NLQ Question of the Week: Why do Neglectful Parents Get a Pass in Evangelical Quiverfull?

NLQ Question of the Week: Why do Neglectful Parents Get a Pass in Evangelical Quiverfull? August 18, 2016

QuestionoftheweekThis is a new series we have started running on Thursdays. Examining some of the questions involving long held Quiverfull theology and life.

This week Zsuzsanna Anderson wrote a piece called Fatal Forgetfulness about not judging, punishing or reviling those parents that somehow manage to leave their children in cars with the windows rolled up. This has started to be a tragic trend throughout the nation every time the temperatures climb to higher levels. Here’s what she said:

But the truth is, anyone is capable of forgetting their child in a car. Doctors, lawyers, and a rocket scientist have all made the same fatal mistake that the Wal-Mart employee made in Texas yesterday. Moms and dads, rich and poor, old and young of every race are equally likely to forget their child, because it has nothing to do with our parenting, but all to do with the human brain.

I have personally known and heard of great parents who have forgotten their child in a car briefly and thankfully without suffering harm. It seems that almost every time I talk about this topic with parents, they suddenly recall a time they almost forgot their child in the car. It has nothing to do with what kind of a parent they are. It’s simply a terrible error stemming from the way the human brain works. An attitude of “That could never happen to me!” is a very dangerous one to have.

No, Zsu, for all my faults and foibles as a mother, and there are many as I’m quite imperfect, I have never almost forgotten one of my young children in a hot car. Never, never, never. I dispute that everyone does it.

I don’t know if community disapproval and the forever loss of the child is punishment enough, that’s not for me to say, that’s a matter for our laws and communities.

She illustrates an important point in fundamentalism/evangelicalism/quiverfull, the tendency to exempt parents from blame for neglect if they are the ‘right’ kind of parents, Christians and white. How many times have we seen others excusing people like Susannah Musser who was so overwhelmed by raising a brood of special needs kids that she neglected to keep a close eye on profoundly disabled Tommy Musser – resulting in his drowning death in their bath tub? Or those rushing to defend parents that deny medical help or follow the toxic child discipline advice of Michael and Debi Pearl so closely that they end up with a dead child?

It’s always the same song and dance, the parents cannot be faulted.

But let that same thing happen to someone who is not a believer, or is living on welfare or in government housing, or is on drugs, or of another race and they call for the maximum punishment.

Why do you think that they don’t want certain people punished for the same crimes they want others to get locked up forever for?

moreLast week’s NLQ Question of the Week – Why Ask God Only For Little Things?

Random Question of the Week – Are Patriarchal Moms Actually Helicopter Parents?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Nightshade

    An attempt to minimize the kind of thing that can happen when you’re trying to keep track of too darned many kids, maybe?

    Added later, after a few more minutes of thought: Also according to fundies there’s a big difference between what happens to children of outsiders-eeeeevil parents who don’t care nearly as much about their kids as ‘we’ do, so surely they were neglecting their brats-and their own-hey, accidents happen, and if a young child dies s/he will go to heaven, right?

  • I think that they go back to the idea that drawing attention to “sin in the camp” dishonors God and makes other Christians look bad. It makes Christians look just like everyone else (though we usually are from what I can tell from the statistics on almost every behavior), So they’re trying to keep God looking good by overlooking those with whom they identify “for God’s sake.”

    I think that they fail to recognize that it actually glorifies God to call evil evil no matter where it’s found . Denial and double standards do the opposite. They make a mockery of Christians who supposedly have a better grasp on character and goodness than everyone else. I think lived well, a Christian should, but we are as human as everyone else, and those kinds of changes take time. The proof is in the pudding of life, and even by doing all of “the right things,” one can end up with many tragic circumstances.

    To them, the end of making God look good justifies the means of ignoring or justifying or minimizing problems and sins of Christians. Cultic, spiritually abusive groups are driven by image consciousness and perfection. They become more important than virtue within a closed, controlling system.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Actually, in this case Zsu is right. A mainstream news source published an article with testimony by a secular memory expert who explained that if you’re capable of forgetting your cell phone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child. I don’t have my bookmarks on this computer, or I’d share the link.

    Edit: Here it is!

  • Brennan

    I’m with Astrin. This is one of Zsu Zsu’s broken watch moments. It’s pretty shitty the way she implies that the phenomenon is related to men sharing childcare duties, but other that that, this article is pretty tame and non-objectionable. That’s remarkable, considering who we’re talking about.

  • Brennan

    Also, this isn’t really comparable to the Tommy Musser situation. The mother in that case made a very conscious decision to leave her disabled son alone in a bathtub so that she would have more time to spend with her other children. She knew that something *could* go wrong, but was wagering that it wouldn’t happen. Tommy’s death was considered an acceptable risk. That’s not the same as involuntarily forgetting a child.

  • Nea

    Bullshit everybody does it. I swear, cooking helpless children (or medically neglecting them) is how this culture “does”‘abortion. Can’t kill the fetus, but allowing the completely foreseeably fatal “will of God” is just peachy.

    In the meantime, anyone who actually cares can take the less-than-a-minute for even a Duggar-sized family to do a freaking ROLL CALL!

  • Nea

    I never forget my cell phone when I CHECK getting out of the car. Why is checking on your own kids not one of the godly duties the enforcers bang endlessly on about?

