After I get my son unbuckled from his car seat and drop him off at preschool, sometimes I sit in the parking lot and get myself organized before running my sprint of kid-free errands to exotic locations like Aldi and Home Goods. I don’t spend long, just a few minutes to reply to a text or two, reread my shopping list and bask in the glorious silence of my empty van. I people watch as I sit, watching the mix of grandparents and parents I see unloading their cars and (trying to) hustle into the preschool/daycare facility.
And then one day, I saw something that made me pull down my Judge Judy glasses – you know that look I’m talking about.
A ragged looking car pulled in right next to me, and after parking, the driver came and pulled her toddler out of the front seat to walk in. In this day and age, car seat safety information is EVERYWHERE! Rear-facing until 2, 5-point harness until high school, and for goodness sakes, you have to be out of college to ride in the front seat! I kid, I kid, but seriously, with all of the crash tests and research out there, there are some clear guidelines on the safest way for a child to ride at all ages of development.
There are whole nonprofit organizations dedicated to it (Car Seats For the Littles is my go-to if you ever have questions about anything car seat related, including side-by-side car seat comparisons), and I can say with confidence without even looking it up, none of these recommendations include riding without a car seat in the front seat below the age of 3.
What was wrong with this mom? She must not love her baby like I love my baby. Wait. No, that can’t be right. I see how she holds his hand and smiles at him, and how he smiles back at her. She must love that baby with every fiber of her being, just like I do. So she just doesn’t care then? No, she clearly had him seat belted into the front seat, doing her best to keep him safe even though he wasn’t in a car seat. Well then, why on earth would a mom NOT have her very young child belted into a car seat? I pondered this all as I sat, and I was still parked when she returned to her car, smiled at the loon still sitting next to her (that’s me), and drove off to work in her uniform.
The cheapest car seat I could find online was around $50. Not bad, I thought at first, but for someone barely making ends meet, who is struggling just to have enough gas money to get to work and daycare, who considers themselves fortunate to have a car at all, $50 is a chunk of change. Online yard sale pages typically don’t allow car seats to be resold, simply from the safety standpoint that you never know if something has been in an accident and is unsafe even though it looks fine, so it’s hard and maybe even unsafe to buy a car seat second hand. There are some organizations that provide car seats for mothers in need, but there are a series of parenting classes that must be completed ahead of time, and for someone working a minimum wage, hourly job, taking that time away from work is costly. Besides, every sign I could see told me that this was a good mom who didn’t need parenting classes, she just needed a car seat!
After reaching out to some of my best local resources (I’m looking at you, DMB writing team!), I was given information on several nonprofits in the Dayton area that focus on childhood safety (including car seat safety and helping those in need acquire them asap), such as Safe Kids. So instead of sitting with unhelpful and unkind judgment, I decided to reach out discreetly through the preschool to put this mom in touch with someone who could help. It’s ultimately up to her whether she accepts it or not, but I hope she will.
After all, if parenting is hard, parenting under the pressure of poverty must be unbearable sometimes. Offering help to those who need it can only serve to better us all.