Yes, I said to prepare parents for death in vehicles, not to prevent them. It's the same as how people point out the difference in worldview between a race for a cure and a focus on prevention. Medical organisations, the media and parenting groups all have their recommendations for you. They tell you to leave your purse or cellphone by your child’s carseat. They advise setting a child’s item in the front seat. They say to make it a habit to look in your mirror before getting out of the car. Those are all coping mechanisms that might catch a tragedy at that very moment. Yet, it doesn't provide any deeper transformation for the health and wellbeing of the families.
See, I've been there. I'm not here saying I'm better than you or that you're wrong and a failure. I'm here as someone who has been so busy, I might have earned an award for it. I've been so busy that I've missed my own health cues. I've been so busy that I missed the point of life. I've been a reactive person, dragged around by bosses. I've been a pile of stress and anxiety, stumbling along a pre-ordained path, feeling helpless and trapped. It's not worth it and I have no trouble whatsoever telling that to you, no matter how angry people get hearing it. You have so much to lose that you might not even be able to understand in your current state.
At my busiest, I was working 60 hours, managing about 30 people at my main job. I'd get home and start my next job: running two home businesses I had started. I was also tutoring several homeschool students. I had a part time job at my university in the writing department, correcting papers and teaching students how to write for 10-15hrs a week. Then I was taking 18 credits at my university and taking two night classes at the local community college (6 more credits). It was a serious venture, too. Taking 24 credits of math and science and staying on the dean's list isn't the same as drinking through college.
On my two days off from my primary job, I stacked all my classes and then did all my assignments after classes, then went straight into managing my home businesses, then went onto the community college to do my evening classes, then got home to do the assignments ahead of time for those classes, too. I also volunteered in community service/activism projects. I slowed down when I started labor, by going on maternity leave from my primary job. I also paused my home business calls and transactions for 24hrs after birth. The day after I gave birth, I got onto the computer to answer emails and write invoices. I skyped with some of my students to ensure they got their papers done on time. I finished my finals with a newborn. And I went on to take more full time and over time classes and manage my home businesses until my third child. I then turned to full time blogging and online activism.
So, I know. Oh, trust me I get it. You think you can spin plates until your head falls off, and you might be capable of that for all I know. I certainly think I was capable. You have someone else to think about now, though.
I’m going to tell you something else, different from what you're hearing in all the hot car awareness articles. It’s not the easy answer. I’m sure people will get pissed at me for saying it. But, it needs to be said. If you are concerned that you will unintentionally leave another living creature, your very own flesh and blood, inside a hot vehicle until death, then I have some recommendations for you. This is a fairly "rare" occurrence, depending on the subjective use of rare. Obviously, deaths from other ways are more common such as from improper carseat usage or drowning. So, when I talk about your concern, that's what I mean...your inner fear that this could happen to you.
Fear is something that's been confused and manipulated in our culture. Some people learn to quell it and ignore it. Others let it take over, but in a controlling and overwhelming way. Regardless of our misconceptions about fear, it can be an important, useful tool in our lives. If this is a big fear for you, based perhaps on your schedule or lifestyle, I encourage you not just to focus on the little ideas such as placing your phone in the backseat, but to look at your overall life for other changes, too.
That starts with a generic one. Commit to changing your life. Make that commitment now in your heart and spirit. Acknowledge how your life is now and tell yourself you want to change it. Give yourself permission to change. Talk to others about your desire to change. Make changing more important than staying the same and it WILL begin to happen in small increments. I put this here first because the knee jerk reaction in a busy/distracted lifestyle is to get very angry so as to quell the fear and then lash out at others to hide from your inner needs. So get ready to change.
Change has to be small. It has to be dedicated and courageous, but always in small steps. Working with mothers in my town who were finally burned out or even physically and mentally harmed from their endless responsibilities, lack of support and physical neglect has shown me that the only way to combat our modern hurried-meltdown is to take very slow steps towards self-care.
The way to begin changing in this area is to find ways to become more mindful. Mindfulness in one area of your life will spread to all areas. For example, take time to meditate every morning. YES. EVERY morning. If that sounds impossible, set your timer for one minute. Then two minutes. And so on and so forth until you have carved out a reasonable period of time where you slow down, let go of distractions, fear, stress, anger, and begin to feel mindful about your life.
As a bonus, if you can wake up a few minutes earlier and spend time doing breathing exercises, yoga, pilates, prayer-whatever suits your personal beliefs-you give your body more time to wake up without reaching for stimulants or starting the day feeling groggy.
Meditation has clear research showing numerous health benefits such as regulating the immune system and blood pressure. This isn't about being hippie or ooohing and ahhing in your natural spiritual plane. It's about spending time focusing only on you, slowing down to take stock of your body, your current state of being. Read more about it here.
This is also why the next step is to stop checking your emails, reaching for your phone, or getting online when you first wake up. You are the most important part of the beginning of the day. Make it a new habit to meditate first, over the beck and call of others through electronics. This has the added bonus of removing any reliance or habit forming behavior around your electronics in the morning. Experts agree, don't start the day with emails.
