Backseat Parenting Doesn’t Do Anyone Any Good
Internet, do me a favor. Just leave the poor mother of the toddler that fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo alone.
Admittedly, I don’t have kids. Perhaps that precludes me from having an opinion worth listening to. But from the outside it looks like the public is holding the woman to a standard no normal human can hope to live up to.
For the uninitiated, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo was shot and killed after a three-year-old boy had fallen into the enclosure where he was dragged around by said gorilla. It must have been a harrowing experience for everyone involved, and one I’m certain we don’t need to compound by backseat parenting. Not everyone feels that way. As reported in The Atlantic:
“If she watched her child he wouldn’t have been in the gorilla enclosure in the first place,” wrote a commenter on a petition calling for Hamilton County Child Protection Services to investigate the boy’s parents for negligence. Tens of thousands of people signed it.
“That child’s parents should be responsible for the financial loss of that gorilla,” Rob Young wrote on a Facebook post that received 15,000 likes.
When a woman claiming to be the child’s mother took to Facebook to defend herself, the internet responded in the horrifying way the internet tends to respond: with more harassment.
People wasted little time responding to the woman’s Facebook post with hateful comments, forcing her to eventually remove it altogether, People magazine reported. They then found the Facebook page for a preschool where a woman by the same name works, records show. They blasted that next, according to news reports, forcing the school to delete its page, too.
Other women who share her name on social media received threatening messages intended for her, attacks that called her “scum,” “a really bad mother” and a “f‑‑‑ing killer.”
“that animal is more important than your s‑‑‑ kid,” one man messaged.
Another woman wrote: “u should’ve been shot.”
Even commenters on NPR were in on it (though their grammar is better).
All of us, by now, have probably seen examples of the vitriol involved in this shaming. These comments left by readers of NPR’s coverage give the flavor of the more mild discourse:
“Shameful. That gorilla was irreplaceable. And trying to save the kid from an irresponsible mom who was too cowardly to jump in after the kid.”
“My guess is that the poor parenting of these parents will lead to this child in 14 years being able to fulfill his wish of being behind bars.”
“If a parent is unwilling to watch over their child at all times, especially in a place that keeps wild animals, then that person should not have the child in the first place.”
It got so bad that the police had to get involved to protect this woman.
I had no idea there were so many perfect parents in the world. Parents who never – not even once – lost track of their kids in a crowded place. Parents who have never – not even once – felt the fear that comes with never seeing their child again. I had no idea that everyone else’s toddlers are perfectly behaved and never run amok in public places. That’s certainly not been my experience with toddlers, but maybe I’m in the minority.
It should also be noted that, apparently, the child’s father was also present. But I guess since parenting is one hundred percent completely the mother’s job, he shouldn’t get any of the blame, right?
The fact is that we know almost nothing about this family. We don’t know anything about the behavior patterns of this child. We don’t know anything about the parenting style of his parents. We do know that it’s probably not a good idea for untrained people to be in enclosures with 400 pound gorillas, but focusing our wrath on one poor woman isn’t actually doing anything to change the fact that it was possible for a toddler to get into the enclosure in the first place.
I know it must be comforting for parents to think that this kind of thing could never happen to them. That they are too attentive, their kids too well-behaved and perfectly obedient. But I think that, if you look into your heart of hearts, you know that’s not true. That’s what makes this entire situation so awful. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Parents are not superheros; their love for their children doesn’t make them infallible.
Parenting is scary. Things can turn on a dime and with little warning. Parents could use a little more compassion and empathy and a little less judgement from the cheap seats.