little-boy-looking-out-windowWe all set limits for our kids, especially in regards to their health and safety. We make decisions about how much television they’re allowed to watch, how much sugar they can eat, what sort of environment we’d like them to grow up in, and when and where they’re allowed a little bit of independence. It’s our job as parents to protect our kids and most of us take that pretty seriously, but what happens when other parents call the cops over perfectly harmless things because, in their opinion, you’re not taking your job seriously enough?

That’s the subject of a recent article in Salon about moms who left their children unattended in the car for a few minutes and ended up in handcuffs. The exact circumstances of each situation and the ages of the kids differ, but what happened to each of these moms is exactly the same. They made a decision about what to do with their kids, ran into the store for 10 minutes or less, and ended up confronted by police thanks to what the author calls the ‘moral vigilantism’ of total strangers.

One mom, Monique, left her eight-year-old and four-year-old alone together so she could run into the store to grab a baked chicken. While she was waiting in line, she heard her name being called over the intercom and walked out to find her car surrounded by police officers.

Monique heard her name being paged, asking her to return to her car. When she got there she found three police officers surrounding it, asking if she was the mother of the children in the vehicle, shouting at her, “Do you know how dangerous this is?” The two male officers went about the lengthy business of finding an appropriate charge, while the female officer continued to berate Monique, who stood, stunned, next to the car, while her daughters cried.

It seems crazy, but this is a thing that happens now. The article features three other women, including the author herself, who left their kids in the car for minutes at a time, only to find out they were in trouble with the law. One mother of a three-year-old left her child in the car on a cool day with the windows cracked while she went inside to get a fireplace screen to keep the toddler away from their fireplace. She ended up being charged with felony child endangerment and classified as a violent family offender. She had to miss her daughter’s first day of preschool for a court date and was given a year of probation with supervision.