There’s been a lot of stuff written about parents and gorillas and alligators and all kinds of stuff related to that lately. I wanted to share my perspective as a parent who has experienced the death of a child (twice).
First of all, it’s totally normal to have those reactions of “what were they thinking?” and other blame-the-parent gut reactions. It’s not nice, and it’s not helpful, but it’s normal. What’s not normal, and also not nice or helpful, is posting those thoughts online, especially in comments under the story where the parents affected can see them.
But #nofilter! While that may be great for pictures, it’s not so much great for our thoughts. Remember that movie What Women Want? If you never saw it, Mel Gibson plays a divorced dad of a teenaged daughter who is competing with Helen Hunt for a promotion at an advertising agency. Something happens with electricity, and he suddenly has the ability to hear the thoughts of women, as though they are talking to them. At times, it makes him crazy, and at other times he uses this ability to manipulate situations to work in his favor. Ultimately, he learns to understand women better and repents of his womanizing ways, but the sub-point of the movie is that our thoughts and reactions are best kept to ourselves.
Social media has made it easy and popular to post whatever you think the moment you think it. With no filter at all. Um, no. Not good. Whatever happened to thinking before you speak? (yes, I heard the theme from Full House in my head as I typed that).
The reason I defend those thoughts (that should not be shared, but WILL be thought) is that I get where they are coming from. It’s not judgment. Really, it isn’t. It’s parents who need to desperately cling to the hope that IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN TO ME.
“Where were the parents?” Translation: “My kid won’t die/get sick/get hurt/get scared because I will make sure it doesn’t happen.” And this isn’t about self-righteousness. It’s a desperate defense mechanism to hold the terror at bay.
I don’t know for sure, but here’s what I think: in the heart of every mom and dad there is a paralyzing fear that lays dormant, just waiting to grab onto something tangible and shake it around screaming, “YOUR CHILD IS GOING TO DIE!” The only way to silence the monster is to grab onto any form of reassurance available.
So when a kid falls into a gorilla pit, the monster screams, “YOUR KID IS NEXT!” and you have to respond, “No. That won’t happen to my kid because I will be more vigilant/stay off my phone/put my kid on a leash/never visit the zoo.”
When a toddler is snatched by an alligator, the fear yells, “MONSTERS ARE REAL AND YOUR BABY IS GONNA GET EATEN UP!” You have to say to it, “No! My baby is in bed by 8. We won’t be wading in the dark. I’m never going to Florida.”
It’s the same fear that leads to messages about sexual predators when transgender bathroom issues are discussed. It’s the terror that led a pregnant mom friend of my sister to say, “we’ll be extra careful” when they heard the story of our Samantha. She didn’t mean it in judgment. She just needed to soothe herself so she could sleep at night.
Because here’s the reality: If parents let the fear go unanswered, they will NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. Because the truth is there are millions of ways our children could die. There are millions of ways they can get hurt. So we have helicopter parents who wrap their kids in bubble wrap and do everything in their power to protect them at every turn. There are other parents who just don’t engage with their kids because it’s easier to not care what might happen. And everyone else just keeps responding to the voice of fear with words meant to comfort: “It can’t happen to me.”
Unfortunately, no one is immune. It (and the “it” can mean all kinds of tragedy) can happen to anyone. We do the best we can, and learn from our mistakes, and keep chugging along day by day. But please, for the love! Stop posting those phrases that only help you feel better and make others feel worse. Parents need to come together and love each other, because at some point every family will experience something bad. It might not be huge or newsworthy, but we all have struggles and need to support one another.
Because when the worst thing imaginable happens, the last thing parents need is blame and shame.