A new mother in Porirua, New Zealand causes global uproar by leaving her baby in a locked car with a note pinned to the blanket telling people to ring her cell if the baby was in need. Meanwhile, parents in Sweden routinely leave children outdoors to nap in strollers without a second thought. Both stories have sparked debate on child endangerment, judgment calls, cultural differences, and parental education.
“After a photo of the baby and the note was published in The New Zealand Herald, people of course got riled up. Leaving a child unattended can lead to severe consequences in any country.”
That statement is almost true, however the definition of “unattended” does vary from nation to nation.
In the United States and, judging from news articles, New Zealand as well, the sight of a baby left unattended results in police being called immediately and the word “abandonment” figuring in headlines. Such is not the case in Sweden where long tradition has babies napping in their prams in the snow from birth to age two, according to BBC News. This occurs in busy shopping areas as well as less trafficked areas.
The BBC reports that while daytime temperatures in Stockholm have regularly dropped to -5C (23F), “it's still common to see children left outside by their parents for a sleep in the pram. Wander through the snowy city and you'll see buggies lined up outside coffee shops while parents sip on lattes inside.”
A poll in Norway asked parents how many let their babies sleep outdoors/outside a café and 84 percent say yes, they do.
My friend lives Norway, an hour from Oslo, and is one of the best mothers I have ever met and her job is to work with children ages one and two at a kindergarten there. She asks that her name not be mentioned so as not to upset her employer, but she told me just now, via Facebook chat, “Yes, babies sleep outdoors in Norway, privately and in day care and NO they are never ever unattended .”
She explained, “There are 14 babies in my section ages 1-2 and they all nap outside during the daytime for 1-2 hours they wear wool and then another layer on top of that and then they are in a sub zero sleeping bag. The fresh air is very healthy for them and they sleep better.”
“They sleep outside as long as it is not colder than minus 10 C colder than that some parents still request outdoors sleeping but our general rule is that unless really cold winds. There is ALWAYS an adult watching listening for breathing constantly checking that everything is ok. and when people do this privately, as everyone does, they put the stroller by a window so that they can check and it has never ever happened that a baby has been kidnapped here for this. In denmark they do the same. One danish woman was arrested in NY city for doing this outside a café.”
I am fine with the sleeping outside in the cold part after a pediatrician had me bundle fhe first of my first of four sons in his stroller on the front porch of our Medford, N.J. home for naps when he was suffering the croup while snow piled high on the ground. I have done so with every sick baby since and healthy ones as well, taking care to bundle them and myself as I sat on the porch with them or sat by the window and watched like a ninja mom.
I can’t imagine any scenario in which I would ever intentionally leave a baby unattended outside.
However, in the New Zealand incident, a parking-lot witness told the Herald:
"It was written from the baby's perspective, and it said, 'my mum's in doing the shopping, call her if I need anything,’ and it had the cellphone number We waited there for a little bit, wondering if the mum was just going to be two seconds and come back. And my wife said, 'I'm not going in without someone being here with the baby.'"
According to Susan Pollack, curriculum and program director for Children’s Harbor of Virginia the dangers are not only physical but spiritual issues on trust in their care giver. “This is a big deal because think of not only a child possibly choking from vomit but also what if someone hits that car in the lot? What about the baby in the news who almost lost a pinkie because a hair got wrapped around it (in what’s known as a hair tourniquet) and there’s nobody there for who knows how long? Then we have the whole trust issue too.”
“I always tell new parents to imagine themselves as a quadriplegic in a chair with no means of getting words out, totally dependent for everything — that’s a baby,” Pollack said. “A baby’s signals must be read and they’re not asking for a new car here,” she added. “They’re asking for someone they can trust to respond to their needs. Leaving a child alone to cry until someone calls the mother’s cell phone? That is raising a child to know the person who counts the most can’t be trusted to answer their needs. They need that relationship.”
My Norwegian friend agrees that the case of the New Zealand baby being unattended makes it an absolute no-no in her country as well.
“That [a baby unattended or out of sight] never ever happens here,” she said. “Parents constantly watch the sleeping babies though not with thoughts of kidnapping, but more safety like crib death or temperature falling or waking.”
So, despite the fact that cultural and climate differences may result in a baby being put outside, while getting some healthful fresh air is not a crime while under a keenly watchful eye, leaving a baby or child unattended in a public place or locked into a vehicle is never, ever right.
I have four sons and I have made scads of mistakes along the way over the past 19 years, and from those mistakes comes a certain amount of confidence in telling new parents and non-parents who are interested the following: We do not leave an infant or child in harm’s way, out of our reach or sight in public. In addition, we do not leave babies at home alone while we go out on errands because of the fear of a baby choking of reflux or crib death by other circumstance.
These are things that we, as parents, must pass on to our children so that when it’s their time to be sleep-deprived, they might make the bad judgment call of going to the store in their slippers, but their child will definitely be in that store with them.