August 21, 2005

Will Some Euros Please Explain The 'Leave The Baby' Thing?


On the Bugaboo snackholder post, a couple of (American) folks have told of their shock when their European friends (and in one case, their Dutch pediatrician) talked of leaving an infant at home while they ventured out for coffee or dinner.

We're not talking about isolated cases here, but a multinational, multi-cultural norm that Americans are clearly not grasping.

There was even that Swiss couple last year who got arrested for being in the cafe at the Waldorf while their baby was sleeping in the room upstairs.

And there's that British baby monitor from Bebetel that can text message your cell phone when it picks up crying sounds.

Can some European parents explain this approach? [Hint: If you were looking for the chance to express your shock at how paranoid and irrationally overprotective American parents are, now's your chance.]

Update: The image above is from a 1950 Life Magazine ad. Those are our parents being parked outside the A&P.


Only really sick parents leave their kids at home like that. Not normal in Sweden. And apperently illegal in Swizerland.

It's illegal in Britain too so this must be some media hype thing where they find a couple of cases and extrapolate to an epidemic. That said we do use our children to clean out chimneys. Oh no, hang on that was in Victorian times..

Not normal in the Netherlands either. I know some people who walk their dogs when the children are asleep, but more common is that even a visit to the neighbours is too far.

Not normal at all in Spain either. I donĄt know any case here.

[Sweet. Now that we've know it's sick, abnormal, and illegal, I'm sure dozens of people will come forward. -ed.]

That is shocking! Alls I can say is that is irresponsible at best. I can't believe this.

Not normal in Mypos.

[I see we're making great progress on this important issue. -ed.]

There was a case in NYC a few years back where a Swedish couple was arrested for sitting at an East Village cafe while they left their toddler in her stroller out on the sidewalk.

Not sure if that was all chalked up to cultural differences or plain old stupidity.

[Danish, and it was a national scandal in Denmark, because it was seen as absolutely no big deal. Oh, and the cafe was Dallas BBQ.

Just so you don't think it's all crazy Europeans, the Gothamist comments have a link to this 1950's Life magazine ad where presumably God-fearing, Communism-fighting American Mothers park their kids outside the A&P. -ed.]

^ I believe that was a Danish couple... I'm from Denmark, and it turned into quite a hype with the mum being held in detention and all while the Danes shook their heads in disbelief. It's quite common here to let your child sleep out in the fresh air if you're in a coffee shop or somethin where you can watch the action from...


A woman in my home town, Darlington in the UK, left her children with a fifteen year old in charge while she went to Turkey on holiday. Here's the BBC story.

[huh? the bbc story has a lot of holes in it. Did she leave the kids in Turkey? In her 1br apt, or was the 15-yo sitter living alone in a 1br? Because why'd the landlady kick them out for being overcrowded? IDGI. -ed.]

Greg - there is a big difference between leaving the baby alone and leaving the baby in the care of a 5 year old or a dog (best to use a 5 year old dog to cover all bases)...

I'm cracking up at the Life magazine ad for A&P... wish my grandparents were alive for me to ask them about how they did it when they had their babies. In all fairness to that generation, how much did they know about SIDS back then, and how many child abductions took place???

[I dunno, it makes kidnapping look so easy, anyone could do it. sheesh. But I don't hear about epidemics of SIDS or babynapping in Europe, either. -ed.]

My mother hates this subject. In the late 60s/early 70s, she definitely left me alone as a baby to go do the laundry elsewhere in the apartment complex. If I even bring up the subject, or mention that parents I know argue about whether it's okay to leave your child alone at home while you go down to the basement laundry, it's a fight. She says, "What's the difference between leaving a baby in the apartment to do laundry and someone in a suburban house who leaves the baby upstairs and goes down to the basement?" When I point out that the first apartment they lived in didn't have a laundry room and ask what she did with me when she went around the corner to the laundromat, she says, "I don't remember."

And for god's sake, DON'T bring up the subject of car seats. My parents constantly complain about our child's big, huge, bulky, annoying car seat. It's because the media (and who knows, maybe me, although I don't mean to) gives them retroactive guilt for not putting us in them, even though they basically didn't exist back then. Hell, the car I came from the hospital in didn't have seat belts.

