In the wake of a tragic incident where a four year old fell into a gorilla enclosure resulting in the gorilla’s death, the world is playing it’s favorite game called “who can we blame!” and we all know our favorite target is always going to be….
The parents of the child. Of course!
Oh look everyone, gather the mob! Here is another opportunity to shame and blame some stranger’s parenting! Oh joy, and rapture! Let’s use someone else’s near-miss at death as a great chance to shame them on social media!
We are such a predictable culture. It doesn’t matter what the disaster is, it doesn’t matter where… if something bad has happened, our first impulse is to point the finger at someone and send them to the public execution block with torches blazing.
The thing is, I realized as I mulled this situation over in my mind this morning, that I have two opposing thoughts on this and I thought I would share them both with you for discussion.
1- The “Cast The First Stone” perspective.
It was a tragic accident. NO one wanted that gorilla to die. The parents did not fling their child into that inclosure and say, “gee I hope we can get them to shoot the animal today”. The zoo acted in response to a terrifying situation and they did what they thought was best in the moment. We know that no one wants their child to die in a gorilla enclosure. Every parent has made mistakes, looked away for 2 seconds, been overly confident that our child would do the right thing only to realize, always a second too late, that they didn’t and they got hurt. This tragedy was unfortunate and frustrating. It seems like a senseless loss of life and a gross display of negligence on the part of these parents and possibly the zoo staff, too, but is that actually where blame belongs?
We cannot use this experience as an excuse to judge the parents – not when every single parent I know has had some tragic or near-tragic run in with disaster. My baby boy at 4 months old, rolled off my bed because he learned, in that moment when I turned away, how to roll OVER the giant barricade of pillows I’d put around him. I was in the bathroom and watched him slip off the bed out of the corner of my eye behind me, from the mirror of the bathroom. I was 8 feet away, but I was overconfident that he couldn’t figure it out. It was a mistake. I was negligent. Another time, he climbed up into my kitchen cupboard and decided to use my steroid inhaler when I had pneumonia last year. I had to make a shameful call to the poison control… the third call to them in my son’s life (he was four at the time). He had never cared what was in my cupboards before and I’d never allowed him to access the kitchen for anything without help, so it never occurred to me that he would do such a thing.
My daughter learned to climb to the top of her swing set and shimmy across the top bar LONG before I ever considered she’d even want to do that and she fell and hurt herself. I should have known better, I was inside, she called for help- by the time I got outside, she was letting go of the bar and fell four feet to the ground, hitting a hard, plastic swing on her way down. I made a mistake. I didn’t get there fast enough. I didn’t make it clear enough not to do that and I wasn’t supervising because we’d had the thing six months already and she’d never thought of doing it so I didn’t think about it. I was negligent.
These may seem silly, trivial or unimportant, but my point is, it happens. We get complacent and casual when we never, ever should be and things happen in those moments when we let our guard down. Hopefully nothing terrible like a death, dismemberment or kidnapping, but that happens, too. I know someone who had their toddler returned by a neighbor because they’d wandered out the door and down the street. I know someone who had their toddler returned by a complete stranger because they were playing in the gutter off a main highway. I know someone who had their preschooler in bed with a broken leg because, while she was making dinner, he decided to move his furniture and climb his dresser pretending it was a mountain. I know another sweet mama who looked away for less than 60 seconds at a party full of family who all kept eyes on all the children and felt confident in carrying a conversation for a moment away from the back door, only to find her baby face down in the pool outside. I even read an article once about a baby who had his leg amputated because he ran out to his father mowing the lawn and no one saw him until he was literally under the mower.
Things happen and although we may try, we are only human and we make mistakes. We are not as careful, as cautious, as mindful every second of every day as maybe we aught to be and sometimes things happen. Sometimes they don’t. That’s when we are lucky and sometimes, we take that luck for granted.
It’s unfair and incredibly cruel to instantly rush to the parents for blame.
No, actually, you don’t know what you would do in this situation, because you have never been in that situation. Or, have you?
I know what I believe I’d do- I wouldn’t have allowed my child to be more than three feet away from me, so it would never have happened. That is what I believe and it is most likely true, but I cannot know that for sure, especially after our last trip to Disneyland where he ran 30 feet ahead in the blink of an eye because he knew the way to the next ride and wanted to show everyone he knew how to get there. It seriously almost gave me a heart attack and thank GOD he decided to stop running and wait for us… but if he hadn’t? Would I be on the evening news? All I know is I don’t get to judge and condemn another family because of what I assume but do not know.
My heart goes out to that mama who, I’m certain at this point, is riddled with guilt and shame and, if she were me anyway, probably needs psychological counseling in order to not end up in the psych ward. What she does NOT need, is the entire world making assumptions about her parenting.
Outside of ALL this, I am a fierce advocate for children’s rights and I am against public shaming of any child or family for ANY reason. I am disgusted by videos taken in secret of children experiencing meltdowns then shared on the internet to shame and make fun of them. I am horrified by our culture where it is perfectly acceptable to secretly photograph a child you don’t know, then post that photo on the internet with a story about how awful that child was in public while openly shaming their families. These sorts of situations truly depict, in my opinion, the very WORST parts of our human culture and I cannot think of a strong enough word to explain how deeply they disgust me. I have seen in this situation, our world’s impulse to do just that with this poor family and it’s cruel. We need to stop. It helps no one and it has to be put to an end.
