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What Would You Have Done? Child Rides in Mama's Lap

I don't think any of my kids were fond of the car seat in the early stages of life. One of our readers recently had a falling out with a family member over letting a her child ride on her lap.  She wants your advice and writes:

I know that many of us mamas have found ourselves in a situation where our child is inconsolably upset in the car seat, screaming, crying, kicking and even to the point of puking at times.  Just writing about it and remembering my first child’s sheer hatred of the car seat makes my skin crawl.  Despite those tortuous feelings, I never considered removing my son from his seat while the car was moving.  Recently I had relatives visiting and to my shock and horror, when their one year old son became upset, his Mom simply unbuckled him and seated him on her lap.  I found myself in a moral dilemma about whether to speak out about what I saw as an extremely unsafe choice, knowing it could have huge implications for our relationship, or just ignore it.  In the end I tried to gently inquire about my safety concern and it unleashed a fury of emotion, resulting in an abrupt end to the visit and a huge rift in our relationship.  After all that I’m not convinced that my speaking out will have any impact on their future car seat decisions and we’re no longer on speaking terms because of it.  Was it worth it?  I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure.  What would you have done?


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I would have done exactly what you did. NOT saying anything to her would have been wrong..God forbid something were to ever happen to that child because of her reckless choices, but at least you've hopefully given her a little bit of food for thought the next time that she contemplates making the dangerous choice again.

I would have done exactly the same thing, only I would have let them knot it is AGAINST THE LAW and that if they continued to do so, I would notify the police in their area. I know how hard it is to drive with a screaming infant in the car (both my kids did this to me), but it is a MUCH BETTER CHOICE THAN DEATH. There is no wiggle room on this, it is UNTHINKABLE to take your child out of their seat while driving. While I all know it was this way when we were children (20-30 years ago), I wouldn't risk it now.

I sometimes wonder how much safer all the safety measures we have now really make us. I'm only in my early thirties, but growing up, my mom never strapped in the car seat, we rode two to buckle often and fought over the front passenger seat from a very early age. I think it's important to make our kids as safe as possible, I don't think that every trip that you're not buckled will automatically result in death. When doing our car seat install, I read that 8 of 10 car seats are installed incorrectly-even those that think they are being totally safe might not be. We can't predict or prevent everything. I think it's really easy to call out behaviors in others that we think are unsafe for their kids, but ultimately, as the OP notes, it doesn't really help relationships, or as I've seen, the kids in the situation, to play cop like that.

It sounds to me like you were trying to handle the situation in a diplomatic manner. I would have done the exact same thing. Perhaps she felt judged and reacted defensively. It is sad that she could not see that you genuinely meant well and had the safety of the child in mind.

I think I would have handled it much the way the Op did. No one likes to be judged.. but a child's safety is at stake here.

I would have confronted her too. I can't even begin to count (seriously) the number of times I have seen kids younger than 2 and closer to 1 actually, crawling around in a moving car on the freeway. I am always so damn shocked. I mean, really? is it possible people still do this? yep. guess so.

Of course, the outspoken person that I am, I call the cops on them ALWAYS! But I don't think it really helps, I am sure they still do it. Very scary. It is your responsibility as a fellow human being to speak up or else you are condoning it and I for one do not want blood on my hands ( literally...). I would risk losing friendships, family members, whatever for the sake of a childs life absolutely no doubt.

I don't know, anon. Yep, I grew up without a carseat and bike helmet. But, given that I know they increase the chances of coming through something safely, I'm just not willing to go back. And there's no way I could live with myself if I didn't do everything I could to protect my children, or the children of someone I loved. I think it's a little short sighted to say that because I never was killed in an MVA the hype over car seats is just that. I don't chalk it up to hype, I figure it's just luck or grace of God. And, I don't think it helps relationships to ignore things that really ought not be ignored. I think it's okay to say "I don't mean to sound like a harpie, but..." Presentation can make the message go a long way. And if that still doesn't work, then at least I know that I tried to protect and/or educate.