I remember the Danish couple story and at the time agreed with those who said that it was probably a great deal more traumatic for the child to be separated from the parents and placed in protective custody (in a strange country!) than for the parents to be told "We don't do that here" and sent on their way. But context matters. If I remember correctly, it was not too long after the Aliza Izquierdo scandal (now there's a name from the past), where a mother had starved her own child to death, and the pendulum was swinging away from "Keep the family together at all costs" and towards "Get those kids away from their horrible parents, even foster care is better."

What's the BFD?

I saw strollers parked outside of all sorts of shops and cafes (small shops that is, not IKEA) in many little towns in Europe (even in quiet areas of Copenhagen and Zurich). Yeah, at first I thought it was odd. But, I thought the Love Parade was odd at first too.

I also didn't read about SIDS either. Maybe they let their kids sleep on their backs, and don't fill the carrycot up with Baby Einstein crap, no?

Would I do it here in The States? No way. Too many sickos. And, yes, I probably would get arrested. (Besides, someone might leave the kid and take off with our Cameleon!)

Do I think it's wrong? Sure, for us here, you bet. But, if it works for some other folks in a distant land, who cares?

I have bigger issues with euros who smoke in public places, and those chunky, cell phone talking, fast-food eating Yanks in their silly SUVs.

Besides, the creepy issue in Denmark isn't the unattended strollers, it's the proliferation of kiddie porn, much of which is sheltered by public officials. Yeah, even the cool bike lanes with dedicated traffic signals won't make up for that one.


[now we're gettin' somewhere. Love Parade was weird. But I thought the gov't-entangled kiddie porn was in Belgium... -ed.]

My mother's friend told me it was common practice in her New York City neighborhood to leave sleeping babies in carriages outside of coffee shops while the mothers gathered inside. They would take turns checking on the babies every now and then. This was probably about 40 years ago. . . and not any old neighborhood, either--the Upper East Side.

A couple years ago when I was still working, we had a company dinner party. One guy was fairly recently arrived from India. We got on the subject of babysitters and he said they had left their 4 year old home alone. We gave him some grief - "we don't do that here" and he left pretty soon after that.

Left the party, not the company that is - very nice guy!

When we lived in England, almost twenty years ago now, it was not at all uncommon for mothers to leave their babies outside of shops in their pushchairs. It was a small market town in East Anglia, not a metropolis by any stretch of the imagination, if that makes the slightest bit of difference.

In Norway, my cousins often leave the pram at the door, to shop, whatever. Especially if the baby is sleeping. If the baby is awake, its more common to take him with you. But this is Small town Norway, not Oslo. But I have seen Pram's at the door in Trondheim. In Toronto, I leashed my toddlers while pushing the pram and I would have put micro-chips in their skin with tracking devices if it was legal and humanely done!!

There's a park near our house where Lucas and I go. Across the street is a duplex with a huge balcony. The mom who lives there routinely leaves her daughter to nap on the balcony in her pram while playing with the other kid in the park.

I dunno, but it seems pretty normal to me in a small town... but I'm with Uma when it comes to a bigger city.

Yes, it was The Netherlands - home of the Bugaboo no less. LOL!

They tried to do a mini Love Parade out here in SF last summer. It was pretty weak.

I always thought The Love Parade made the Gay Pride parades in SF & NYC look like they were run by The Rotary Club. Way more "breeder" friendly, too, but I guess that's not the point of the Pride gigs (even though it should be).

Oh, to be young again, when the dollar was strong.

I remember an episode of Oprah where they were talking about how women live in different coutries. Apparently in Iceland leaving the stroller out front of the shop is fairly normal...

What about going out in the yard? Does it depend on how big your yard is? I routinely go outside and do yard work while the kids are asleep and just periodically check on them. I am easily outside for the same amount of time that it would take for me to make a quick run to the store ...

So is it distance or time that is the important facor here?

When I was very small my parents would leave me in the care of my sister, a whopping 14 months my senior. We'd be 3 and 4 and routinely left after bedtime while they popped across the street to the neighbour's house. If we woke up and wanted them to come home, we'd turn the light on in the living room and they'd be back in seconds.

