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My Bad Parenting (near) Disaster

15 seconds.  That’s all it took.  I turned my back for 15 seconds.  And it almost cost my family dearly.

In 15 seconds, my 20-month-old daughter was able to walk surreptitiously from the living room of our home, out the front door, and make it down to the 5th step of a 19-step flight of stairs.  It was the scariest moment I’ve had as her father.  (So far) 

We live on the second floor of a walk-up brownstone in NYC.  Like any kid her age, Sabine likes to climb, and she always wants to climb up and down that flight of stairs that leads to our apartment.  Sometimes, under close supervision, we let her.  But she has always shown a healthy fear of navigating down the steps on her own and insists on latching on to me or her mom.

After running an errand Tuesday morning, I returned home and the plan was to walk in, pick up the trash, and walk right back out.  That would have taken only a moment and not required me to take my eyes off Sabine who was standing in the living room, entranced by an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  When I walked in, I asked my wife a question but then followed her to the back room of our apartment as she was answering me, leaving Sabine unattended.  Problem is, I didn’t close the front door of the apartment, since my original intent was to walk right back out anyway.  In the 15 seconds it took for me to hear my wife’s answer and come back up front to pick up the trash, Sabine had bolted out that open front door.  I walked out to see her standing perilously on step #5 with another 14 steep steps in front of her.  There was nothing to break her fall but the hardwood floor below.

My frantic reaction startled her, she lost her balance, and started her tumble.  I dove down the steps and had her in my arms before she even fell down a full step.  This all happened in a split second, but if felt like we were in slow motion.

Sabine was unharmed.  I might be scarred for life.  My wife spent more time trying to comfort me than comfort Sabine.  I was shaken by those terrifying few moments, and later by the thought of what might have been.  To think, I got there when she was already on step #5.  She was on her own as she made it down step #1.  Step #2.  Step #3.  Step #4.  We were lucky.

I was upset that I had made such a potentially grave mistake.  It’s one that parents make often.  A young child in the United States is treated every six minutes in an emergency room for a stair-related injury.  That’s nearly 100,000 kids under the age of 5 taking a tumble down stairs every year.  75% of those kids end up with injuries to the head or neck.  Three percent end up hospitalized.  Many kids are injured while actually being carried down stairs by an adult, but the majority fall on their own.  (No reliable research exists to tell us how many deaths occur from stair-related falls, but we know deaths happen.)

Injuries from stair-related falls have dropped over the years thanks to increased awareness and safety measures.  Researchers are still calling for better-designed staircases and wall-mounted stair gates.  None of that is as effective as good old fashioned adult supervision.

Some of the most exciting and memorable moments in parents’ lives are when their child starts crawling and when their child starts walking.  Parents also remember the horror that follows.  Once a kid gets mobile, life changes.  Every electrical outlet must be covered.  Every little item on the floor becomes a choking hazard.  The kids want to climb onto things which means they can also fall off things.  They can open the refrigerator, turn on the stove, fall in the toilet, get into the cabinet where you keep the cleaning supplies, run into sharp table corners, and want to reach up and grab for anything.  I actually walked into the kitchen once and Sabine had a butcher knife in her hand.  I’m still not sure how she did that.

Child safety advocates tell us the key is to create a safe environment, i.e. childproof your home because it’s impossible to watch your child every second.  True, but that’s not what happened with me.  My mind was on my day ahead:  errands to run, phone calls to make, emails to send, people to see.  I left it up to Mickey Mouse to keep an eye on Sabine.  It’s a common refrain that we all need to slow down.  This time, in the rush of life, I forgot my first and most basic responsibility is the well-being of a little girl who depends on me to protect her.  No one should never be in that big of a hurry.

I made a mistake.  I beat myself up about it because it was an avoidable, potentially devastating mistake.  I was almost that parent whose story begins with, “I only turned my back for a second …”

I turned mine for 15.

Comments

Candice Carpenter
Reply

I can’t imagine. As a parent we’ve all had these OMG what was I thinking moments. Her guardian angel was with her. Share this story with her when she’s older. She will appreciate it.

vinsonro
Reply

Your 15 seconds took a tole and it does but that is all apart of being an engaged parent. I would encourage you to install some carpeting on the stairs just as a precaution. My daughter who is in her 30s fell last year down as many hardwood steps and she was banged up pretty badly, broken arm, swollen face, and blackened eye. She now has carpeting on her stairs. This is a lesson I wish no new parent would endure. I am glad your lovey is okay and that you are healing as well. Take Care of Your Family for Me. Bountiful Blessings.

