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.

Photo credit: ThinkStock


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

william Miller
william Miller1 years ago


Sherri O'Connor
Sherri O1 years ago

Face it. The 'mother' is big, dumb, breeding tub. Probably on welfare. The 'father' isn't any better. An innocent animal, an endangered species, is dead because of her gross lack of awareness and stupidity. The gorilla was not going to harm the brat. If a parent refuses to take responsibility for their children's actions, they shouldn't have any.

Michelle Spradley

Since when is it too much to expect a parent to be able to stop their child from climbing over 3 fences into a gorilla enclosure?

Betsy M.
Betsy M1 years ago

When I was growing up, I listened to my parents. I was taught to respect everything. I never tried to go past the barriers that they set up. I would never think of stating, " I'm going to go swim in the moat." Then climb through the barriers and jump. I would never think of breaking anything that was on display in a museum.
Kids are out of control and parents are to blame. They are too busy paying attention to their phones and their lives.
Yes, the parents are to blame for what their children do. Pay attention and teach respect.

Myriam G.
Myriam G1 years ago

thank you so much for this article. Finally, some empathy for the parents. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

Agree with Sam Black.

william Miller
william Miller1 years ago


K Terri Morris
K Terri Morris1 years ago

I'm not a parent, so can't comment from experience, only logic. To expect any human being to be the perfect parent and to have perfect control over a child is hubris. Nor is it possible for anything like the zoo enclosure to be both inviting and 100% secure. As it was, the zoo enclosure exceeded requirements. It was a bad situation for the kid to end up in the enclosure, but it could have ended up worse. The kid could have easily been ripped in half. The zoo keepers did what they needed to do to make sure that didn't happen. I'm sorry for Hamarabe, but I can't imagine what it must been like for the child's parents to see their baby in that situation. He shouldn't have been there, but then I think about the situations I shouldn't have been in as a child. They weren't as bad, but still had the potential for a bad ending. We got lucky and they didn't. I bet all the accusers of this mother have similar stories for themselves and their own children. Fess up!

Sam Black
Past Member 1 years ago

Children, from an early age, need to be taught that the world is not owned and operated by Burger King, and that means they will not always 'have it their way.' In my experience as a parent, when a child under seven appears hell bent on doing as they darn well please, that's when a parent needs to PAY ATTENTION, pick the child up, and explain the consequences of the child's future actions. It's a form of distraction, and anyone who has raised children (we raised three, the last one is an autistic adult) knows that little ones usually have the attention span of gnat and can be distracted and redirected. Whether or not they initially understand isn't important. That parent acts like a parent is! Shopping in town, I've seen too many parents that put their child(ren) on ignore so they can shop, and at worst, stare at their phone. In reading just some of the posted comments, some facts are evident. Does the zoo have a problem? Yes, all enclosures should be examined and deficiencies corrected. Do parents need to be parents? Hell, yes! It's, obviously, not a perfect system in either case... If one is going to create children, then they need to put parenting FIRST. And the death of that beautiful silverback is a tragedy...