Does mislaying your child really make you a bad parent?

As soon as Eric Pickles announced his ‘Back to Basics’ crackdown on ‘troubled’ families, it was odds on that a Conservative minister would oblige by executing his own family faux pas. How many would have placed their bets in the culprit being the Prime Minister himself, who with model mum Samantha appears to have chillaxed a little too much after Sunday lunch at the pub, leaving their daughter Nancy in the Ladies.

The uncomfortable end to Nancy’s comfort break apparently happened ‘a couple of months ago’, according to a Downing Street spokesman, but conveniently surfaced in the press as soon as Pickles placed his mouth in soundbite gear. And oh how we all chuckled, engaging in a national bout of schadenfreude.

But wait a minute: let’s think about this a little more. Last week universities revealed the further rise of ‘helicopter parents’, sleeping on the floor in university halls of residence and querying their offspring’s marks in exams and assignments. The umbilical cord may be cut at birth, but it is clear that for many parents, the link now continues into adulthood. Knowing when to let your child out of your sight is difficult for all parents. I can still remember the nervous feeling in my stomach the first time my daughter walked across a restaurant and disappeared behind the door of the ladies’ toilet on her own. Or when she walked to the shops in the village, cycled to a friend’s house or went out on her own after dark.

But now I can be proud of an independent and capable teenager, soon to celebrate her 16th birthday, who goes to gigs at small, local venues and Wembley Stadium, travels into London with friends and earlier this year made her own way to Leeds to attend a weekend youth event. In August she will travel to Wales to stay with strangers for work experience, working towards her career goal of becoming a vet. And however much I still worry about her, I know my job as a parent is to give her the freedom and ability to fly, not to tether her with my apron strings to feed my own needs and insecurities.

Of course allowing your child their freedom can sometimes end badly. In August 2002, at the time of the Soham murders, a friend and I lost our then six year old daughters in a crowd getting off a ride at Thorpe Park. The 25 minutes until we were reunited was the worst period of time I can remember. But when we did find them, they had done exactly as they had been taught: stuck together and, unable to see anyone in uniform, approached ‘the nicest Mummy’ they could see and asked for help. And luckily, unlike Holly and Jessica’s parents, we still have our daughters. Whatever the tabloids may have us believe, child abduction by strangers is thankfully extremely rare in the UK.

So hurrah for the Camerons. Welcome to the world of real parents, allowing your child increasing amounts of independence as you and they grow in confidence. And if leaving your eight year old in the toilet of a country pub for 20 minutes is the worst mistake you make as a parent, you won’t have done too badly.

* Sara Bedford is a local councillor on Three Rivers District Council and a member of the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.

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26 Comments

  • Andrew Emmerson 12th Jun '12 - 12:04pm

    #qtwain

  • I think letting your child go to the toilet on their own is one thing, but to forget them altogether and leave them alone in a pub IS bad parenting.

    The Cameron’s are quite correct in not blaming their security team or anyone else for their bad parenting blunder as quite rightly so their daughter is their responsibility foremost.

    I do not accept anyone excusing this and implying it shows them “human” any parent who has allowed this to happen to themselves should really STOP and re-evaluate their priorities and question themselves on HOW they allowed this to happen.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 12th Jun '12 - 12:14pm

    I don’t think it makes you a bad parent, but there should be no doubt about it – the Camerons mucked up and mucked up badly. I would say exactly the same if it were Nick Clegg who had done it. Except David Cameron would have been the first to pipe up if the same thing had happened with an unemployed single mother meeting her boyfriend for lunch.

    This isn’t about creating independent children – we should all be doing that as parents. However, being careless and leaving your child behind is completely irresponsible. The security people ought to be ashamed of themselves but ultimately it is the Camerons’ responsibility. The adults outnumbered the children in that situation and they should have made sure everyone was together before they set off.

    I was walking from school to catch the bus when I was 8, but that’s not the point. My mother knew where I was and I knew what I was expected to do and how I was expected to do it. Forgetting about a child and leaving him or her behind is inexcusable. Kirsty Allsop was comparing it to leaving a dog behind, or a passport. It just goes to show how we don’t value our children enough if that’s what some people make of them. No wonder we think it’s acceptable to leave tiny babies to cry to teach them to sleep or that we think it’s ok to smack children.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jun '12 - 12:15pm

    Something similar is recorded as having happened some 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. Given that the mother in question is officially “free from sin”, this may be taken as evidence that the answer to your question is “no” (for those who know/care about these things).

  • That’s quite bad performance from the security protection team – who only had to look after 5 people!

    Maybe they were on workfare and spent the previous night under a bridge?

  • It is serious in terms of the security implications.

    Why have a security team at all, at this standard??

  • I wouldn’t trust him to look after my kids.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 12th Jun '12 - 1:25pm

    Perhaps the child mislaid her parents – if,so could Nancy please have a word with Nick.