Also at this time, if you feel your adrenals are struggling from stress, diet, and sleep deprivation, drinking a glass of water with himalayan salt can be helpful. More on adrenals and salt here.
Connect with your child daily. One of the fastest ways to physically attune to your child is to remove your shoes and your child’s shoes and walk hand in hand in a place of nature. Find a garden, a flower bed, the woods out back, alongside a creek…anywhere quiet and devoid of concrete. Don’t bring your phone. Don’t try to structure it or plan entertainment or things to say. Just walk quietly with your child, barefoot, in the grass and soil and breathe deeply for 15 minutes. Again, if 15 minutes scares you, start at one minute and build up to it.
Earthing or "grounding" as it's called, is thought to help the electrical impulses in your body, reducing stress and calming the sympathetic nervous system. People who practice "earthing" report feeling happier, calmer and more relaxed. Spending this prime time of happiness with your child is a connecting bonus that saves time and rejuvenates you both before beginning your day in the morning or after a stressful day in the evening. Read more, including studies, here.
Begin removing interfering substances that seem to be crutches or aids. Wean yourself off coffee, nicotine, alcohol, dosing amounts of sugar, and dosing amounts of chocolate. Start to really listen to your body to find out why you reached for those substances. What are you ignoring? What does your body actually need? Stop telling yourself your body isn’t worthy of what it needs and start believing in change. If you've used these substances for a long time or have very inflamed symptoms, reach out to a care provider who can guide you on ways to slowly heal your brain chemistry. Be sure to run a full panel on your thyroid, not just the TSH. Read up on adrenal fatigue and thyroid diseases that can encourage you to self-medicate.
Learning about how your brain works and with what nutrients can be very empowering. You are not at the mercy of your mood swings and fatigue if you can give your body and mind what it needs. The changes to balance neurochemistry are NOT expensive, certainly not any more than caffeine, cigs, wine and chocolate. And, these changes bring health to all of your body while managing your symptoms of anger, depression, anxiety, foggy brain, low libido, etc etc. Consider reading The Mood Cure for a simple and down to earth guide on this topic.
Besides posing some health concerns, many of the self-medicating substances people use to get through the day cause a downward spiral. For example, people often say a glass of wine relaxes them at night. But, studies show that alcohol splinters sleep cycles and can even cause nightmares and REM rebound. The study I linked also points out that alcohol intake is connected to somnolence, which is daytime drowsiness, a hazard while driving. Read more about how alcohol changes sleep here.
Replacing alcohol intake with hot, epsom salt baths can relax you while also detoxing and rejuvenating your body, preparing you for sleep without withdrawal side effects. A bath can give you more time to slow down from the day, too. Epsom salts are also way cheaper than alcohol. And treating yourself to a soak feels great after a long day. You can even add other things such as Lavender essential oil, which studies have shown relieves anxiety and depression. This study, for example, shows that Lavender oil performed well for anxiety disorder without side effects, drug dependence or sleep disruption.
Speaking of essential oils, many of them might help various symptoms. For example, peppermint can wake you up, help your mind to focus and alleviate feelings of depression. Vetiver is thought to help imsomnia and restlessness at night. The citrus oils such as grapefruit, lemon and orange all help with stress and anxiety. Going cold turkey or switching from a self-medicating substance to nothing is a sure way to spiral and cause more chaos. Spend some time researching your various symptoms and other aids, such as essential oils and microminerals, that might replace the current habits without side effects or dependence.As a bonus, you won't be promoting unhealthy behavior around your child or putting your child at risk of things such as secondhand smoke.
One of the most common recommendations is to set your phone or purse next to your child's carseat in the car so you don't forget your child. This is because for many people, phones have become a permanent and important part of their lives, so keeping them in the routine will help you to notice your child. You might become distracted and forget your child, but you would soon notice the absence of your phone and go back to retrieve it.
I have another thought on this, and it's one that can spark defensiveness. If you believe setting your phone next to your child will stop you from leaving your child to die in your vehicle, reduce or remove your phone from your life. (And anyways, why not just leave yourself a reminder on your phone? When you go to retrieve it from the glovebox, it can chime an alert. Duh. You can even schedule alerts ahead of time and make them recurring. This whole idea of leaving your phone by your child is outdated.)
Try leaving it at home for one day. People can leave messages, they will survive, and they won’t be trapped in a hot car. Sound scary? Sound preposterous? Why doesn’t leaving your phone by your child sound more preposterous? I'm not sure how else to break out of this cultural acceptance that a phone is more important to our brains than a living human in a car. It sounds harsh, well, it's harsh news. We've got to cut back. Your child is more important than your phone. Show that by breaking the addiction.
