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Mom's Essay About Leaving Kids Unattended Confronts Mom-Shaming

Photograph by Twenty20

It would be unrealistic to think that anyone could be everywhere, every second of the day with a child strapped to their hip. Yet, according to an essay published by The New York Times on Friday, women are expected to do just that, and those who don't had better be careful.

"Women are being harassed and even arrested for making perfectly rational parenting decisions," writes Kim Brooks, author of the Times essay "Motherhood in the Age of Fear," which is an excerpt from her book titled "Small Animals—Parenting in the Age of Fear."

The essay centers on six women, herself included, who "paid the cost of parenting" when they chose to act like average human beings instead of moms under constant surveillance.

Brooks begins her story by recounting a phone call from the police, asking if she was aware that there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest.

“No, no,” I told him. “I didn’t know that.”

In reality, the warrant stemmed from an impromptu parenting decision she made a year earlier when her 4-year-old son refused to get out of the car.

"I knew what I was supposed to do," she wrote. "But I was tired. I was late. I didn’t want, at that moment, to deal with a meltdown."

I knew what I was supposed to do, but I was tired. I was late. I didn’t want, at that moment, to deal with a meltdown.

Brooks said she took a deep breath and weighed her options carefully. It wasn't hot outside—in fact, it was cloudy and cool. And there was no law in Virginia (where she was staying at the time) that said she "couldn't" let her son wait in a car.

So, she did what some people consider to be the unthinkable: She cracked the windows, child-locked the doors, set the alarm and told her son she'd be right back. Five minutes later, she found him sitting in his car seat—playing a game and smiling.

Though the charges against her were later dropped (after completing 100 hours of community service), Brooks says she felt like a terrible mother at the time.

"I felt, I think, what just about every woman feels when someone attacks her mothering: ashamed."

The essay went on to discuss five other women, one of whom was charged with two counts of felony child abuse and sentenced to 18 years of supervised probation for leaving two kids in the car while she went on a job interview.

Julie Koehler, another mom that Brooks questioned (who happens to be a public defender) had no problem defending her own actions.

In an interview with "Good Morning America," Koehler recalled the day she was approached by police after leaving her three daughters in a minivan to get a coffee.

"He accused me of abandoning my children, and I just laughed at him," she said. "He had picked on the wrong mother because I actually know my rights."

Another mom interviewed by Brooks said, “I don’t know if I’m afraid for my kids, or if I’m afraid other people will be afraid and will judge me for my lack of fear.”

Brooks’ essay, which has since prompted a heated debate among parents, suggests that no mother is safe from criticism.

"We're contemptuous of 'lazy' poor mothers," Brooks wrote. "We're contemptuous of 'distracted' working mothers. We're contemptuous of 'selfish' rich mothers."

There is a fine line between giving kids independence and putting their lives in danger. While some argue that “free-range parenting” should not be legal, others believe that kids should enjoy every moment of freedom while they still can.

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