The internet’s perpetual outrage machine is busy right now with a sad incident at the Cincinnati zoo. (Quick summary: small child fell into gorilla enclosure, gorilla behaved threateningly, child survived but gorilla did not.) A significant chunk of that outrage is directed at the child’s mother: Why didn’t she see him entering the enclosure? Why wasn’t she watching?
Now, I wasn’t there. I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe this particular mother was being genuinely neglectful. Maybe she just had a lapse for a moment and made a mistake. I’m sure it’s being thoroughly investigated, as it should be.
But all this B.S. about the mother “not doing her job” and the like? That needs to stop. If you’re tempted to say that, stop and ask yourself: Have you always done your own job to 100% perfection? Have you never made an error, out of ever single day that you’ve ever worked?
From a safe distance, it’s easy to say that she should’ve done this or she should’ve done that, but to do so ignores the cultural context in which women parent. (And yes, it’s moms who face the fiercest judgement.) I’ve read piles of “the kid should have been on a leash!” comments, often with a stated or unstated “if she couldn’t handle him” accompanying. Which is the irony of those very comments—to put your small child on a leash might be convenient and safe, but it will get you branded as someone who “can’t handle” their rambunctious toddler.
People are damn judgemental about those leashes. “Parenting won’t include those for us,” sniffed one woman in a now-deleted Tweet when the topic came up on my feed a few weeks ago. A big chunk of American culture has decided that confining children in any way is a mark of lazy parenting—just look at how weird people are about playpens these days.
Another recurring comment I’ve seen is that the mom shouldn’t have brought the kid out at all if the kid was a known “runner.” Because apparently the punishment for being an actual human being and not a perfect robot is that you don’t get to go anywhere.
For goodness’ sake, people, listen to yourselves!
If you use a leash, you get judged. If you don’t use a leash and your kid does anything untoward, you get judged. If you stay three inches from your kid the whole trip, you’re helicoptering. If you stay three feet away, you’re neglectful. If your child is any less than a perfect angel, or you are less than 100% perfect yourself, someone will think that you should’ve just stayed home. But if you stay home, you’re not providing your child with the “enrichment” they need.
We can’t win. All we can do is hope that our imperfections don’t make national news.