Image source: Pixabay

Shaming Frazzled Parents Won’t Save Your Kids From Tragedy

Let’s be honest — we’re all just one distracted moment away from tragedy

Remember that whole mid-summer Cincinnati Zoo gorilla/toddler controversy? Well it got me thinking about the time I was distracted for a moment and lost my kid. We were at my best friend’s baby shower on a muggy mid-June day in New York City. My son, then in the middle of his terrible-twos, was by my side one minute and the next…gone.

He was missing, oh I don’t know? Ten minutes? Twenty? An hour? I honestly can’t say now. It was like time stopped. Thoughts like, “he’s going to drown/get hit by a car/get kidnapped,” and “I’ll have to live the rest of my life without my son,” went through my head. I experienced the kind of sheer panic that you don’t really believe exists until…you do. Until it happens.

It was like everyone was in slow motion except for me.

Thankfully, he wasn’t drowned/kidnapped/hit by a car, but rather napping in a nearby broom closet hidden behind some chairs and blissfully unaware of my nearby panic. I remember how the relief washed over me followed closely by embarrassment at the spectacle I’d made. A passerby was kind enough to stage whisper, “She should watch him better,” and I’ll never forget that distinct feeling of shame. I can’t imagine how much worse it must feel to have a moment like that broadcast for the entire world to see.

Still, I understand the urge to blame. The thought of something happening to one of your kids is so uncomfortable, so painful, that you’ll do anything to make it go away. Including foisting shame on someone on what may be the worst day of their lives.

I’ve seen it happen again and again. On a dad who just lost his baby in a hot car. On mother whose kids washed away in a hurricane, or yes, a mom whose kid narrowly escaped death in a gorilla pen. It reminds me of an oft quoted line from Hemingway‘s Farewell to Arms (usually out of context and given a more optimistic meaning than the author intended),

“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

Everyone dies. Everyone gets hurt. No one gets out unscathed. Smugly shaming parents when tragedy strikes certainly won’t save you or your children from the horrors of happenstance. That shame you’re doling out isn’t theirs. It’s yours. And none of it will protect you from the worst day of your life.

Originally published at