Village or Mob?
by Shannon Pipkin
I have three amazing, curious, and active children. We've had our share of heart-stopping moments thus far:
- Son broke his clavicle rolling off the couch at 18 months. Where was a parent? Sitting right next to him on the couch.
- Son smashed his fingers in a stroller that overturned when he suddenly stood up. Where was a parent? Standing right next to the stroller.
- Daughter split her knee open in the backyard, requiring stitches. Where was a parent? Directly inside the house.
- Son's head was split open after being knocked into a wooden dollhouse while playing with friends. Where was a parent? Nursing a hungry baby in the next room.
- Son flipped over the porch railing and landed with his head inches away from a large rock in the front planter. Where was a parent? Sitting directly in front of the window watching the kids on the porch while nursing a newborn baby.
- Daughter got lost briefly at an amusement park at age four. There were four of us adults standing right there when she slipped away.
- Son got lost briefly at a dance competition. Where were the parents? Right there, navigating a busy room, dance competition details, and three young kids. A miscommunication meant that each parent thought the other one was "on" for hanging on to the youngest. We were all walking together when we turned, and he kept going straight.
- 3-year-old son let the not-yet-2-year-old son out the front door. I got to him just as he was stepping on the street. Where was the parent? Helping a 4-year-old in the bathroom.
Several of these incidents could have ended in tragedies that would have changed our lives forever. Horrors we would have lived with our whole lives. And every single one of these things happened in a split second. Sometimes right in front of our eyes, others when we were momentarily occupied with legitimate things (babies need to eat, kids need help in the bathroom, sometimes parents even need to pee . . . imagine that)!
So why am I "outing" myself online? Exposing all my "negligent" parenting?
I don't know what exactly happened at the Cincinnati Zoo (and unless you were there, neither do you.) But what I do know is that sh** happens when you're a parent, and it happens faster than you can even blink. (My son flipped over that porch railing before I could even react. Thank God it was a front porch and not a gorilla enclosure!) Kids are fast, sneaky, unpredictable, young, and sometimes just plain stupid. You cannot have your eyes/hands on them at every single second. I don't care who you are—it's impossible. And in that split second, the unimaginable can happen.
The entire situation is tragic, from beginning to end. I'm truly sad for all involved. Addressing the 'how' and 'why' the boy was able to end up in the enclosure will need to happen to make sure something like this never happens again. Maybe mistakes were made, but some of what I've heard spewed toward the mother of this child online is truly sickening.
"Sooooo, are they gonna shoot the parents, too? I mean, obviously, that child was in more danger due to the parent's stupidity than the Gorilla. There was no need to kill that gorilla. Now, the parents, that's a different story."
"I can't wait until DYFS moves in and takes her child away. Pay attention to your children or don't have them, it's that simple!"
"Why kill the Gorilla? You should have shot the stupid parents!!!"
"The mom sounded awfully calm for someone whose kid could be ripped apart at any moment. Maybe she bred too much and was like meh. Whatever. If you can't keep your face out of your phone long enough to realize you're minus a child, please do not breed."
"They should have shot the kid's parents instead of the gorilla, for not taking care of their child."
"The stupid inept parents should be billed for the cost of the gorilla and have the child taken away and given to someone who can properly take care of the child."
"Me, I would have shot the parents of that little boy not the gorilla."
"Unwanted children of irresponsible whores are not on the endangered species list"
"Dear Harambe, I am sorry that your life was taken because a worthless mother could not control her child."
Maybe she is a truly awful, negligent mother. Somehow I doubt it—I surely haven't seen any evidence to back those accusations up, but I don't know for sure. I don't know her, and neither do any of the people spewing hate. What we have an abundance of are perfect (and awfully self-righteous) people who seem to be above having anything ever happen to their children. It sure is easy to judge from afar.
"When my son was real young, I never let him out of my sight."
"That would not have happened to my child because I would have been paying attention to my child. Those parents should be charged with neglect—period. Absolutely no excuse!"
Apparently these parents were superhuman and never used a restroom, took a shower, slept, took a picture, turned their head, or even blinked for years.
"If you can't handle your child(ren) and keep your eye on them at all times, you shouldn't leave your house!"
Hmmm. Well, apparently some of us are such bad parents that even keeping them at home won't do the trick. Five out of eight of the incidents I listed above occurred at my home. Her child got away from her in a busy zoo. So she's worthless? She should be shot? Have her children taken away? Not be able to "breed"? I guess all of us parents whose children have had accidents or "close calls" of various kinds should face the same fate?
How quickly we toss out the village mentality in favor of a mob mentality.
As a parent, I know that there is nothing worse than not being able to find/get to/save/protect your child. Nothing. Nothing feels worse than feeling like you could have/should have been able to stop something bad from happening to your child. Nothing. The guilt parents feel when their child is harmed in some way, whether reasonably preventable or not, is overwhelming. We so often live with fear, self-doubt, and guilt over any number of things.
At the end of the day, we are human parents. And we're raising human kids. And we all make mistakes. Parents do. Kids do. All humans do.
I thank God that her son is alive. He didn't deserve to die for a childhood mistake. She didn't deserve to lose a son for an accident/mistake. (Even if she was being neglectful or irresponsible in some way—death is not an "appropriate" consequence!) Even so, she will live with this for the rest of her days, compounded by the public scrutiny, judgment, and hatred of complete strangers worldwide. I'm sure glad the awful moments in my parenting life listed above weren't made international news for everyone to criticize. I can't imagine having people take just one moment of my life as a parent and rip it to shreds—even wishing death upon me—for an accident that happened in a split second. Moments I already feel terrible about and will live with forever. It's awful.
Outside of outright abuse and intentional neglect, I sure as heck won't stand here in righteous judgment saying, "That would never happen to me or my kids!," because if I have learned anything about children and parenting over the past 11 years, it's that these little buggers love nothing more than proving you wrong. They aren't little robots—they don't always listen, behave, or otherwise do what we wish they would do. This parenting real, live, human children thing is no joke, folks! Personally, I need a village, not a mob.
So, for me, I choose grace. Offering the benefit of the doubt—from one imperfect human mama to another. I'll reserve my judgment and disdain for proven cases of abuse and intentional neglect, not for moments in time that can happen to even the best of parents (whether we choose to be honest about it or not).
Besides, as one comment I ran across reminded me–apparently I'm in good company: "Even Jesus' mother lost track of Him when He was little. (Luke 2). It can happen. Let's choose to show grace to others."
Shannon Pipkin is a wife and mother, works at a Mennonite church, and lives in Lancaster, PA. She received her MA in Intercultural Studies from Asia Pacific Theological Seminary.