Parenting is a thankless and terrifying mission. Even when lucky enough to have a loving partner and a fabulous family the majority of stress falls heavily on the shoulders of one person more than the others. The hard things, the make or break decisions, and often the blame is aimed at the one who had perceived responsibility for the child.
My heart hurts when I read stories of tragedies, especially loss of life, and particularly that of small children. It hurts for the child, for the parents, for the community that we cannot keep our most vulnerable safe. That the dangers are everywhere, and no one can prepare for them all. It aches as I read the story but it cries out all the more when viewing the comments that often accompany these stories.
I have had to stop reading them, it hurts too much. All too often the assertion is that the parent of the child is to blame. Even if the child dies far from that parent or in a freak accident. The parent, too often the mother, is at fault. Allowing their child to go to that particular friend's house, letting them play in the water with the large group of kids, keeping them in the house too much, following the directions of a perceived expert, you name it, it is out there. Parents are expected to be super human, to sense every danger and snuff it out, and if tragedy occurs the child was victim to the parent's ignorance or neglect first.
When my twin sons were small a woman with 11 month old twins was charged in the death of her children after they drowned in her bathtub. The story I recall is thus: the mother was exhausted from a long day of work, playing with her children, feeding them, and was getting them ready for bed. She felt tired and called a friend to come over and keep her company as she worried she was too sleepy to do the bedtime routine alone. She filled the bathtub, put the children in and fell asleep on the floor. When her friend arrived it was too late. Both children were dead and could not be revived.
My heart hurts, my heart aches because that could be any of us. Any mom that pushes herself too hard to be perfect and follow all the advice we hear about what our children need. "A daily routine must be followed to allow for a child to grow healthy and strong." Any dad that wakes early to get his toddler to the best "school" across town before going to work to pay for it, then being shamed for not volunteering in the "classroom." Every parent that is afraid to admit they are exhausted, that they need a break, that they need help. Nervous to say that they cannot do it all, that they could make a mistake.
Stories of tragedies are seen as the shortcomings of the parent. The parent who is grieving a loss, who is in pain, whose heart is broken. Comments focus on the decisions made and how reckless or incompetent the parent was. The story above breaks my heart every time I think of it. Because we are all, all of us, responsible for the lives of others. We all have the potential to be caught up in an impossible and maybe tragic situation. How we treat those in these situations matters. Can we place ourselves in the position of the parent before we pass judgement?
I am a worrier, this is true, I did not allow my newborns out of my sight and slept on the floor of my children's room for longer than I would like to admit. And probably still would if my spouse had not told me to quit it. When they cough in their sleep I feel compelled to be sure they are not choking, if I have not heard their voices in a couple of minutes I check to be sure they have not randomly fallen unconscious. I watch them closely at the playground and stay within arms reach at the pool.
Yet, even with my complete obsession with them and their safety they have been to the emergency room, had stitches, cried over bloody cuts and scrapes, fallen down, and wandered off. They have been in danger. I have been unable to stop them from feeling pain, from being hurt, from experiencing fear. Nightmares and waking dreams focused on my lack of control leave me terrified for them. Bodies of water, puddles, curbs, cars, appliances, shelves, steps, slides, belts, ties, garden equipment, trampolines, fences, you name it, all potential for injury.
The fear cannot win, though, and the blame cannot become the focus of life. My biggest fear, though, is not the things, but the people. I do not want anyone to think I am a bad parent. To see the cracks in my prepared watchfulness. Failing my child for even a second could mean I am to blame for any harm that could befall them. This is the shortcoming of modern parenthood: we cannot make mistakes. We cannot seem less than perfect, or we are to blame. If our child is not the bi-lingual spelling bee champion future president doctor who cures cancer we have failed. We have to take them everywhere and give them everything but we have to keep them safe from every possible dangerous thing, person, and situation.
This is the shortcoming of modern parenthood: we cannot make mistakes.
Deciding to be a force for good in this world of anger and fear-mongering takes some effort. I am not an expert on anything, but I think empathizing with those who are struggling is step in the right direction. Here are three behaviors I am hoping will catch on:
1. When interacting with my fellow parents I try to find a connection with them and give them a chance to talk about the difficulties of parenting without judgement.
2. When I experience a danger or injury with my own children I try to own up to it and be real about the situation.
3. When reading stories on the internet I choose not to participate in the trials by social media of parents who have suffered a tragedy or lost a child.
We are all in this together, and if we give up unity to participate in the angry mob blaming parents without knowing them, then we all lose. Before passing judgement on that parent try to remember that time your babies head narrowly missed the corner of the table, your preschooler wiggled out of his car seat straps on the highway, or your child took a huge gulp of water in the swimming pool. Try to remember that not everyone breathes a sigh of relief after potential tragedy, some live that moment over and over and wonder why it happened to them.
My heart hurts when I think about the 11 month old twins who will never grow up, but it breaks when I think of their mother. To her and the many others who have suffered tragedy or loss I offer my thoughts to divide their sorrow as I hope they would for me.
I am a highly opinionated and sassy mother of three and wife to one. I hope you enjoy reading about my efforts to tackle the infuriating obstacles of life using straight talk and humor. If I say it, I mean it, or maybe I am being sarcastic. I like to focus on topics from my everyday life: parenting, cooking, crocheting, and a whole list of other things that inspire my rage.