About the Cincinnati Zoo incident. [Or Insert latest media story involving a child]
I understand. I understand you are angry that a gorilla had to be shot. That is sad.
I understand that you believe in your heart of hearts that the child must have been unsupervised in order to land himself in that situation.
I am here to tell you something you may not have realized before. You are not in control of your thoughts. The fact is you are reflexively parroting our American belief system that if a child is hurt, in danger, or killed for any reason….any reason, then this must be, by definition, someone’s…anyone’s fault.
You may not realize it but somewhere along the line most of us (yes, even me!) have fallen into the crusade for a zero percent mortality rate. This is the belief that if we all just follow the rules, or make enough rules, or supervise our children enough, than it is possible to reach a perfect 0% rate of mortality for children.
Is it tragic when a child is hurt or killed? Yes! Absolutely!
Is it automatically criminal, or someone’s fault? NO!
And yet we feel a desperate need to spin every child death, every child accident and every child endangerment into some sort of preventable tragedy. We have a need to do this because it makes us feel like we are in control. Americans have a long-term, shared belief system that if we just work hard enough we can become rich and “make it” in the world. This belief in the control over our own circumstances spills over into every facet of our lives. If we just legislate safety enough, maintain enough supervision or protect our children from enough things- then we will never have to face the possibility of losing one.
News Flash: This. Is. A. Lie.
It is a horrible, unpleasant thing to think about, but children die. Children disappear from even the most watchful parent and get themselves into mischief every day.
We often wrongly assume that children are passive players in this scenario. Many of those children are actively watching for that one second, the one tiny opportunity to slip away and explore somewhere or do something forbidden. The tighter we crack down, the more those children are going to be watching us- waiting to exploit that one distracted moment.
Just like an oppressive regime that eventually loses control of its people, so are the children of helicopter parents. They are waiting, ever watchful of that single moment in time when Mom has to tend to another child’s needs, or is distracted by the phone or another adult. And in that moment, they will slip away.
But, that isn’t how we treat these parents afterwards. Oh no. God forbid your child be injured or taken from you by death.
Understand this. The mere fact of child loss is all that is required. Just as my friend who lost her 2 year old in a parking lot- standing exactly where he was asked to stand. The minute the news reported the mere fact that it happened was the very same minute that the condemnation started flooding in. Assumption that he had run into the street. Assumption that he hadn’t been holding hands. Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions. All of it proceeding the worst and most horrific condemnation. My friend’s family, facing the worst grief imaginable, began having to defend themselves daily against a world that felt compelled to shout that it was all their fault.
The nightmare is more than anyone can imagine.
So to all the individuals out there making “funny” memes about this family’s near tragedy, or any other child tragedy for that matter, understand this: the only thing separating you from this kind of judgement is coincidence. Safety is an illusion. Childhood is risk. Good parenting is no inoculation to tragedy. Sometimes accidents are just that. Accidents.
And to anyone who might disagree with me, I challenge to you find me ONE- just one article about a child who has died from something other than illness like cancer or the flu where the parents haven’t been questioned, charged or justice demanded in the court of opinion. Find me one where a lawsuit or non-profit hasn’t sprung up to re-write laws to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again, “if it saves a single life, it will be worth it.”
You can’t. Because we need someone to blame. We need to spin that tragedy into a preventable one. Because if we don’t, we all have to face the truly terrifying fact that no one is immune. No one is safe.
Instead I challenge us all to read a story about an accident involving a child and either hold our tongue or simply post, "I am so sorry this happened." Because how we treat struggling, grieving families is how we will in turn be treated if, God forbid, tragedy ever strikes us.
A “Good” Mom (read: A Lucky Mom)