I’ve been thinking a lot today about that incident down in Oita, where a mother left her sleeping two-year-old in the car while she popped into the grocery store for a total of 3 minutes, and returned to find her child was gone.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the ugly, hateful, and extremely judgemental comments from readers on English news sites like this one:
Because, honestly, there but by the grace of god go I, and a whole bunch of the rest of us.
Before you get all catty on me, I have never left my children in the car for two reasons. 1) I have a very vivid and terrifying memory of waking up in the car, alone, when I was 4 or 5, and 2) I don’t have a car.
When #1 happened about 30 years ago, it was totally normal to leave sleeping kids in the car, wasn’t it? I wasn’t even buckled into a car seat. There is a section in Children, the Challenge(great title, right?) about dealing with children who won’t behave when they are left in the car alone. This book was published back in the 60s and is one of the first “modern” parenting guides.
We also cannot forget that Japan today is a lot like America in Leave it to Beaver,except that Ward is never home while the children are awake, the in-laws are constantly interfering, the PTA and neighborhood society create busy work and frustration, and June is never allowed a night out or a break EVER.
I really feel this gaman(suck it up and get on with it) and meiwaku wo kakenai(avoiding causing inconvenience to others) culture are a big part of why Japanese mothers leave the kids at home or in the car with the shocking frequency that they do.
Unless you are one of the lucky few to live with your own mother, i.e. Sazae-san, or happen to be married to an anomoly of a Japanese man, once you become a mother in Japan you will Never, Ever, Get a Break. Really, the only time I’ve been released from household duties in the past six years is when I was giving birth to Baby #2, and I am not joking when I say it was a nice break, apart from the pushing another human out of my nether-regions bit. Japanese moms are expected to just gaman until their kids are of school age. This leads to crazy stress levels, and one gets to the point where any break is welcome, be it in the form of a cup of coffee while junior is watching TV, or heaven forbid, a quick pop into the shops while Little Miss sleeps in the car.
Combine this gaman attitude with the absolute horror of inconveniencing someone by making them listen to a grumpy child awakened from her nap too early, and it’s easy to imagine why this mother made the decision she did. Compound this with the way the mother herself was probably raised to think “This is ‘safety Japan,’ nothing bad could happen here!” It probably never occured to her, or to many J-mothers out there, that such a thing was even possible, the same way it never occured to my own mother 30 years ago before a rash of crimes against children changed our way of thinking.
I also suspect, looking at the time of day and knowing she had an elementary school aged child as well, that she was in a hurry to get home before her older child was released from school.
My point is not that it is okay to leave kids in the car, or anywhere else for that matter, but that before you get all preachy about what someone else has done you need to take a step back and imagine what it feels like to be in those shoes.
I earnestly hope and pray that the little girl is returned home safely, and that her mother is able to someday forgive herself for her lapse in judgement. I think many mothers in Japan today will think again before they leave their children alone, and that is a good thing.