Joyce Jenkins
Reply

It’s true that you sometimes discover what your child is capable of when you’re not watching. Had 2yo go out the door and ask a passerby. “Where’s Mommy? ” Grandpa had drifted off for a moment. Even 15 seconds is long. Bless their little inquisitive, fearless hearts. Thank God you rescued her. She is adorable.

Ivan
Reply

Don’t beat yourself up too bad. Use this as an opportunity to thank God, Father, Son & Spirit for mercy and grace. There will many scary moments rearing your loved one. Trust God to be right there with you every step of the way. Have fun!

maria
Reply

So brave of you to share your story which is such a parent’s story…I now know why I have always liked watching you from your CNN days…blessings to your new family and yes children are gifts from God!!!

jennufer
Reply

This was quite a scary experience for you to experience as a new parent~~I can’t imagine!! Please know you reacted perfectly and be thankful you were there for your precious angel in the moment, that was God in action!!
you should affirm that your daughter is divinely protected by the Light, Power & Presence of God always~~this is true for your family as well.
You are missed on MSNBC they need someone like you in their mix~~JM

Sherri
Reply

Like others have said, we as parents have had those terrifying moments. I am so glad that you chose to share it because these are excellent reminders for us parents about the dangers that we know but forget about in a split second. We have two sons, ages 9 and 8, and I clearly remember the day when my 9 year old was just under a year old. I was changing his diaper on our bed, which sits up high, and turned my head for a moment and he fell off the bed onto the hardwood floor. As I write this all these years later, it sends my heart into palpitations! I remember beating myself up also, crying to our pediatrician, etc. Bottom line, he was fine but I was scarred for life!
Thank you for sharing this story and you may have saved others from the heartbreak of dealing with a child’s injury or death.

Ragen
Reply

Hey, T.J. — Your post header about being a ‘bad’ parent is a bit dramatic, don’t you think? You experienced something that every parent goes through from time to time, because–try as you might–it’s impossible to keep your eye on your child 24/7. Now if you think that what you experienced meets the standard of ‘bad parenting,’ how would you classify the parent who deliberately leaves their child strapped in a car seat in a locked car all day? Now, that’s a case of bad parenting.

King
Reply

Ragen, “bad parenting” standards aside, I think TJ is simply owning his mistake and telling his story.. at 2 years old I actually made it out of the house .. down the stairs and then 3 full city blocks away before a stranger found me and waited until he saw the first frantic woman looking for a lost baby… my mom still tells the story until this day.. I’m 37 🙂 With a new 10 month old baby girl of my own I can definitely appreciate this post!

I feel you TJ

Leslie
Reply

Thank you for sharing. I’ll never forget the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco. I was piddling around on the 2nd floor of our flat, and when the earth began shake, all I could see in my mind was my 6 month old son sitting on the front porch below with my grandmother. I don’t remember touching a stair….just flying down the stairs in what seemed like slow motion to swoop him up in my arms. He’s 25 now and 6’2″ and doing fine. Treasure every moment with your daughter….time flies.

We all make mistakes as parents and majority of those mistake serve to make us even better parents. At 58, I’ve learned let go and not be so atttached to my dream for his life and to appreciate his vision and decisions and the precious time we spend together.

Love you on World News Now, your unique flow and delivery is very refreshing

Tony L. Jefferson, Jr.
Reply

TJ you are a refreshing face on TV and an inspiration to many including myself an aspiring Journalist. I too have a little girl and I know all too well the horror of potential accidents and the ones that we can’t catch. Thank God you were there to catch her when you did and our children are a constant reminder of how complex our lives have become. We all try to find that perfect balance of family life, work and social interaction but from time to time they all take their fair share of hits. Moments like the scare you had tend to remind us of how busy things have gotten and forces us to prioritize or become more balanced. We all pray that things like this don’t happen and I pray for your continued success and the continued progression of your family.

Carol Wilson
Reply

Wow I know the feeling you blink and they can get into any & everything…
My God Daughter lost her son the TV fell on him, who ever heard of that before?
Keep your Eyes wide open even when their shut.

Hameelah
Reply

I’m so glad she is okay. When we know better we do better! Thanks for the reflection and reminder!

I love your work on The Root!

Keep them coming!

mimose dolce
Reply

My son is 30 years old, I am still trembling and paralysed about a similar situation. I should have seek treatment…..,

Theresa
Reply

T.J. Holmes is a bad parent anyway. Say what you may, He abandoned his daughter, writes a a sad sorry-ass letter yrs. Later to cover his sorry-ass. Leaves it up to the other parent to explain their ridiculousness. Just because you saw “something” that you “thought” was better! Sad,Sad.

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