Recent headlines screamed about the “PM’s Parenting Blunder” when British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha left their eight year old daughter Nancy in a local pub. There was much discussion in England about whether the Prime Minister was a fit parent. However, when you learn the details of what happened, it turns out it was a classic error prevention situation. Cameron and his family had arrived at a local pub in two cars on a Sunday afternoon to visit with friends and their children. Nancy went to the bathroom just as everyone was preparing to leave. Cameron thought Nancy was with his wife in the other car, and Samantha thought Nancy was with Cameron. The distraught parents discovered Nancy was missing when they arrived home and had returned to the pub to get her only 15 minutes after they left.

While some people are judging whether Cameron is a fit parent, I can easily identify with what happened because I have experienced almost the exact same situation both as the kid and as the parent:

How I Got Left Behind

When we were children our family used to go to Humarock Beach south of Boston every summer to get together with our grandparents and cousins. On one trip we stopped at a restaurant for lunch about 30 minutes from the beach. As we were getting ready to leave I went to the bathroom and came out to see both cars pulling out of the parking lot. I ran after them screaming as loud as I could but they didn’t see or hear me. To make matters even worse, there was great prestige to be the first kid on the beach, and that year I was over two hours later than the other kids!

How We Left Our Son Behind

Our family was visiting with friends when we all decided to go out for ice cream. The children piled into the two cars. We didn’t realize that our son Jesse was playing by himself in an upstairs bedroom and wasn’t aware we were leaving. As soon as we arrived we realized Jesse wasn’t there and rushed back to discover he still was not aware we had left.

Common Factors

Each of these examples involved a gathering of two or more families with children from the various families playing as the adults talked. In each case there were two cars, and in the hubbub of leaving, one child was off by themselves in the bathroom or bedroom. There are several Error Prevention Tools in our e-Learning course that could help to avoid this situation. These Tools help us to recognize an error likely situation and to focus and take stock even in the midst of distractions and confusion.

Other Examples

That is unfortunately not the only time I have left one of my kids behind. A very different set of circumstances led me to leave our daughter Jaime at church. Each Sunday after the service I would typically stay at church for an adult discussion group while my wife Donna would take the kids home. This particular Sunday Jaime said she wanted to stay with me. When we arrived at the discussion group, someone asked if Jaime would like to go play with some other children, which is what she did. Once again I was at the discussion group by myself as I usually was. An hour later when we left, my mind was focused on the various errands I needed to run, so I didn’t remember that Jaime was there. When Jaime was the last kid left, someone called Donna and she drove over to the church to pick her up. Then as I was returning home after completing my errands, Donna sprayed water on Jaime’s face to make it look like she was sweating. Jaime went out the back door and up the street a little ways as I was coming in the garage. As I came in Donna casually asked, “Where’s Jaime?” You can imagine the panic I felt when I realized I had left her at church hours ago. I jumped into the car and was even more distraught to see little Jaime walking down the sidewalk as if she had walked all the way from church by herself.

I’m Not Alone

In a similar situation that could have had a much worse outcome, a couple with an infant managed several businesses. They followed a schedule each day in which they would alternate taking care of their child. One day they had to change the schedule and the mother had the baby during a part of the day the child was not usually with her. She was late and in a hurry as she arrived at her next appointment, quickly locked the car and ran into the office, totally forgetting she had her baby with her. Fortunately someone noticed the child in the car and informed the mother before the baby died from heat exhaustion.

Common Factors

In both of these stories, the common factor was the change from normal. Anytime we have an established way of doing something, any change leads to an error likely situation. Once we understand this we can be alert for these situations and use the appropriate Tools of Error Prevention to avoid or deal with the potentially adverse outcome.

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