopping and panicked cause I couldn't see my toddler. She was with my MIL at home.
    But if I worked, if my girls went to a daycare. I would be programmed for that. Once I hit a certain point, I would know they were safe at daycare and my brain would automatically act like that.

    Not saying its okay – just not criminal.

    What I do have a problem with and you see it a lot here in Australia is the people who PURPOSEFULLY leave their kids in the car. They run into the shop 'just quickly' or something ridiculous like that. There was a story of one man in a silver mercedes with three kids in the car, one unrestrained. He left the keys in the ignition so he could leave the aircon on. Sure he chose not to have his children die by heat, but what about the lure of a silver mercedes with KEYS IN THE IGNITION?
    That is what I have a problem with. Parents who think its okay to do it.

  11. Oh man. I could only skim this because the thought of someone (more than one person) actually leaving their children in a hot car was just too much for me to handle. I totally agree with you that there is NO WAY that I could forget about ian (or maiah when she's able to be in a car seat). Maybe it's because I am constantly talking to ian while I drive and as soon as I take out the key in the ignition I say, "Mommy is coming to get ian". Then I hear a delighted squeal erupt from him.I do know that parents can make stupid mistakes. However, I don't even think that something like leaving a child in a car is on the same level as a "mistake." I find it repulsive and hope I don't have nightmares recalling some of the details I did read.

  12. Integrated Self Defense Services says:

    If this isn't the definition of a bad parent, then what is?

    No, I didn't read the article, I don't need to.

    These people may not be out hurting other people, but seriously, this was a B.A.D. parenting moment and nothing else.

  13. This article was definitely powerful and well-written. Gut-wrenching. As much as I dread reading these types of stories, I use them as reminders to be extra vigilant as a parent. I cannot say that I would NEVER do something like this…it isn't in my nature to rule anything out completely. But, as a SAHM, I ALWAYS know where my children are. Always. Questions that went through my mind included why these parents never thought to check up on their children through the day. But, not having the mindset of a working parent, maybe that's not a common thought they would have…they wouldn't necessarily call a caregiver during the day, 5 days a week, under normal circumstances. I think I would have been more likely to be angry at these parents if the physiology behind why this happens–why parents can potentially forget their children under abnormal circumstances–hadn't been explained as it so eloquently was. It made sense to me. In my situation, I still can't say it would never happen, but I thought the analogy of forgetting your cell phone (of course I have forgotten mine before!) to forgetting your children was lame. I personally feel that forgetting my children is more like forgetting to get dressed in the morning. But, that's just me and I can't pass judgment on these parents and I can't be angry at them…they are already living hell on earth for what they did.

  14. Natalie – thank goodness! I'm glad I didn't offend you! I got through my comment and was like "Oh crap, was that all just too harsh/offensive/inappropriate???" I totally get what you're saying and I think this article is a great way to just REMIND people that it can and does happen to people and we need to be ultra aware so it doesn't happen to us!ISDS – I think it's super obvious from your comment that you didn't read the article and that you didn't even have to tell us you didn't. Please READ the article. This is NOT bad parenting and it's even scientifically explained HOW this type of things happen with our memory. They even explain WHY people feel the need to just assume these people ARE bad parents (like you're doing). It's a defense mechanism because you don't want to believe that you could do something like this, but we are ALL capable of doing this and that's why this article is so important, to show us HOW it happens and make us aware of it, so we're extra vigilant to make sure it DOESN'T happen!

  15. I read the article from Jill's blog as well and I must say I too was horrified and was left sobbing and grabbing onto my babies at the end of the article.I can't fathom the idea of leaving one of my babies in the car and forgetting they were there. I am a SAHM and so the kids are always with me. But I feel much that same as you, Natalie. The line about the baby pulling all of her hair out before she died…and the man who reset his motion-sensitive car alarm 3 times because he didn't see anyone tampering with the car and couldn't understand why it was going off when it was actually picking up the movement of his baby who was slowly sweltering to death? It made me sick to my stomach and it made me so angry that I could have spit nails. "I was distracted." SO much that you FORGOT YOUR CHILD WHO WAS SITTING RIGHT BEHIND YOU? Granted, not every story contained someone on their cell phone. But this is a perfect example as to why they should be outlawed for usage in a vehicle. I don't give a crap if you use blue tooth or handsfree. You need to keep your mind on the road and on the task you are doing…ie: driving your baby to daycare and going to work. And perhaps I am just an absolute complete neurotic mother (and so what if I am?)but I am always aware of my babies in the back. I get concerned of they are "too quiet". I have those mirrors that strap to the seat so I can peek in my rear view and see them. I just don't see how someone can't not know their child is [still] in the car with them.I understand the point of the article completely. And yeah, this may be a rare occurrence, less than 50 cases a year…but there should be ZERO cases a year. The same goes with parents running over their children or backing over them with their cars (which the article briefly touched upon) because they didn't see them. This just should not happen…and it would not happen if more care and vigilance were exercised.Those babies suffered a horrific death at the hands of those swore to protect them…even if it was unintentional. I cannot imagine the guilt they suffer each and every day. As to the point of the article, is it a crime and should the parents be charged…I don't really know how I feel about that. I do believe just their mere existence with the memory of what they did will haunt them forever and is the worst form of punishment in its own way. One thing I did find rather curious about most of these stories was that the average age of these children was 9 months old. I wonder if there is something to that? Not just a specific day that has the parent particularly distracted, but is there something in our brains that causes us to let down our guard or to become more "relaxed" persay about the safety of our children in our own care once our babies reach that particular age. I find that disturbing and puzzling. Did anyone else notice that?

