“As a parent that is my worst nightmare!” We were deep in conversation about 2 reports out of the US in the same week that would chill any parent to the bone. We’ve all had days when we’ve been distracted, preoccupied, worried, or simply lost in thought on the way to work, but these fathers paid the ultimate price. It happens to 25 – 35 parents every year in the US alone, and it has happened here in Australia too. Sadly this story is becoming too familiar, and it’s time to act.
We’re talking about 2 separate cases where a father faced the devastating realisation that he had forgotten to drop his baby off on the way to work, not becoming aware of the oversight until returning to the car later in the day. In both cases a momentary lapse of attention had fatal consequences. My friend had heard of a similar story in Perth last year and these more recent reports had really hit home for her. “The first time I heard a story like this, I couldn’t quite believe it was possible, but when I thought about how hectic our mornings are, how easy it is to be distracted from what I’m doing, and how often I’ve had to ring my husband to double-check we’re both on the same page, I know that this could easily be me.”
An article written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gene Weingarten in 2009 sheds some light on this phenomenon, and answers the inevitable question: “What kind of person forgets a baby?”
“The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.”
Attention has become the most threatened resource on the planet. A Harvard survey reveals that the average person spends 47% of their time doing one thing but thinking about something else. Whether your attention is distracted by an external interruption like a phone call, or captured by worries about your day’s to-do list, once it wanders you’re literally disconnected from life. A momentary lapse of attention is enough to drive past the child care centre without stopping, while you concern yourself with the matters on your mind or the conversation on a phone. In his article Weingarten describes the circumstances that led a father to leave his daughter in a car in 2005. He had recently been laid off and was on his way to a temporary job. “He’d remembered to drop his older daughter at day care, but as he was driving the baby to a different day care location, he got a call about a new permanent job. This really caught his attention. It was a fatal distraction.”
If you’ve ever experienced a lapse of attention and realised later that you missed something, then you know your brain could fail you at a crucial moment. If you’re lucky it’s only been a forgotten name, a mislaid pair of glasses, or the lights left on in the car. But these are warning signs that your attention is starting to falter. A simple mental pause between tasks can bring your attention back from its wanderings and reconnect you with the present. To perform a mental pause, direct your awareness to one of your senses for just a moment: hear the sounds in the room, feel the weight of your body on the seat, open your eyes to your surroundings. Here’s a short video that explains it further. A good way to remember this pause and clear your mind throughout the day is to do it at every doorway – before you leave your home, before you get out of the car, arriving and leaving meetings, as you return home, and every other doorway in between. If every one of us did this pause before we left our car, we’d live in a world where we’d never have to hear these stories again. And surely that is worth just one moment, please…
Remember, your attention is a precious but fragile gift. Stay connected with life.
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