By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C
Most parents, at one time or another, have had that heart stopping moment when you can’t find your child. Just seconds ago, you’d laid eyes on the child, but when you go to glance again, he or she is nowhere to be found. It could happen at the grocery store, the park, or the state fair, but for those terrifying minutes, your entire world stops and your mind goes to terrible places.
Last week, a mother in Ohio learned this terrifying lesson, when her 3 year old found his way into the gorilla enclosure at The Cincinnati Zoo. Thankfully, this child is safe and back home with his family though, sadly, the gorilla was killed by zoo staff in order to ensure the safety of the child. The internet has been exploding with hateful words toward this family – that she is a horrible mother, that her children should be taken away from her, and even that zoo staff should have killed her instead of the gorilla. The situation is being investigated by many parties and hopefully the zoo will take precautions to ensure the future safety of its visitors and animals.
My heart stopping moment happened at Universal Studios. While far from perfect, my husband and I feel that we are responsible parents who do everything possible to protect and care for our boys. Yet, it still happened. Thankfully, my son knew exactly what to do and we were incredibly lucky to be reunited with him by kind park staff within 10 minutes — 10 minutes that felt like an eternity. No one blamed us, no one chastised us. The staff was simply happy to have reunited our family. In the days that followed, we talked at length about how this could have possibly happened to us and to our child who is incredibly responsible and never wanders off. Despite all of the precautions, it still happened.
The truth is that, as parents, we spend much of our time averting crises with our children. Kids are kids and they do the things that kids do. They run, they jump, they climb, they seek out interesting things. 99% of the time nothing happens, but sometimes it does. No matter what we do to watch over them and teach them to be safe, we cannot possibly watch them every second of every day.
While the findings of the investigation into the situation at the Cincinnati Zoo might indicate the need for accountability, the truth is that every situation doesn’t mandate blame. Trust me, that mother feels horrible enough that this happened to her child and that an animal had to die as a result. She doesn’t need the rest of the world yelling at her, accusing her and calling for her head. However, we now live in a world where strangers, far and wide, can post scathing opinions about someone else’s personal situation without being involved in any way. I have to wonder if these strangers would make these hateful remarks directly to the woman’s face. Has technology given people confidence to say the things they’d never say in person?
How different the aftermath of this situation could have been had we as a society come together to support this mother, to empathize, and to recognize that sometimes, despite our best intentions, things just happen? We strive to teach our children not to jump to conclusions, to think about how they would feel in another person’s shoes and to withhold blame even when it feels like pointing the finger is the easy thing to do. Yet here we are, bringing more suffering to a family that already has to live with the trauma they have endured. Parenting is hard enough without feeling like you’re being judged, analyzed and evaluated at every turn.
The adage says that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Perhaps you haven’t had that terrifying parenting moment and hopefully, you never ever will. Next time you look to put the blame on someone, a person you know or a complete stranger, stop yourself. Remember your own tragedy averted or the compassion that someone showed you in a time of vulnerability and do your part to show that same kindness to someone else. It will make all the difference in the world.
By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C, JCS Outreach Coordinator
Because parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.