You may recall this case because I wrote about it last year, when the mom lost her appeal. The three appellate judges ruled that they didn't have to list the "parade of horribles" that could have happened to the child. But just because the judges could imagine a kidnapping or a carjacking or a big bad wolf doesn't mean that these dangers were at all likely — or that the mom was wrong for not worrying about them.
I'm happy to say that the New Jersey Supreme Court agrees. It ruled that simply leaving a child in a vehicle for a few minutes is not enough to automatically constitute criminal behavior. Judge Mary Catherine Cuff wrote, "Any allegation of child neglect in which the conduct of the parent or caretaker does not cause actual harm is fact-sensitive and must be resolved on a case-by-case basis."
In other words, instead of treating all parents who opt for a bit of convenience like craven child abusers, we can actually consider reality instead of just outrage. Imagine that! On second thought — don't. Imagination is what got us into the trouble in the first place.
You see, it is very easy to imagine a child dying in a car, because that's what we've been told to do by endless public service announcements and articles about this "danger" to kids.
And though it's true that some kids do die in parked cars, it's also true that more kids die while on foot in parking lots and driveways. And even more kids die in cars that are moving. You know — as passengers. So if we really want to save kids, we might arrest any parent evil enough to drive kids anywhere.
But of course, that's insane. We can keep the small risk of a fatal car crash in perspective and let parents go about their lives.
Until they park the car. Then we lose all perspective and start thinking like the appellate judges who found the mom guilty of abuse despite the fact that child-welfare agents had visited her home and found nothing at all to indicate danger. That's right; she got a clean bill of parenting health upon close inspection yet was still put on New Jersey's child abuse and neglect registry.
To me, the decision to let the kid sleep during a run into the store doesn't represent a hideous lapse in judgment; it was a rational decision by a loving mom — and one that most of our own loving moms made.
But even if you think it was the wrong thing to do, the court ruled unanimously — 7-0! — that any one-off "mistake" should not be the basis for taking our kids away. Not if we forget to do something, not if our kids somehow slip away from us, not if we do something suboptimal for reasons of confusion, convenience, desperation or rank stupidity.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has hereby ruled that parents do not need to be perfect to be perfectly good parents.
Which is a good thing, because I haven't met a perfect parent yet.