Y’all. I am so sick of debating about that damn gorilla and the potential negligence of that poor mother. But I feel like I need to say this again and again in every medium available to me because if enough parents say it, maybe someone who needs to hear it will hear it: ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. They happen to all of us, all the time. Some of us are lucky, and some of us sadly are not. There is no rhyme or reason to this stuff; it’s life.
I would think that this would be a fairly uncontroversial statement, much like, “Life’s not fair” or “You don’t always get what you want” or “Sometimes bad things happen to good people.” But I’m truly disturbed by some of the vitriol I’ve seen on the Internet directed against this mom by other people, other mothers even, who, apparently, have never had a lapse in judgment, a momentary distraction, or an unruly child.
“I guess no one is taking responsibility for their kids anymore,” said one of my friends, herself a mother of three kids under 6. “My concern with this whole gorilla situation and people’s views on it is the overarching theme that people believe we should not accept any responsibility for our kids, that we should make excuses, and that we should blame everyone else for their mistakes.”
I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t be responsible for their kids, for the record. I’m not. I’m saying, “Accidents happen, and empathy is the better choice in general.” That is a very different statement than, “Kids will be kids; no big deal!”
I think I am a responsible parent. But I once thought Georgia ate a magnet. (She didn’t.) Georgia once choked on a sticker that Ruby had stuck on some forgotten corner of a dollhouse and my babysitter had to call 9-1-1. (She was OK, thank God.) Ruby has had a broken toe and a broken nose just in the past year, along with a fat lip. I once lost sight of Ruby – AT A ZOO – because I was standing at the front of a bouncy-house she was in and didn’t know it had a back exit, and she went out the back while I was standing at the front. My kids have broken countless wine glasses and toys, and once Ruby broke a vase at my in-laws’ that I truly don’t even want to know how much it cost.
I am not defending these things! I am not saying, “It’s someone else’s fault that my kid put dangerous shit in her mouth/wandered away/broke a priceless antique.” I am EMPHATICALLY NOT SAYING THAT. My kids – and, in some cases, me as well – are the ones directly responsible. That makes me, by proxy, responsible. I accept that responsibility. In all of these cases, I have sought medical attention/apologized/offered compensation/disciplined my kids afterward as needed.
But I have also seen true abuse and neglect. And I think we should save our judgment for those cases. Because these things – all of these things that have happened to me in almost 10 years as a mom – were accidents, not done out of any malice on the part of me or my children. So yes, I will accept responsibility, but no, I will not accept judgment. And having had these experiences myself has made it much easier for me to extend a hand or a hug to a fellow parent going through a tough time. When a friend posted pictures of her son at the ER after she swallowed a penny, I was able to say, “Oh, God, I have SO been there. Let me know if I can help. XO.” instead of, “Oh, God, Julie, why weren’t you watching her better???” I think that impulse – to empathize instead of judge – is better for society, better for parents, better for children, better in general.
I am an imperfect mother with imperfect children. I acknowledge that. And I think, ultimately, the reason for all of this judgment comes out of a very human impulse, the desire to try to force life into something predictable, where the only time something bad happens to your child is if you did something to bring it upon yourself. It’s scary – it’s terrifying! – to accept how very untrue that is.
But if I’m going to err – and believe me, I am – I’d rather err on the side of compassion than judgment. And to those who think this can’t happen to you, I hope you never have to find out just how wrong you are – and I mean that sincerely.