And car seats ARE absurd. These ridiculous barcaloungers in the back seat of your car. Who are they kiddng with that stuff? Are they safer than car seats of 15 years ago? Or just dramatically more expensive?

I have on more than on occasion left my 2 year old and 8 month old asleep while I went to the corner store for milk - 4 whole houses away, and gone for almost 3 entire minutes. I figure even if they were both choking to death when I left, I could be back in time to resuscitate them before permanent brain damage kicked in.

My Dutch mother in law was telling me a story the other day about how she used to have to realy hurry when she was picking my partner up from school becasue she was worried that his younger sister would wake up from her nap before she got back! So apparently 30 years ago it was normal. But I don't think people would dream of doing it these days in Holland.

Living in the US, I believe that leaving you infant and toddler home alone is absolutely wrong. I can sympathize to single parents trying to do what it takes 2 parents to do, but as many of us know, anything can happen!

My wife is a Pediactric Nurse Practitioner and worked in the ICU of a large children's hospital and far too often she saw kids that were just "left for a second" alone. Children horribly burned in the tub, shot, drowned in the pool etc...while mom or dad just ran inside for a second (or a variation of that). When our son was a month old I left him in the car seat asleep rather than take him into the store to pay for some gas. I got home, she saw the soda and I casually mentioned that I left him in the locked car for two minutes while I went inside. Needless to say she flipped out. I know we may seem like "wus nation" with these things but an once of prevention can go a long way.

One more thing, My mom told me not too lomg ago when I wouldn't stop crying and my two year old sister was driving her crazy she would bundle me up, and leave me on the porch in the carriage, in March, in MA! I would calm down, sleep, and her sanity was saved.

[huh? the bbc story has a lot of holes in it. Did she leave the kids in Turkey? In her 1br apt, or was the 15-yo sitter living alone in a 1br? Because why'd the landlady kick them out for being overcrowded? IDGI. -ed.]

She was in Turkey, they were in the UK. It was her house. I'd no idea they were kicked out until I read that particular story.

my parents left me at night to run across the street to visit with their swiss pediatrician friends encouraged by the friends, but my parent's choice). they came home one night to find me standing at the front window looking for them. i guess that was the end of that.

While I think it's totally irresponsible for a parent to leave a young child unattended I have to say that we're really barking up the wrong tree here. Obviously we yanks find it appalling and scary to contemplate a child left alone.

Why is this obvious? Because we are flippin' terrified to let our kids do much of anything without massive amounts of supervision and excessive precautions. This weekend my 10 year old step-son asked if he could ride his bike. His mother and I said "sure, just be careful." Normal admonishment from parents to a child about to ride a bike. His grandmother was apopleptic until he returned. She spent at least fifteen minutes trying to scare the crap out of us that our son was about to be eaten by dragons or something.

It was pretty clear that in her view this 10 year old boy should be shuttered in the house and/or chained to a parent or grandparent (actually I think she'd prefer he be chained to her since we're apparently insufficiently cautious) at all times. He should have no freedom, and certainly no unsupervised time to himself at all.

The kid picks up on this vibe and the result is that he becomes unnecessarily frightened of the world he lives in, which is pretty contrary to his nature. Granted there are kooks and lunatics out there who would be more than happy to prey on our kids, but should fearfulness and maximum caution really rule our lives? Is that a life that's even worth living?

What bothers me the most is the idea that the world is somehow more dangerous than it was when we were growing up (for most of us here, I assume, the 1970s). That it was okay for us to wander our neighborhoods - hell, I was out alone at the age of 5! - but it's too late for our kids, because kidnappings by strangers are on the rise.

See, I simply don't believe that. I have never seen any statistics that support the concept that there are more dangers to young kids than there were then, particularly from strangers. I think that stories about kidnapped children (big, horrible, spectacular ones) are news fodder, and the media play them up because they sell ads. From what I have read, any child is in the most danger from his or her own immediate family, and once you eliminate that, the chances that they will be snatched or hurt by a stranger are very small.