I think that many Americans have a one size fits all approch to parenting. We cannot know all things that impact a parents decision to remove a child from a carseat. My mother in law still croons over the days she could hold her son in her lap along country roads and show him the world around him. Babies ride on buses, in taxis, in bike carriers. None of which require a car seat and all can be dangerous an deadly. I think in the same situation I would have asked a question like " wow, it has been a long time since I have seen a baby in a car without a car seat. Do you worry about getting a ticket or an accident? I have become so used to always having my child in a seat.".

This to me is just like the vacination argument. I lived out of the U.S for a while and have traveled a great deal. Car seats are not common place in most of the world an I have learned that just because you feel your way is the right way does not mean it is right for everyone.

I would have maybe said something like, "Oh, if you're worried that I'm bothered by the crying, don't worry about me. I'm far more concerned with his physical safety. I wouldn't want him to fly through the windshield if we got in a crash. Here, I'll help you get him back in."

But, I think I would only say something like that if we were driving on a freeway or high traffic area. If we were on a country road or a block from home, it wouldn't be worth it to me.

But what about now? I'd probably write a letter apologizing and saying that your fear for his safety may have clouded your sensitivity to her feelings, and that you didn't mean to judge or humiliate her.

I agree with Candice's last paragraph about writing a letter/email to follow up, but I don't think it matters whether you're on a country road or a highway.

My youngest *hated* the car seat as an infant and would scream her head off the entire time she was strapped in. It occurred to me more than once to take her out (if I wasn't driving), but I'd always repeat to myself: "God forbid anything ever happened, you'd give anything to hear that scream again."

When they get a little older, you have to think about the consistency angle: if they scream and you take them out, they'll never learn that riding in the carseat is the rule; and good luck trying to get them back in after that!

if you can't take the crying, take off your seatbelt and whip out a tittie...that's why god made em get saggy when they have milk in them so they can reach around a bit.

There ARE other options - one could pull over and take the baby out and comfort them for a bit, or walk or ride the bus to one's destination! Or, stay home and have people over. A couple of times in my 18 years of parenting, I have been so desperate to get home from somewhere via car with a very upset and traumatized baby, that I have ridden in the back seat, strapped in, with baby securely in a sling, while my husband or a friend drives us. Mostly, I just found alternative transport until my babies were old enough to tolerate the car without being traumatized.

We have the laws that we do becuase we live in a country where the infrastructure has been built in such a way that driving is a must for most Americans. That means more car trips and a higher likelihood of a crash. The law is made to protect and inform parents of these dangers, I'm sure becuase in the past we did not have these laws and there were many child fatalities.

I just got pulled over the other day on suspicion of having an unrestrained child in my car. Of course, my children were at home, safe and sound and my car had empty carseats in it, so they obviously caught the wrong mom. That said, people call this stuff in when they see it and the cops take it seriously. Not to mention the safety danger, which is why I wouldn't even think of it. I say if this is what they choose to have a rift over then that is their choice, you were in the right.

Wow what a horrible situation to be in. I would have said something. It is so hard. I mean I still rear face my 21 month old because from what I have read it is safer. It amazes me how moms freak out about plastic bottles, but turn their kids around to forward face when research shows it is safer. You have to do what is right for you but there are SO many things we can not control about life, at least you can keep them safe in a seat and know it is safer. I might have said wow your brave to take a risk like that, I would never take a chance like that. I like the mantra fembot said, got forbid you would give anything to hear them scream again if something happened.

Gotta say, I find these comments concerning. Of course kids should be in car seats but you know what, when I was a kid, we were thrown in the back of the car (or the back back) without seat belts pretty much every where we went.

And I believe a study recently came out that basically said kids today do not avoid injury/death any more than kids in the seventies.

You want this mom (or others) to be criminally prosecuted and/or to have DHS involved in their lives?

I remember when my daughter was a baby, we were literally going to drive the car around the block to park. I just put her on my lap and I felt like a criminal.

Let's get some perspective.

When my child was nursing and we were on road trips, I would take her out of the car seat to nurse and I believe that in some states, this is legal.

There are a lot of parents out there in this world who are likely worse parents than this woman and I'd bet that many of them ALWAYS put their kids in car seats.

