The news story of the week is about this little boy who climbed into a gorilla habitat at the zoo. He was dragged around for ten minutes before the gorilla was shot and killed. Social media is blowing up will all degrees of responses, but the most universal has been the call for action against the mother of the little boy.
Regardless of what consequences you think she should suffer, I want you to stop and think what it must have been like to look up from whatever (if she was attending to other children, if she was taking a picture of the gorillas, if she was buying ice cream for herself and no one else) and realize that her child was gone. If you’re a parent than you have most likely felt the terror of looking up and finding your child is gone (and it only takes a second). I know I have. It is the worst feeling in the world. Your stomach drops, your body constricts, you can’t breathe, and you don’t until you see your child.
One day we went to the mall to do a play date with some friends. The mall near us has a really awesome play area for kids to run around in. I was watching Princess Pea, in her neon green run around. I turned to look where our diaper bag (my backpack) was and ensure that no one was going through it or stealing it, when I looked back, Pea was gone. My friend saw her and stopped her from running off. She had snuck out of the play area and was heading toward the escalators. The feeling I had was horrible, followed by this need to never ever let her out of my arms again. This poor mother had that feeling, only instead of the relief of “oh there is my child” she got the feeling of “OH THERE’S MY CHILD!!” as she saw him dragged around by a 450 pound gorilla for ten minutes. I can’t fathom how awful she felt, how much guilt she felt for looking away. I can only imagine the heartbreak she must have felt along with the terror.
The next thing is the fact that her child had sustained injuries. Yes, they were not life threatening. I had read that he hadn’t broken any bones. Still, he would have a lengthy recovery, not just from physical but emotional injuries as well. That mother is in for many nights of bad dreams, days of fear, and many other hardships. The consequences for this will be long.
Here’s the point I really want to make. We judge moms. We judge parents. We know better than anyone else. News flash: We don’t.
Before I had Pea, I was a parenting expert. I knew it all. Not only could I see with my non-parent eyes the problem, but I also worked with children and took several classes on the topic. I was the best parent ever. Then I became a mom and I wish I could say it was an immediate wake up, it wasn’t. I still thought I knew it all, until I didn’t. The thing is no one knows your kid better than you. No one has been with your kid from before their personality appeared or from their first choices, other than you. You know your kid. You know that things that are so obviously the solution are not so obviously the solution.
I used to walk through the grocery store and fight the urge to parent other people’s kids. I still have that issue (sorry, Snow White and the Flash) with my nephew. But I know that even though I love my nephew as close to my own kid as possible, he’s not mine. Snow White knows exactly what he needs and understands him better.
Here’s the other perspective: Heavenly Father gave that kid to that family. They are the stewards of that child’s development. They will be the ones that have that mantle, not me, not you, not Judgey McJudgerson.
Parenting is hard. Toddlers are sneaky ninjas. Toddlers are curious, (like Curious George) and are impulsive. They will act on their immediate desires without being able to weigh the consequences. It’s part of being a kid. That’s why kids have parents: to teach them how to overcome impulsive desires and think about consequences (among the long list of other things).
Pea is in the beginnings of the impulse stage. This morning she asked to watch iPad. I told her no, that we were going to play outside instead. She smiled and threw the iPad into the blanket pile behind the couch and said “Good-bye iPad” before running to get her shoes on. I didn’t think much about it until Superman came home and was looking for it. When I told him what happened, he questioned her why she threw the iPad. “Because why” is her standard answer these days.
The thing is most children before puberty don’t understand the why in their choices. They don’t have the ability to deeper think about things like motivation. When they hit puberty, their brain changes from concrete to abstract thinking. They can question their motivation. Now yes, it is possible to teach children to think about that kind of stuff before puberty, but really, we need to understand that often children don’t know why other than they wanted to. It sounded/looked/felt good at the time. They can’t forethink and we shouldn’t expect them to.
Next time we feel the need to say “that kid needs a spanking” or “that mom is the worst mom ever” maybe we need to stop and think about our own faults. I know I am far from a perfect parent (I was just blessed with a perfect kid). I work on improving every day. You can judge me all you want, but Heavenly Father gave me Pea and I will answer to Him for my parenting, not you or anyone else (well, maybe Superman). We need to put our Judgey McJudgerson pants away and put on our compassion pants. Maybe instead of vilifying other parents, we should see how we can help.
How have you felt judged unjustly? Have you ever felt the need to defend your parenting?