Consider switching to a basic flip phone if you continue to overuse your smartphone. Downgrade the internet package to reduce your desire to use it frequently. For myself, I adhere to buying used, older generation iphones that can't run internet much more than a slow map request when needed. The battery stays charged for about 3 hours, forcing me to prioritize my use. Bonus: this reduces the amount of radiation exposure for your child in the backseat. Looking at the double blind study showing that 30 minutes of exposure on the 4G LTE network altered the brain in several regions, this becomes a health issue. The less exposure a developing child has to brain altering microwave radiation, the better. A daily commute both ways in addition to mornings, evenings and night being exposed to radiation adds up over the years. Turning off the radiation when your child is with you can help you to be present and also reduce your child's accumulative exposure.
Besides radiation exposure, cell phones represent a risk while driving. Commit to basic driving safety by putting the phone in the glovebox. In many states, it's illegal to text or use a hand held phone while driving anyways, so this could save you from a ticket or even a CPS visit. Another unmentioned threat: projectile injury. Anything loose in the car, such as a large smartphone sitting next to your child, can quickly become airborne during a collision and injure your child or yourself. A CPST discusses projectile danger here.
If you fear that you will be reprimanded for not using your phone while driving or at home for work purposes, please research your rights carefully. Unpaid use of your phone for work might violate company policy and even state laws. Many companies are already banning use while driving. As someone who has started home businesses and worked in very demanding managerial positions, I understand how bosses can misuse people or take advantage of them, especially when they can sense that a tired, distracted mommy is unsure how to set down healthy boundaries.
Know your rights, stick to a reasonable and healthy schedule and remind yourself that you and your family are worthy of a balanced life. Check out this article to see if you need to be paid for overtime. This article discusses a lawsuit over phone usage after hours. This article discusses ways to set limits.
Perhaps the most neglected aspect is sleep. Since you’ve been removing all the substances in your life such as caffeine and alcohol, you should be able to reach healthier states of sleep now. If you discovered hidden health problems, you can begin addressing them directly to further assist with normal sleep.
If you are acutely sleep deprived, getting far less than 6hrs of sleep a night and experiencing day time drowsiness, then do not drive. Please stop putting yourself, your child and other innocent people and innocent children at risk by driving impaired. Driving while sleep deprived is the same as driving while drunk. Stop doing it. It’s dangerous long before you accidentally leave your child to die in your vehicle. Did that make you angry? Take your anger and direct it where it belongs:
If you are reading this saying you can’t possibly find time to sleep, that’s like saying you can’t find time to breathe, shit or eat. It’s a basic, necessary life function. Being unable to do it means something is very wrong in your life. You are not a failure. It's not all your fault. You deserve more than neglect. Commit to change. COMMIT for your health and your child’s health. Take baby steps.
Hire a teen from a local highschool to babysit for a couple hours while you nap.
Stop obsessing about the house and nap.
Sleep in whenever possible.
Turn off your phone/tv and go to bed sooner.
Power nap during lunch.
Find a way because this isn’t an option; this is a requirement for your wellbeing before we even discuss what happens if you nod off and wreck your car, kill your child or another person. Before you get drowsy and distracted and walk away with your child in the backseat, you can choose to make the changes. The National Safety Council has a list of symptoms and tips on drowsy driving.
Sleep is important for children, too, and commuting with children means their sleep might be impacted just as much as yours. Let your child sleep at home. If your child could be forgotten in a car because your child regularly has to sleep in the car, it's time for changes. Stable, consistent sleep cycles last longer than a basic commute, which means even if a child falls asleep in the car, he or she is not getting a healthy sleep cycle length. Spotty sleeping to try to make up for impaired or interrupted sleep is unhealthy, most especially for developing bodies and brains.
For the child who doesn’t sleep: Interact with your child in the car. Be so important and meaningful to your child that walking out of sight would cause your child distress. The moment you turn off the engine, your child should make noises because sitting away from you in a carseat is distressing. The moment you unbuckle your seatbelt, your child is crying or talking to you because your connection is that strong. You’ve been talking to your child the entire car ride, so your child is the first thing on your mind when you get to your destination. You’d never forget your partner on a date night. You chat and laugh the entire car ride. You’d never jump out of the car and close your door on your boss. Your boss is too important and takes up too much of your brain power to forget. It’s time to get your child onto the priority list.
You can choose to be angry at me for writing this article. You can choose to feel helpless and to say you are trapped. You can choose to live your life reacting instead of being proactive. You can choose to claim this list is impossible.
But, the idea of accidentally forgetting your child in the car is what should make you angry. The idea of closing the door and walking away from your baby should feel impossible. It's true, we are all at risk of making a mistake or getting distracted. And a mistake with a hot car can be deadly. It doesn't make us bad parents. It should still motivate us to improve. Making your phone, your work, your school a priority on your mind is what should worry you. Feeling that walking outside for 15 minutes or meditating in the morning or ignoring a late hours call from the boss are impossible to do is a sign that you and your family deserve more from life. Take it from someone who was too busy to live: you're missing a lot for nothing.
Song for a Fourth Child
What's Your Excuse