I'm would be pretty surprised if the mom didn't know the law or the risks. If she didn't, let's say she's new to the country or something, then sure, fill her in. Otherwise, I would advise some of the less confrontational approaches suggested here, if you just can't live with yourself otherwise. Then know that you have to live with the consequences of your choice - in this case, losing a relationship. In my book, mom's feel enough guilt about how they parent, so knowing that she is aware of the risks & the law, I would have let her be (I know - unpopular answer).

Not a chance in the world I would take my kid out of the car seat, or ride in a car when another child was out of the seat. You did the right thing. I don't think that I'd have much regret losing a friend who did something so stupid. We have travelled outside of the US without car seats, I hold my children and my breath hoping that we get to our destination intact.

The point is...not trying to predict the chances of something going wrong, it is; can you live with your choices if something does happen?

I work in an ER - no one ever thinks that it'll happen to them.

I really think that you should be proud of yourself for speaking up about this. We live in a society where people watch heinous things happen to children and families and don't want to interfere because they don't want to offend someone or butt into something that isn't their business. Children's safety is everyone's visit and yes, I understand that taking a child out of a car seat is not the same thing as physically abusing a child, but it IS a threat to their safety and IS a BIG DEAL!!! I wish that more people had the guts to speak up the way you did. Your friend, once she gets over her embarrassment, should understand that.

To me, the argument against diligent car seat enforcement is kind of crazy. If there was an accident and your child is hurt when they otherwise had been safe in a car seat, how on earth could you live with yourself? If we aren't first doing our best to keep our kids safe, then we're really not fulfilling our parenting role. Kind of like those parents who have a couple of beers and drive their families around. Even though you might be under the legal limit, it only takes a slight delay in judgment and your whole world can be turned upside down. There are some issues that just don't have gray areas in my opinion. Good work for speaking up to advocate for the child.

I agree with Edie above. We need to get some perspective here! We have turned into moms who "turn each other in" or police each other rather than support each other. It's disgusting to me. I'm not sure who had the fury of emotions, you or the relative, but now, if her child dies because of a poor decision she made, you won't be able to stand by her in her grief, you will always have "I told you so" hanging above your head. I think you could have come across differently...probably with more love, less judgment. Check your motives, mamas!!

I had a car seat even though I didn't own a car until my daughter was nearly five. I kept her in a booster way too long (I'm embarrased to say) and still don't like her in the front "Death" seat. I still throw my arm across her if she's belted in the front seat and I make a sudden stop. She's 14 and bigger than many of the uMs I know.

That said, I would and have said something in that situation. There's a diff in how you say things and what the motivation is. If the motivation is to make yourself feel better, there's one way to go. If the motive is to try a change behavior.. . .there's another way.

I personally hate the little vinyl/nylon? bike trailers, they seem super unsafe. So much so that I have forbidden my bestie from taking her niece in one. It's not illegal but...I just couldn't take a chance like that. I know you can't put multiple kids on a bike seat. So my heart just flutters a bit when I see them.

(Full disclosure: I freak out about unrestrained kids under 2 being pulled in red wagons, too. I'm a freak.)

Yes, there are all sorts of ways to parent, and all sorts of choices one can make. Lots and lots.

But being a mother is a job -- and the first item on my list -- before teaching them, giving them healthy choices, ensuring their emotional/intellectual development, is to make sure they live to the end of the day.

My youngest was a screamer in the car and I totally think it's torture -- seriously - if I had government secrets all they would have to do was make me listen to my child scream. But as much as I hated it, it was my job to keep him alive.

Long way of saying I think you absolutely did the right thing. Regardless of her response, she will hopefully think a bit more next time she gets in the car with her child.

And protestmama -- I'm with you on the trailers...they freak me out too...

I'm sorry the op finds herself in such a tough spot. I definitely think that speaking up, or at least refusing to participate in an unsafe situation is appropriate.

I agree that there is some degree of overprotectiveness bordering on hysteria when it comes to the safety of children on the part of some people, but I think it comes down to "know better, do better." If there are steps you can take to try to prevent what is the leading cause of death in children in the U.S., why wouldn't you?

The following is from the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/childpas.htm):

Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S.1 But many of these deaths can be prevented. Placing children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half.2

How big is the problem?

