News flash: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump let their kids ride in the presidential motorcade without car seats.
Lions and tigers and bears, Oh my!
Apparently, there aren’t enough important things going on in the world to prevent this from becoming headline news, with CNN devoting an entire story to the possibility that this event might have transpired. “Trump-Kushner children appear to board motorcade sans car seats,” read the panicked headline that was better suited to The Onion than to a legitimate news outlet. (I don’t recall CNN ever covering such incidents when they involve Chelsea Clinton hopping in a taxi with her young daughter and no car seat.)
Never mind that it’s legal to take a child of any age in a beat-up taxi without a car seat; but CNN seems to think someone should call Child Protective Services because the Trumps let their kids ride in the safest car in the world without car seats! Even CNN was forced to acknowledge the, ahem, singularity of “Cadillac One,” writing: “The Secret Service-driven presidential limousine, known as “the Beast,” is certainly safer than the average vehicle.”
You don’t say! Maybe that has something to do with the six-inch thick windows that can stop any bullet, the doors that weigh as much as the cabin doors on a Boeing 757, or the explosive-proof fuel tank, for starters? Never mind the police escort that rides along with the car at all times, and which shuts down all traffic wherever it goes.
The attention given to this incident highlights just how extreme America has become about car seats—even one of the safest cars ever built is still fair game for the car seat police—and how bad the helicopter parents of America have gotten in carrying out their work for the nanny state.
In my own neighborhood of northwest D.C., it’s become anathema to even ask a question about when to stop using a car seat, or when to shift to a booster, or even when to turn a child around to be forward-facing. Many parents keep their children rear-facing until they are several years old, with multiple parents on a popular D.C. parenting blog stating that they still have a child rear-facing in a car seat . . . at age four. When one mom asked if it was okay to turn around her eighteen-month-old child because his screaming and car sickness was distracting her to the point of becoming a safety hazard, and I pointed out that she could actually legally turn him at one, parents piled on me as if I had suggested she go ahead and kill her kid.
In fact, most car seat laws are much less onerous than people think. Some states specify a child should be rear facing until age one, and most states have only vague requirements for some form of “child restraint” after age one or two, which can include any kind of booster seat. And yet when I tell people we switched to a backless booster for our daughter at age four, people look at me like I have two heads. In the region where I live, the most specific law is Virginia’s requirement that children under age one be rear-facing. Other than that, it’s basically a child restraint free-for-all until age eight. But parents freak out if someone in their car pool uses a booster for a five-year-old.
It’s not that car safety should be taken lightly; it’s a leading cause of death for human beings of all ages. But most parents get confused about what is legally required and what is recommended by car seat companies (who live in terror of lawsuits). Then there’s the American Academy of Pediatricians, who can also be found recommending that mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months and in general until age one “or longer,” recommendations that plenty of us loving mothers accept with a smile and then ignore for the sake of other competing interests, like our sanity.
Like any health or safety issue, there are recommendations and then there are laws; but there’s also the reality that there are risks to just about anything related to being alive. Balancing safety with real life demands is a basic part of life, and especially of parenting. I am guessing most pregnant women continue to drive motor vehicles, for example, despite a report that came out in in 2014 that found that the risk of serious car accidents goes up forty-two percent for pregnant drivers in their second trimester.
But increasingly, “balance” is something our parenting culture lacks. We’ve become so safety obsessed that some people are actually artificially limiting their family size on the basis of car seats, as Jonathan Last documented in his book, What To Expect When No One is Expecting, despite the fact that fitting three seats across a backseat is much more feasible than most people would have you think (especially if you ignore the screams about keeping your kid rear facing until they are three years old and in a car seat versus a booster until they are six or seven). I for one continue to ignore the chorus of naysayers who tell me I will need a bigger car when my third child arrives, because I plan to put my enormous three-year-old in a booster, leaving plenty of room for another booster and an infant seat.
I doubt CNN will be writing any headlines about my horrifyingly unsafe car seat practices, but you’ll forgive the rest of us for indulging in a giant collective eye roll when they panic about the Trump kids riding in the presidential limo without baby seats. America’s meddlesome helicopter parents should find better things to do than accuse members of the President’s family of endangering their own children.