Free-Range Kids

Mom Arrested for Leaving Kid Alone for 5 Minutes. Anything Could Have Happened.

"Anytime you have child of that age, alone, and unattended, there is a ton of risks that can happen to them."



The desire to criminalize imperfect moms continues unabated. This week it was a New Hampshire mom, Dina Dambaeva, a native of Russia, who left her 2-year-old in the car while she went to return an item at Target—an errand she expected to take five minutes.

It ended up taking about half an hour, someone must have called the cops, and though the child was completely fine, the mom was arrested because, according to the Hooksett Police:

"Anytime you have child of that age, alone, and unattended, there is a ton of risks that can happen to them," said Hooksett Police Sgt. Matthew Burke.

Which is true. But of course, had she dragged him across the parking lot, there are "risks" too. This flip side of the equation never gets any play, in our rush to imagine the worst of any mom and any situation involving an unattended child.

In fact, we have been trained to imagine the worst, not just by the cops but also by the media, which treats fantasies as potential facts if not alternative facts. Here's how NECN News beefed up the story:

Area shoppers said they could not help but imagine the worst.

"Just someone breaking in and maybe abducting the child," said Michelle Yang.

"I would never leave my child in the car, no, there's no excuse," said Penny Gurley.

Wow, what great reporting. When I was a TV reporter at CNBC long ago, we used to call this type of man-on-the-street thing "AAA" for "Ask Any Asshole."

So the fact that the policeman could imagine something terrible happening (as could two onlookers, quoted only to make the story more juicy), the mother is treated as if she deliberately left her child to be possibly kidnapped.

The mom, who probably thought that by leaving Russia she had escaped a totalitarian system that dictated her every move, tried explaining that where she comes from, it is still normal to let your child wait in the car.

"I thought it was going to take five minutes, I didn't know it was going to take more," she said. "I'm not the worst mother in the world, I just did one tiny mistake, and people judge me for that."

Judge we do. So why not try judging from a place of rationality? Here's a mom who loves her son, did not put him in any kind of likely danger, and comes from a country where this practice is common. So even if this was a mistake, let's not treat it like an act of abuse. What parent hasn't had some less-than-perfect moments?

We cannot keep arresting people for something very rare and unpredictable that could have happened. Otherwise we could start arresting parents for letting their kids walk down the stairs (they could have fallen!) or eat food (they could have choked!).

And yet, Dambaeva will be in court this May, facing a misdemeanor charge of endangering a child.