Shameful. Unfit. Stupid. Lazy. Incompetent. Grossly negligent.
All of these are words that have been used to describe the mother of a child who fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo this week.
After the inarguably sad and terrible event, people are signing petitions and calling for the mother to held responsible. Financially and also by having CPS investigate what clearly must be an unfit home. It would never have happened to THEM. Allegedly.
I want to dive into this because it’s part of a larger pattern that I see. We all know that the internet is a place where people can safely toss words like grenades at one another behind the safety of a screen. Criticism is so easily hurled at parents for their parenting decisions, whether on a blog or a news story.
I would really love to stop this, please. Like, NOW.
I’m a realist, so I know that it will not stop. I’m sure I’ll get some nasty comments on this very post. But I want to talk about how easily people launch firestorms and why it matters.
We are part of a culture at large that loves to publicly shame people. We brand strangers with the equivalent of a Scarlet A. Then we tell our friends. Then we tell our followers. We gather angry mobs to toss words like grenades through the internet. Just read Jon Ronson’s book, (affiliate link) So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed to see examples of our current social shaming culture.
It’s so easy, isn’t it? Because there is a sense that it’s not real. We say things online that we likely wouldn’t say in person. We have layers of distance and technology to separate us from the actuality of situations and from the power our words have. And because it’s not our situation, we think that we would have handled it differently.
Whether it’s about breastfeeding or vaccinations or about choices made to let kids walk to the park by themselves, we all feel that we need to be INVOLVED. Not simply in discussions, but in name-calling and attacking and reporting people to agencies like CPS when they make choices that we wouldn’t make for our own kids. Because WE would never do THAT.
When this happens, no one wins. We trade in the idea of the village for an angry mob.
Whether it’s the situation this week with the tragic loss of a gorilla’s life or whatever situation will happen next week, people are so quick to speak hateful, snap-judgmental, vitriolic things. How it could never happen to them and their kids (or the kids they might one day have).
How it should have been SO EASY to prevent something like [fill in the blank] from happening if the parent had only [fill in the blank]. I NEVER would have [fill in the blank], they say.
We somehow feel like we can accurately make a judgment on this. As though we would know how we would behave, what our kids would or would not do, how we would have done something differently, which way the wind would have been blowing, and so on. We think we can factor in all the variables from behind our computers and know for certain that it wouldn’t have happened to us. Shame on those parents who did it wrong!
Parenting is a weighty responsibility. And it is impossible to do perfectly. Let me say that again. In larger letters.
Parenting is impossible to do perfectly.
There are always circumstances we don’t see. There are tough choices to make day after day, moment by moment. There are variables.
So many people have commented that you should NEVER take your eyes off your children and I’m calling BS. Parents, can you honestly say this? Can you honestly say you watch your children from the moment they wake until the moment they sleep? (And sometimes on the baby monitor video at night?) This is an impossibility.
Yes, you should be more aware when you head to places that might have safety issues. I personally don’t take all four of mine to playgrounds without a fence. Because I KNOW I will lose a kid. When I was pregnant and had one kid, I put him on a leash at the zoo. Because I know my kid.
My kids are a smidge more active than the average active kid. Maybe more likely to scale a building or jump off a building. I plan around this, but I’m not perfect. And I can’t always be in a rubber room, which would actually be ideal. I will make mistakes. I have made mistakes.
Sometimes parents make little mistakes with little consequences. Sometimes parents make little mistakes with BIG consequences.
Sometimes parents make big mistakes with little (or no) consequences. Sometimes parents make big mistakes with BIG consequences.
As an example of a big mistake with no consequences, a good friend who is a fantastic mom accidentally left her baby in the car. Actually, she and her husband TOGETHER accidentally left the baby in the car. They had a different routine, baby fell asleep in the car and was silent, and it happened. She told me about it later in hushed tones, crying. It was only for 20 minutes and he was totally fine, but they did not even know until they got back to the car and saw him there. It almost tore her apart: the guilt, the fear of what-if, the weight of so much judgment. I think I may have been the only person she told.
(Leaving kids in a hot car is one more thing that people say would NEVER happen to them, by the way.)
We are so fearful of making mistakes now. And there are endless mistakes to make. And seemingly endless troves of people on their high horses to tell you all about it. And the guilt, OH the guilt. Coming from ourselves, our parents, our friends, strangers in the grocery store, strangers on the internet.
Society: Stop being helicopter parents!
Society: Why weren’t you physically touching and looking at your child every second at a place as dangerous as the zoo?!
Society: It takes a village!
Society: I’m not grabbing that kid. Where are his parents? I’m busy recording this. I’ll have statements for the press later.
And I loved this post from Busy Mommy Media about standing with imperfect parents. She knows firsthand how ugly the internet can be after sharing the story of her daughter’s near-drowning. A few news outlets picked up the story and she says the comment sections were horrifying.
In a Facebook discussion on the Cincinnati Zoo incident, a dear friend remarked that she thought I would not have let this happen with my kids because I’m careful. Well, yes. I try to be. But despite my best efforts, this could have been me and my kids. I’ll say it out loud.
IT COULD HAVE BEEN ME.
While so many people are quick to say that it wouldn’t have happened on their watch, I’ll admit it could have happened on mine. Even on my best day. Because, honestly? This is the imperfect reality we live in.
Do you think we could maybe give people a little grace? Maybe a benefit of the doubt? Maybe be a little less holier-than-thou in our estimation of other people’s parenting?
I would love to hear us replace “That would never have happened to me” with “That could have been me.”