Let’s Stop Mom Shaming

mom shamingThere have been so many scary and sad stories in the news lately that revolve around parents and small children. First, the gorilla incident. Then the boy in Florida. Then the mom whose toddlers locked themselves in the car. While news outlets cover these stories, they also focus on the harsh and vocal judgments toward the mothers involved in these tragedies.

I am not writing about what should happen to the parents if they are found to be neglectful. I am not writing about animal rights and protections. We need accountability, sure; we need to protect children and animals, of course. What that looks like is not clear-cut to me. You may be disappointed, say I’m avoiding the difficult conversations that are at the crux of these stories.

Even more, we need to discuss humanity and fragility rather than what style of parent we are or whatever trendy conversation is happening. As others point out parents are in a no-win situation sometimes. Keeping the kid too close is helicoptering with research pointing to after-effects of anxiety and other troublesome symptoms. Putting a leash on the kid is inhumane to some, appropriate to others. A kid getting away for a few moments (or forgotten in a hot car) is, evidently in our society, assumed neglect.

I do not understand what accidents are if they aren’t, you know, accidents? I’d like to think life happens in a way that is purposeful and intentional with every move I make. I do strive toward that to some degree. But there are accidents, mishaps, and off-the-expected-path adventures I take every day. My two preschool-aged kids make sure of that especially with a newborn thrown in. I prefer my parenting not be judged on one moment alone.

I know some argue the severity of a situation matters: Would we dole out more or less judgment if the gorilla were not killed or had the mom jumped in after her child? The details somehow make a difference for others: Was she on the phone? How many kids does she have? I find that the nitpicking doesn’t encompass the complexity of life. Distraction is not necessarily neglect. It is impossible to constantly, accurately assess the safety of situations in every single moment of the day. Accidents happen. It’s ok that accidents happen. We’re human.

Can’t we just be sad that a family had a terrifying experience, deeply grieved that a captive animal was shot to ensure the life of a human? Let us take this opportunity to reevaluate safety protocol and regulations. Perhaps if we feel so strongly about the gorilla’s death we can get as excited about animal rights at large as some seem to be about burning a scarlet red N (neglect?) across this mother’s chest? Must we assume the worst of this woman while touting ourselves as better? I think we often survive, if not thrive, on blaming and pointing out others’ mistakes.

I believe all of us at one time or another (whether we realize it or not) are just a few seconds, even a split second, away from having a story that could or does end in tragedy. Most of these moments aren’t shared in the national headlines. Some of us may not share them even in the quiet dark of our own mind. It’s too painful and we block it out. Maybe that’s why we can’t let this mom off the hook. If she did something malicious or wrong, we are safe because “we” aren’t like that. If she did something human then we might have to realize the fragility of our own lives and how little control we have even when on full alert. If we blame her then we don’t have to think about how we’re just a few particulars away from being her.

I think it’s too easy to blame the parent, the smartphone, and distraction in a fast-paced society. Ok, sure. Sometimes parenting is neglectful, the smartphone a little too addicting, the schedule poorly managed.  I’m not saying we don’t need to have those conversations. But please let’s also have this conversation about our vulnerability as people, too.

Lynette is a mom of three children from 3 months to age four. She has cloth diapered all three since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.

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