Much smaller than drowning in the bathtub. Much smaller than being hurt in a household accident. Or in a car crash, the highest probability of all. However, these are all things that we can presumably control against, or as much as possible (hence the big, ugly car seats), and you cannot control against a total stranger violating statistics to grab your kid.

My husband is a doctor and talks about how sometime over the last few decades, Americans have come to believe in the possibility of perfect outcomes - one of the reasons that the malpractice suit rate is higher than it was then. Maybe it's the baby boomers' fault, but somehow in the US, we have convinced ourselves that through work and spending money, we can create an absolutely safe environment for ourselves and our families. And anything that happens to violate that barrier means we weren't doing our jobs right, or someone else failed.

For me, this all leads back into my decision to raise my family in the city. The whole point of moving to the suburbs, for me, is to give your children that sense of expansive freedom to explore that we had as kids. My parents still live next door to my old elementary school, and no one seems to let their kids, no matter what age, walk home alone the way we did. There's a parent or caregiver picking up every child. Another relative, who lives not 20 minutes away, talks about not wanting to let her kids play in their own front yard (in a cul-de-sac!) because someone unsavory might drive by and take them. Who needs it? As long as I would have to walk or drive my kid everywhere anyway, I'd rather be here.

The whole thing makes me so sad, though.

I remember seeing the original French film "3 hommes et un couffin" in college. In America, it was remade as "Three Men and a Baby." The French version has a scene of the mother taking the baby to dance class and parking the stroller under a stairwell. Even at 18, I think that seemed very, very wrong to me. Needless to say, the American version has no such scene.

[no, it had Ted Danson AND Steven Guttenberg. I think the French are still ahead on this score, Tony. -ed.]

My Granny tells a story about regularly leaving my mum in her crib around 1 and 2 years old with an admonishment to be a good girl while she nipped down the road to the grocer for milk, etc. My mother would get an apple or a banana afterward as treat and Granny claims that mum was always standing up patiently waiting in the exact same spot.

Sarah, I mostly agree with you. What I think is different these days is cars. There are billions more cars driving around now than there were when we were children. And drivers today tend to be far less cautious and courteous. I'd be terrified that my child would wander onto the road or attempt to cross a street and have someone appear out of nowhere, speeding on a residential street, not paying attention for playing children.

When I was a kid we all used to leave the house at 8am and not return until lunch or later. I once, without telling my parents, left on a monumental bike ride that took across my rather large city (300 000 citizens at that time) and back. The ride took almost 8 hours and certainly wouldn't be something I'd do today. The point though is that my parents woke up, saw I was gone, assumed I was playing and hardly blinked when I returned late in the afternoon with tales of my travels.

It's not that my parents were lazy parents, but in the summer, noone saw their kids during the day.

Now? I'd call the police if that were my child.

I'm with Sarah on this. This belief that the boogyman is coming is just bunk, both in kidnappings and assaults as they relate to children and women (I mention this because they are part and parcel of the same Hollywood/news freak out). Most people who get hurt by someone (as opposed to by something IE: accidents) probably know that someone.

We just moved. Our place has a tiny front yard (7' X 14', I just measured, anyone know about zen gardens?) and a backyard that is currently weeds, gravel and no fence. There is a bus route and a 3 lane (4 but one is used for parking depending on the time of day) outside our window. Our parents (and their friends) freaked at the fact that we moved here, freaked at the lack of pool space, freak that I can identify the local dealers, in essence freaked that we didn't move to the suburbs...

Moving to the suburbs would require that we drove (which would make it so we could get in car wrecks), would put is in close contact with unsecured pools and would not get rid of the bath tub, stair cases, dogs, traffic and other kids (nor protect us from the boogyman, he seems to be able to find the suburbs just fine thanks).

I know this is tangental from the discussion of leaving kids, which I guess I'm fine with in certain contexts (outside a cafe in a smaller town etc) but I think the whole debate speaks to a larger issue of fear.

This reminded me of the early 60s Bill Cosby stand-up routine from Wonderfulness (this is back when Bill was actually funny), when he describes how his parents left him at home alone and he listened to a scary radio program.

"What, leave my kids with some stranger? I'd just as soon leave him by himself." Which is exactly what they did.

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