In the United States during 2005, 1,335 children ages 14 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and approximately 184,000 were injured. That’s an average of 4 deaths and 504 injuries each day.2
Among children under age 5, in 2006, an estimated 425 lives were saved by car and booster seat use.2
What are the risk factors?

One out of four occupant deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years involved a drinking driver.3 More than two-thirds of these fatally injured children were riding with a drinking driver.4
Restraint use among young children often depends upon the driver’s seat belt use. Almost 40% of children riding with unbelted drivers were themselves unrestrained.5
Child restraint systems are often used incorrectly. One study found that 72% of nearly 3,500 observed car and booster seats were misused in a way that could be expected to increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.6
How can injuries to children in motor vehicles be prevented?

Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants, and by 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years.2
There is strong evidence that child safety seat laws, safety seat distribution and education programs, community-wide education and enforcement campaigns, and incentive-plus-education programs are effective in increasing child safety seat use.7
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends booster seats for children until they are at least 8 years of age or 4'9" tall.8
According to researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, for children 4 to 7 years, booster seats reduce injury risk by 59% compared to seat belts alone.9
All children ages 12 years and younger should ride in the back seat. Adults should avoid placing children in front of airbags. Putting children in the back seat eliminates the injury risk of deployed front passenger-side airbags and places children in the safest part of the vehicle in the event of a crash.
Overall, for children less than 16 years, riding in the back seat is associated with a 40% reduction in the risk of serious injury.10 To learn more about effective interventions to increase child safety seat use, visit CDC's Motor Vehicle

Thank you Laurie! I now have documentation to show my daughter about why she should still be in the back seat! OH HAPPY DAY!

i am a mom who values safety and health. i most certainly strap my baby in and i have been known to dangle over his seat to nurse him.

still - how many things are you doing that could cause death or harm to your child someday? Feeding them toxic fast food? feeding them non-organic pus filled animal products? letting them play with unsafe plastics? letting them roam all over pesticide-laden Portland Parks grasses?

i am all for safety, in all ways...and i also believe that if you DWELL on negative thoughts there is a higher chance that negative thing will happen.

Most of you seem like you are full of Fear. "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering". - Yoda.

I hope your children can grow beyond that.

Take it from a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse...... they MUST stay in the car seat if the car is on/moving.

I've probably seen hundreds of families devastated by the consequences of improper or lack of car seat safety. Devastated.

You ladies should not unbuckle yourselves to nurse while the car is on/moving either. Set the right example for the children and PULL OVER if you have to!

No one mentioned that it is illegal to take your child out of the car seat. How about teaching our children that there are rules we must follow in this world. My son fights me too and I just tell him that it's the rules and we need to follow them. He fusses for a few minutes and realizes that he is not going to win. Who is training who in this case?

Seemingly absent from this entire discussion is the driver of the car. I know what I went through when my daughter was an infant, and the bottom line is this: if an infant is screaming in the carseat, s/he needs something - maybe food, maybe a shift in position, maybe just a couple of minutes to be close to mama. There's only one person who can give them that safely - and that's the driver of the car. If that was you, OP, the kindest and safest thing to have done would have been to find a place to pull over for a few minutes, even if this young mother was too shy to ask. It's pretty awful to be a mama at the mercy of an insensitive driver.

That being said, I've never driven with my daughter unbuckled. And that being said, I think there's quite a bit of sanctimommy in this conversation. Do any of you drive with a cup of hot coffee in the cabin of your car? With an unsecured windshield scraper for icy weather, or heavy schoolbooks, or a purse full of pens? What do you think happens to all that stuff when your car rolls off the freeway at 65 miles an hour? We should all get back to the mother in question when our houses aren't made of glass.

