Most parents would identify with that moment of terror when they realize their child has wandered off somewhere in public. After a few minutes of searching – sometimes with the help of a PA system – crisis is normally averted. Keeping an eye on the brood can be a losing battle for parents, especially when there’s more than one unruly child to look after.
Accidentally forgetting a child, however, is a situation parents may be less willing to admit to. Anyone without kids or the ultra-organized might hard it find to accept someone could accidentally leave a child behind while out and about. Forgetting keys, a phone, wallet or even a grandparent are acceptable – but never children.
In the hectic rush to leave somewhere – grabbing bags, bottles, toys, coats and coordinating bathroom breaks – many parents admit to leaving with one less in their party than they intended. In fact, after your wallet, keys and cellphone, a child rates as the most common important person or belonging that Americans have left behind at some point:
The majority of YouGov panelists thought that it is understandable that parents might accidently forget a child, depending on the situation. But 15% of the nationally-representative respondents said that it is never acceptable but negligence on the part of the parents.
YouGov also asked some time-pushed parents on its panel to share their experience of accidentally leaving a child behind. For some, a split-second moment of distraction proved enough time for a child to wander off in a store, and in crowded places children have ended up following the wrong pair of legs.
Thinking a child is with the other half is a common reason for leaving a son or daughter behind, or (wrongly) assuming your spouse or a grandparent is there to pick a child up from nursery. One mom who drove off without realizing her 27-year-old daughter was not in her car proves there is no age limit when it comes to getting left behind!
Here are some experiences from parents who have left children behind – and the views of keen-eyed parents who have not:
“I forgot to drop her off at daycare, drove all the way to work, started to walk into work and I just happened to look back at the car and saw her sitting in her car seat smiling at me! I was very preoccupied that day and I can assure you, it has never happened since.” Anon., US
“At the time I had 5 small children in tow at the grocery store – one a very rambunctious 6-year-old. I checked out of the grocery store and thought I had all 5 children with me, but when I got home the grocery store manager called and asked me if I had forgotten something.” Ann, Venice, FL
“I've never forgotten a child completely, but I've temporarily lost younger relatives. They wandered off when I wasn't looking, but I noticed and tracked them down quickly. My parents, on the other hand, used to forget me ALL the time.” Anon., US
“Little children LOVE to hide in clothing racks at the mall, and it's a very easy thing for them to accomplish no matter how closely you have them in tow – it only takes a split second of a mother's attention being diverted.” Becky, Nottingham, PA
“While getting a drink at a crowded stand my 2-year-old disappeared among the people. It occurred in a sports stadium so he was found after a public announcement.” Anon., US
“I had too many kids to look after at once when out. The kid didn't even notice he had been left until we came back for him.” Nicole, Lansing, MI
“I took one daughter to the doctor and thought my husband had the youngest child; he thought I had her. She was left home alone at 5. With 5 kids, stuff happens.” Peggy, Cape Cod, MA
“My son was in the nursery at church. I thought my mom had picked him up, and I went home. The nursery called to see when someone was going to come get him.” Dena H., KS
“It was my daughter (27 years old) and my grandson – she put him in the car and closed the door so I thought she was in the car. I pulled out, drove miles, and was talking to the kids. I asked her a question than I realized she was not in the car.” Anon., US
“My small child followed the wrong pair of legs in a crowd.” S.E.H., Woodland, WA
“We had 7 children at an insectarium. We left the building, my husband stopped to take a phone call and that's when I did a head count and realized our grandson was still inside.” Anon.,US
“We were at a 4th of July celebration at the park. I was talking with my family. When I looked around to see what my son was doing, I couldn't see him. He was only about 1½ years old. I became frantic and began to scream his name. I found him several feet away.” Anon., US
“We were going to a restaurant and taking 2 cars. We loaded everyone up got to the table and I counted heads and realized that we left one child at home. My husband raced home and the 5-year-old said that he had gone into the bathroom and when he came out everyone had gone.” Anon., US
“We were traveling with friends in two cars. When it was time to leave we didn't count kids in each car. My youngest son was sitting in the toilet when we left. We went several miles until we missed him.” Anon., US
“When my son was 6, we drove away thinking he was in the car, but he wasn't. Fortunately we were only 3 minutes away. When we got back, he was playing in his room and didn't know we had left.” Linda B., OH
“It depends on the situation… fine if it’s an honest accident, but if someone leaves a child in a bar or it endangers the child because of alcohol or drugs then that's a different story.” Joel, IL
“Frightful but understandable” Anon., US
“I can see how it can happen but I think if you are a parent it's your responsibility to be much more vigilant than you would be just for a personal item like luggage...” Anon., US
“I feel the media blows some things way out of proportion. It has happened to the best.” Anon., US
“A child is a difficult responsibility, for a prime minister, who probably has a "nanny" take care of his children and might not remember a rare occasion when a child is with him, that might be understandable” Howard, North Vernon, IN
“If it is by accident I feel for the parents. If it is by design then I feel for the children.” Eydie, Seabrook, NH
“If they leave them in the car to go shopping and think it's okay – no excuses. But if it's due to confusion or thinking someone else had him/her, it's understandable. But, no excuses for day care and school bus drivers because they are supposed to count.” Peggy, Cape Cod, MA
“I assess them on an individual basis. Most of the incidents that make the news are absolutely appalling – like the young mother who was smoking pot and then left her new born in his car seat on the roof of her car as she took off. Pitiful!” Sherry, AL
“I think it is ridiculous and crazy! I really do not understand how you forget about your child.” Hudson, MI
“A child is the adults' responsibility. The adult (parent/guardian) is just that... the child's guardian.” Mary, Tulsa, OK
“It's easier to forget to pick a child up than actually lose them or leave them behind. Sometimes scheduling between parents can get mixed up. But if you actually have the child with you, I don't see how you can forget them!” Karen, Parkville, MD
“A parent should know where their child is at ALL times when out in public.” Michael, Apple Valley, CA
“I think the parents should be horsewhipped. No parent should be that distracted that they leave their kids behind. They need to own up to the fact they really didn't want kids. If they really wanted them they wouldn't have forgotten them.” Debbie, Enid, OK
“How 'distracted' can you be to leave your child behind? I find it disturbing.” Gina, Charlotte, NC
“How does that happen, short of being impaired by some sort of substance? Like many, I have been in some really stressful times, but if my children were with me they were always first in thought. How do you forget you have them with you?” Anon., US
“How often do you leave your wallet behind? Are not your kids more important?” Anon., US
“I believe parents should get their priorities straight and concentrate on these little guys so nothing happens to them.” Cindy F., WA
“I really can't grasp the fact... I mean, how can one leave their child? When you’re out, shopping, paying bills, or whatever the case may be, your child is your top priority.” M., Monroe, LA
“I can't believe it. When you have children they are your main focus in life. If you can't or won't take care of them and nurture them, then don’t have them.” Les, Omaha, NE