This situation was the worst case scenario of what could happen in those 10 seconds you don’t have your eyes or hands on your child. It literally could have happened to anyone and has happened to everyone – just not with the same, public outcome. I think we have to stop this impulse to blame at first glance, calling it an isolated incident then move on with “it couldn’t happen to me”. We need to start dealing with the underlying issue, which is a culture where it is “uncool” to supervise your children.
This leads me to my second, feeling;
2- The Complacent Parents Drive Me INSANE perspective.
I have a bone to pick with this”hands off” parenting trend. See, I’m considered one of these gentle-parenting, “hippy” parents who doesn’t use physical violence to get my kids to do what they are told and I am fiercely judged for it by loved ones.
Instead, I’m a hands-on parent who is constantly watching, constantly listening, and nearly always within arm’s reach to help guide them through their choices so they learn along the way what to, and not to do. (does it work every time? hahahahaha…. no. Of course not, but you do what you can, right?)
The thing is, I just don’t buy this whole, “kids need to be kids” crap where I should let my child wander around where I can’t see them in a place that is not the inside of my home. I’m sick of being called a “helicopter parent” because I make sure my kids are within arm’s reach and can’t do things like climb into gorilla cages or disappear with strangers or fall down cliffs, steal things, hurt other children or get stuck inside park equipment they’re not age-appropriate to be on.
(Yeah, giant pet-peeve there; parents, seriously- if the equipment says “ages 5 and under”, don’t let your 8 year old monster child barrel through and trample over the toddlers to get to the slide their butt is gonna get stuck on. It’s hard to admit your baby is getting older, I know, but seriously- just stop it.)
Overall, since I became a parent 5 1/2 years ago, I’m pretty disgusted by the people who think I am out of my mind for being attentive to my children but who will, in turn, allow their kids to wander randomly and don’t pay attention when they get into trouble. They are shocked when another parent has to approach them with their child because they hurt someone or did something wrong because they weren’t being watched. Then, this parent, likely out of shame, very publicly and vocally reprimands the child and/or threatens them with physical force to make sure the other parents know they are “good parents who discipline their kids”.
No. Okay, that is NOT what you look like, just so you’re aware. You look like a lazy, complacent parent who is resorting to verbal and physical violence against your child because you don’t want to be bothered to have to actually parent them.
So these poor kids do what normal kids are bound to do if they are not consistently monitored and, because their parents are not watching them, EVER because it “isn’t cool” to always want to be a part of your child’s lives anymore… they are ALWAYS a second too late when bad things happen.
These parents are constantly setting their children up for failure and it’s wildly unfair! When children are not 100% monitored, OF COURSE they’ll do what is within their nature- test boundaries, explore, wander and fight. They don’t have the impulse control of an adult. They don’t have the coordination or the balance or the forethought of an adult or even an older child who can collectively and rationally reason, “gee, if I do this, that might not turn out so well for me, I better stay here”. They will do what their instinct and their impulse tells them to do and it is THE PARENT’S JOB to guide them through those impulses and help them learn which is the right choice.
There is also a gross arrogance that comes with this parenting style. The number of times I’ve heard “well if he breaks his arm, he’ll learn, won’t he?” just makes my stomach turn. It justifies a parent’s negligence and almost makes fun of their child’s pain. I can’t understand it and it hurts my heart for those kids who have to live with parents who would rather their child learn through disaster than just be present and teach them not to do it in the first place.
My job is to keep my tiny, curious, rebellious humans alive, to teach them without them having to learn first hand why something is dangerous and to do that, you can’t just dump them off at a playground, say, “okay honey go have fun” then go back to your blanket 50 feet away in the shade and pretend they don’t exist until they come back to you asking for juice. I’m sorry, but that does not make you look like “the cool parent” that makes you look like a bad parent who would probably not notice if someone came around and stole your child right off the playground. It makes you look like a target to kidnappers and when your children are older, they’ll remember going to the park and playing alone because you were too busy on your phone to notice what they were doing.
So, there it is, my contrary and two, completely polar opposite feelings on this subject.
Yes, it was an accident. No, I don’t blame this family. I do however, blame judgey people who laugh, make fun of or shame parents who are more attentive. No one wants to be called the helicopter parent, so they just let their kids do whatever and hope for the best. The fierce judgment of strangers thinking we are being too protective of our children is becoming an excuse for letting them run around unattended or going out of sight with no care to find out where they’ve been because, well, they’ll be back, right? It’s causing parents to become more lax, more dispassionate about their children’s care and safety and in general, just more complacent. It’s unfair to children to have to endure this new trend that puts them at risk.
Bottom line- Yes, of course it’s your choice how you parent, but just remember the black and white reality; if you are risky, you’re more likely to be at risk. It’s just like driving, right? Increased driving increases risk of accident. Not because you are a bad driver, but because you are out there more often and the percentage is just higher due to opportunity. If you never drive, you will probably never be in a car accident. So as a parent, if you are complacent more than you are cautious, your child is more likely to experience accidents. That’s not judgment, that’s just logic.