I just want to raise a point to consider with moms who have had trouble with their babies hating being in the car seat. My daughter hated her infant "bucket" style car seat too. I had her at the chiropractor for an adjustment when she was a few months old and told the doctor about this. We took the cover off of the car seat and could see that inside the back support was terrible (very uneven and hard plastic and must have been very uncomfortable for her. We folded up a receiving blanket and placed it in the spot where there was a big depression in the back. After that she was much more comfortable and cried less in that car seat until she outgrew it. Maybe a suggestion for the friend of the OP to try as well.

catmom, I don't see what's sanctimonious about discussing safety. I honestly don't get that tone at all, it seems to me that the assumption here is that all of us are trying to do the best we can, and sometimes encouragement, support and good information can help with problem solving.

j, it is not safe to modify your car seat in any way. They are tested and meant to be used exactly as they are. It's great that you found a way to make your little one more comfortable, it seems we all know the ear bleeding misery of being stuck in the car with a miserable infant, but please do note that making any modifications to a car seat can potentially make it less effective or even cause it to fail.

Really? You don't get that tone at all? I got it somewhere between "God forbid something were to ever happen to that child because of her reckless choices" and "I don't think that I'd have much regret losing a friend who did something so stupid" - along with the many various threats to call the cops.

All the above were probably written by people who drive merrily and legally along with all sorts of unsecured items in their car, any of which could bash or spear their "safely" buckled child in a crash (special thanks, Mary B. at Providence, for making sure that all your new moms understand the reality of car safety. For example, even those little suction cup window curtains that keep the sun out of baby's eyes are considered a spearing hazard by car seat specialists. Completely legal, though. Even the freaking handle of a travel system's bucket seat is a hazard if it's left upright in the "carry" position when the car is in motion).

Sanctimony is a hypocritical display of piety, a pretense to saintliness. And people can be just as sanctimonious discussing safety as they can any other parenting topic.

I don't get that tone at all. I see passionate concern for the safety of children. Instead of being "sanctimonious" in your own safety agenda about unsecured items in the car, you have an opportunity to be educational.

As I said, we should all get back to the mother in question when our houses aren't made of glass. I don't think that's sanctimony.

The entire point of this blog was to share your opinion on what you thought was the correct response in this situation and I think people are respectfully sharing their opinions, which is a personal perspective.

Some were respectful. Yours was. But you have to read pretty selectively not to see the reckless/stupid comments.

I'm with you catmom...thanks for saying it!

I wouldn't have said anything. While I always buckle my daughter in her car seat and wear a seat belt myself, I think we are too uptight about safety in general to the point of paralyzing ourselves and in this case ruining relationships. Like several posts have pointed out, in past generations kids were just thrown in the back and were fine.

Hi catmom. I'm still not getting sanctimony. Maybe I just don't take things personally that way. I was uncomfortable with the post about how the OP would have an "I told you so" hanging over her head if anything did happen to the child in question--I don't see how that's the OP's responsibility.

I really do appreciate your bringing up the issue of unsecured items, though, as it's something I don't give much consideration to on a regular basis (stainless steel water bottle missiles? no thanks), and it's a good reminder.

I don't relate to the, Our Parents Did X and We're Just Fine, perspective, though, because I think that if there is an opportunity to do better, I'd like to take it. I think it's possible that not every child who fought over the rumble seat in the back of the baby sitter's station wagon is available to comment--seat belts in general weren't all that popular or even available until it was revealed how many people were dying, perhaps unnecessarily, without them.

I won't pull out of my driveway until everyone in the car in buckled up. I've had family and houseguests who argue with me, and I gently and firmly tell them that their safety is in my hands, and that's how we do it in my car, so I'll just wait until everyone is buckled before I go anywhere. Driving in the car is probably the most dangerous things many of us do in our daily lives, so why not be safe?

The car seat thing for babies can be a real nightmare. I know it has been for me. But I can't take them out, even thought the odds of something not happening that one day are in my favor, because I could never live with myself if that was the time we got T-boned 3 blocks from our house.

I think that a lot of people have difficulty visualizing the reality of physics and its actions in a car accident. I know that that pediatric ER nurse who commented above doesn't have that problem, since she see's the result of mass and velocity every day, I expect.

One thing that EVERYONE needs to know is that anytime your car's ignition key is on, your airbags are activated. So, even if you are not moving, do not let your little ones in the front seat even if you are just sitting in a parking spot and listening to the radio, changing a diaper, or whatever. If they are in the front seat, make sure the keys are not in the ignition.

Thank you, Sara.

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