  16. Megan,I meant no harm by not reading the article and yet nor will I. This post has bothered me all day with just the small amount of discription Natalie wrote about it.I do not need to read about scientific fact about memory. I am a mother of 3, have never forgotten about my children, and nor will I. That is my fact. I get side tracked at times, but never to the point of forgetting my kids. I believe Natalie when she says this will never happen to her…it will never happen to me. And I do still believe it's bad parenting when you forget your kid and leave him/her in a car to die.Also, so sorry, I didn't mean to post under my Husband's blog name.Again, Megan, I did not mean to offend you, just posting my opinion.

  17. Many of you missed the point of the article entirely. And it is your atititude that it will never happen to you that puts you squarely at risk for it happening – like you have some sort of higher love for your children that exempts you from a life altering mistake.

  18. KarmaPearl says:

    @Twin Mom I didn't miss the point of the article. I said that I understood that the article was important to raise awareness, and so parents can be extra vigilant.And I don't think I love my children any more than these parents loved theirs. It's not a question of love. And my (and other readers) attitude toward this doesn't put me more at risk. I am hyper aware of my child, and I know myself. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would and could never forget that she was in the backseat of my car. It's as simple as that.

  19. Well the point of the article was also about whether or not these parents should be criminally charged with killing their children. And I have to agree with Natalie, it isn't about loving your child more than other parents…it is about being hyper aware and not being distracted by things that belong lower on the priority list. That is why the title of this article is 'Fatal Distraction'.

  20. I think the best thing I can say about you is that you have no compassion, are rather smug and not very bright. The article clearly states why the parents forgot their children – because they thought they had been dropped off. The whole point of the article was to say that – yes, it could happen to you, even if you think it couldn't. Why are you so adamant that it couldn't? We can never be 100 percent sure that we won't make a mistake. And bad things happen to people. Don't lord it over people who have to deal with tragedy. Ghastly behaviour.

  21. KarmaPearl says:

    @Seonaid congratulations, you're officially my blog's first hater. Thanks for stooping to name-calling, where everyone else was able to express their opinions in a pleasant and adult manner. Cheers!

  22. Kristi Nommensen Dor says:

    oh god, this was a horrible thing to read. I mean, it was exceptionally well written and in a way it was somewhat life changing, so it was GOOD, but it was gut wrenching and heart rending and just god awful at the same time.That said… one thing I try to do in this world, above all else, is be understanding and have compassion. I have never met anyone that has gone through something this horrific, but of course I've read the occasional news story about it. And I've lost sight of my ability to be compassionate as I sat in horrified judgment, thinking 'WHAT was WRONG with those people?'; thinking all the horrible things many of us probably thought the first time we encountered such a story.This article gave me much-needed perspective, and helped me remember to work to be understanding and be compassionate. I may never truly UNDERSTAND something like this; I am not religious, and yet I will pray to every god there is that I am NEVER in a position where I need to try to truly UNDERSTAND something like this. But I can, and should, have compassion. This article helped remind me of that. The most important thing I took from this is not that it is an issue of 'forgetting' your child, but of honestly believing that you've dropped them off somewhere safe. Day care, the sitter, wherever. Of false memory, if you will. That has happened to me, not with my children, but on a lesser scale. I have been utterly convinced before that I have done or said things that, it turns out, I did not do or say after all. It is considerably less tragic to be sure I locked the house when I didn't, or put my keys in my pocket when I didn't, and part of me still cannot fathom being SURE I dropped my child off with the sitter when they're sitting in my car… but knowing how utterly convinced I was of those small deeds that turned out to be false sends chills up my spine. There but for the grace of god go I.The world is a scary place, and we are all fallible.

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