  • Julia Childress

    I was in the hang ’em high camp regarding the parents who accidentally leave their kids in the car, until it nearly happened to me. When my kids were small, dad was the daycare drop-off parent and I was the pick-up parent. We once had a terrible week with three kids with chicken pox. We were exhausted and doing shifts going to work and taking care of the children. One day in the midst of this, I was the one to take my daughter to daycare on my way to work. She was in a rear facing seat behind me in the back seat. I left the neighborhood in my usual way, then there was a traffic jam and as I sat there, my sleep-deprived brain went into auto-pilot and I began to think about the things I would have to catch up on after missing a couple of days. Before I knew it, I was on the interstate zooming toward downtown. About halfway there, my two year old child excitedly called out “airplane!” as an airliner zoomed overhead. I literally jumped in my seat, because I had completely forgotten she was with me. By the time I got to the daycare, I was beginning to recover from the shock of knowing that I might have left her in the car all day. That incident has haunted me ever since then, and for years after that, long after I had small children, I checked the backseat of the car every time I got out. I have always been a very vigilant parent, but I now firmly believe that change of normal pattern, fatigue, stress and other factors can combine to result in this horror. I think that this can happen to anyone under the right combination of circumstances. Something that I think contributes to this repeated tragedy is that many people believe that it could never happen to them. I would urge all parents of small children to have a backseat-checking ritual that they follow every time they exit the car.

  • brbr2424

    The key word is “forgot”. There was no intent to commit a crime. I can absolutely see anyone leaving a child in a car, particularly dads, grandmas and aunts who don’t usually have the child with them. It happens when habit memory takes over the conscious. A dad who agrees to take the baby to daycare when he normally doesn’t and simply drives to work and walks to his desk in a zombie-like state of habit memory is at high risk. Also, the baby is behind the person’s field of vision and not making any noise. As a young parent, I benefited from hearing these tragic stories because it made me more aware, and very thankful that I wasn’t the subject of the cautionary tale. Some have suggested developing a habit of keeping a teddy bear in the field of vision in the front cabin of the car and then getting in the habit of moving the bear to the car seat in the back as part of a routine of exiting the car even when you don’t have the baby with you.

    I have no doubt that sweet Zsu would have been less than forgiving if a single mother suffered a similar tragedy.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Because as the article explains, these parents think their kids are safely at daycare. Why would they check their car?

  • Astrin Ymris

    Yes! These incidents tend to happen when the parents are stressed and off their usual routine. In one case, the mother was giving someone a lift on her way to work, and he moved the diaper bag out of the way when he got in. Thus the mother didn’t have the visual cue of the diaper bag, plus her brain had “ticked the box” of dropping someone off on the way to work.

  • Astrin Ymris

    No, most people are lucky and never have all the factors go wrong at the same time, resulting in a fatal brain fart.

    Ironically, these incidents almost NEVER happened before the law was changed to require putting carseats in the back seat, with rear-facing carseats for babies under one year. Out of sight is literally out of mind, especially for an overstressed parent trying to remember to get everything done.

  • Julia Childress

    What surprises me about Zsu’s position on this is her acknowledgement that not everything we do is a matter of will. Does her answer imply that mental illness may actually be real, and not just a spiritual failure?

  • Nightshade

    Nahhhhh, that might result in her feeling some actual compassion for lesser human beings. Can’t expect that kind of miracle to happen now, can we?

  • Nea

    Does anyone think the kid was in daycare when they *put the kid in the car*? Then why not, at the same time, leave some reminder for themself at that very same time so that even if they flip to mental autopilot they are reminded? How hard is it to hang something off the rear view mirror, slip a scrunchy over the parking brake, program a reminder into their phone to trigger when they get to work to remind them to simply look in the back seat?

    I understand flipping to autopilot, I do, I do it myself so often. That’s WHY I’ve found so very many very simple ways to remind myself to pay a little extra attention when it’s important.

  • Astrin Ymris

    People don’t do this because they think it couldn’t possibly happen to them, because they’re loving parents. They believe only neglectful parents would forget to drop off their child… until it happens to them, that is.

    What’s needed is more public awareness, so that parents will know that they need to take these steps. Demonizing parents who’ve already lost a child this way is not the answer.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I think it’s a serious problem and likely the reason there’s more happening now than in the past is the stress and just go-go-go of our world. Agree with better awareness. Did not mean to imply this was not a serious problem, it is. I just dispute Zsuzsanna saying that everyone forgets their kids in the car. Not everyone does it, but more and more people seem like they are doing it. As far as punishment/no punishment that’s for the law to decide but it does seem like the loss of their child is punishment enough..

  • Astrin Ymris

    According to the article, it was only after the laws required moving the carseat to the backseat that these deaths started happening regularly. When the baby was in the passenger seat where the parents could see them, they knew if they’d forgotten to drop their kid off at daycare.

    I wish all car safety seats were sold with a fluorescent-colored plushie and instructions to always strap the plushie into the passenger seat when the baby’s in the car, and to keep it in the carseat the rest of the time. If someone wants a lift, they can sit in the backseat or catch a ride with a childless friend.

    BTW, an evangelical rescue adopter is one of the most prominent cases of carseat death, which may be why fundgelicals are unwilling to get judgy about this.