  • Liberal Neil 12th Jun '12 - 1:27pm

    I agree about the need for parents to allow their children a reasonable amount of freedom so that they learn responsibility as they grow up.

    We had a letter from our youngest’s school when she started to walk to and from school on her own, a 15-20 minute walk, now that she is ten, and a very sensible ten year old at that.

    However that is quite different to unintentionally leaving your child in a pub.

  • Nicola Prigg 12th Jun '12 - 2:13pm

    Sara, kids getting lost in the crowd is very different from leaving your kid behind.

    Letting your child go to the toilet on their own is a good thing but as a parent, you still need to be aware of where they are going and keep track of where your kids are so that you don’t leave your kids behind.

    Had I been in the situation of Nancy, I would be panicking and thinking parents didn’t love me etc. etc. whereas had we been separated in a crowd, that situation would be oh, we’ve been separated due to its busy, we do x, y, z in this situation to try and find them.

  • Richard Dean 12th Jun '12 - 2:25pm

    Yes.

  • I think we need to get things into a bit of proportion here – they didn’t ‘forget’ their daughter. They each thought that she had gone home with the other. Still easy for them to check ( given that I;m sure they have mobile phones ) but its understandable that if the child had nipped off to the toilet, the 2nd car to leave might have assumed that she had gone off in the first car, particularly if she had gone off witg the group to get in the first car and then nipped to the loo on the way.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Jun '12 - 5:19pm

    I am an international terrorist kidnapper. I am deciding which western leader’s children to snatch. I am wondering which security service will show sufficient weakness to let me in…………

    …….. no more. 🙁

    As for the parents: it’s bad parenting but it doesn’t make you a bad parent. We are all human, even if political leaders try hard to pretend to the world that they are above such mundane standards .

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Jun '12 - 7:22pm

    “So hurrah for the Camerons.”

    Er, why? They weren’t giving her a bit of independence. They forgot about her.

    Abduction by strangers may be rare. Touching up in public toilets is much more common. I know of children who this happened to, even though their parents were stood within sight of the toilet door at the time.

    So as a parent myself, I agree with Richard: Yes.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 12th Jun '12 - 7:48pm

    To be honest if any parent always had nannies, minders, security etc. always looking after their children I daresay that the degree of supervision would be relaxed. My guess is that this got into the public domain as a result of one of the servants getting a bollocking. Meanwhile back on Planet Earth!

  • The point is that this should never have happened to a member of the Prime minister’s family. This was a security breach of immense proportions. What if she had been snatched in an opportunistic way and held to ransom? Is there another exit at the pub that possibly could have been used? How many children have never been found alive again in similar situations of slipping away alone? As a parent I never let my children in a public toilet on their own.

  • I find many of the comments made concerning this happening quite worrying, particularly when comparing it to what we as 8 year old’s got up to several decades back (Nancy was 8), with the consent of parents/adults (I use the word consent to include going off on our bikes without an accompanying adult). It seems that as a society we have developed a collective neurosis around the protection of children, based largely on irrational fears (remember because child abuse and abduction is not commonplace is the reason why they make headline news). As a society this (our neurosis) should be worrying us, as at some point the child will become an adult and have to stand on their own feet and be expected to contribute to society.

    After thought: Whilst an unfortunate mistake left Nancy at the pub, we can be sure that she has also gained from this experience.

  • – the potential for kidnap is the reason why the security team should get it in the neck. The Camerons must be allowed to appear Mr & Mrs Normal as much as possible, and their children allowed to have as normal a life as possible, so their security team should be on high alert to enable them to be so.

  • Sara Bedford 13th Jun '12 - 3:53pm

    @stuart mitchell The Camerons gave their daughter independence by allowing her to visit the toilets without a chaperone. If they had insisted on accompamying her, they wouild not have forgotten her.

    Of course it’s not a good idea to leave a child behind in any situation. But rather a child is allowed to have small freedoms which grow with the child than be followed and nannied everywhere they go.

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Jun '12 - 7:47pm

    Roland:
    I think you’re looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. Yes, young children back in the 60s/70s/80s were given a lot more freedom to walk and cycle where they pleased. But in those days, several hundred children were killed on the roads every year. In 2010 (the most recent figure we have) that had gone down to 55.

    I do agree with a lot of what you say about neurotic modern parents, but there never was a halcyon age when kids could go where they pleased and no harm would come to any of them.

    Sara: As a parent, I can only say that this whole concept of “forgetting” your child is totally and utterly alient to me. But on the other hand I can appreciate that the Camerons live in unimaginably different circumstances to me…

  • Yellow Bill 14th Jun '12 - 2:17pm

    TheCameron’s drove off without their child.

    Why?, because they didn’t pay attention to the whereabouts of their eight year old, not just in the moments during departure but from the time the little girl left them to go to the loo.. It is a fact that they didn’t know that their child hadn’t returned from the toilets which does make them brad parents.

    What is worse though is the incompetence of the close protection team who are trained to know the location of everyone they are charged with protected.

    All in all, bad drills all round

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