Friday, September 16, 2011

Mommy Justice

Leaving your kids unattended in a bookstore for almost seven hours while you “run errands” is probably not a good idea. You certainly won’t be get nominated for Parent of the Year. What you’ll get is a criminal record. That’s exactly what happened to Charlene Sutherland. She is an Alabama mother who decided that Barnes & Noble was a suitable place to leave her 11 and 6 year old unattended and now she’s facing jail time. Six years of it. And what’s going to happen to the kids now? Foster care? She was trying to look out for her children, but because she made poor choices or was desperate or both, her kids are now facing a worse situation than before.

While I don’t condone what she did, I get it. One of the biggest challenges of summertime is childcare. It’s hard to find ways to keep your children happy and supervised even if you have money and time…imagine if you don’t. She probably had no one or no place to leave her children that was relatively safe (probably while she went to work or was looking for work – I can’t imagine taking 7 hours to run errands). Rather than leaving them at home where they could get into all kinds of trouble, she thought that a public place where her book loving, well behaved (according to the store clerk) kids could be occupied was a better choice. She was wrong, but she saw no other options. If you don’t have money, friends, family or other resources to help you out, sometimes you do desperate things or make bad choices.

There are two things that bother me about this story – what is so tragic is that rather than sending her to jail and forcing her kids into the system – and we know how bad and dangerous the system is – there isn’t some way to intervene, teach and provide. Intervene in families where there are no childcare options before problems arise. Teach positive parenting and sound decision making by supporting and modeling good care on a national level. And most importantly, making available more childcare options for low and no income families that are safe and convenient so that they are not so desperate that they put their children at risk because it is the only alternative they have while they go out and try to earn a living (or run some errands!).

But the other thing that bothers me about this story is the mommy justice part. Here was a mother trying to figure out a way to keep her kids safe while she did what she needed to do. She did make a bad choice, put her kids at risk, and should be punished for it. But six years? Casey Anthony walks (gets a book deal and probably a reality show some time soon) and this woman gets six years in the slammer? Just doesn’t seem fair.

Read more about the story at

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