Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock over the past 7 days, or focused solely on the European Referendum to the exclusion of all other media stories, you may have missed two isolated events which once again raised concern at the excessive online reaction to such incidents. One was that of Harambe, the 17 year old male gorilla in Cincinnati Zoo who got shot after he held on to and dragged a 4 year old boy who had climbed over a fence and fallen into the gorilla enclosure (see disturbing video here). The second event was that of the 7 year old Japanese boy Yamato Tanooka whose parents tried to scare him into obedience by setting him out in a one way road in the middle of a forest, only to return half an hour later and finding that he got utterly lost. Miraculously he was found 5 days later, alive and well. see BBC news article here .
The instances are obviously completely unrelated and have very different beginnings and endings, but they did have one thing in common: they seem to make everyone with a keyboard an expert in parenting as well as gorilla behaviour. The one thing all of our keyboard experts could agree on was that it was all 100% the parents’ fault. Cincinnati Zoo mom was positively negligent, having lost sight of her 4 year old boy for a few minutes. Yamato’s parents were downright evil and should have their son taken into care and preferably be sterilized so as not to procreate again.
Whilst I’m really not in any way excusing either parent in their respective situation, both sets messed up, there is no debate there, I am staggered by the media response to them, in particular Mrs Gregg, Cincinnati Zoo mom. It is worrying how little compassion there is out there for a stressed out mother who lost sight of her active boy, and how keen everyone is to jump on her omission – which she admitted, although she possibly didn’t show enough mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa to be forgiven by the twitter mob. Does everyone feel they are the better parent when they are confronted with a piece of news like this? ‘My kid may be unable to speak because I’m too busy tweeting to talk to him but, hey, at least they’ve not had to shoot a gorilla because of him.’ – is that the logic? So now there are online petitions to have Mrs Gregg investigated by Social Services signed by literally tens of thousands of little parenting experts who are convinced they are doing a flawless job at raising their own kids and are therefore entitled to pass judgment over another parent.
The words that spring to my mind when I read of instances like this are the same every time: There but for the grace of God go I. And to loosely quote the bible: May (s)he who is without sin cast the first stone. And I mean it. Things can and do go wrong with lively small children. They like to run and climb. They are fast. I was at A & E at least twice with my son before he was 5, lost my daughter in an airport for a few minutes and again, my son in a supermarket in France – absolutely blood curdling terrifying minutes I would not wish on my worst enemy. (Please, no online petitions to have me investigated, my children all made it to adulthood in good physical and mental health and no senior gorillas were hurt in the process.) But I made many, many mistakes. One of my children’s favourite ‘funny’ story is when my son ran over my daughter with a scooter, and by the time I arrived running at the scene I got the wrong picture and told off my daughter instead of my son – simply hilarious (don’t ask, they have a twisted sense of humour). I noticed, too, that parenting books which I read like a sad junkie tend to have great ideas on how to deal with ONE child at a time. Never two, or even three. Consistent parenting with one child is hard, as Mr Tanooka found out, let alone with with two or three.
My point is, parenting is tough. Parenting little kids is tough and physically challenging, parenting big kids is draining and emotionally challenging. Parents are only human after all, they make mistakes. And these parents paid a huge price for their failures. I’m sure they are aware of that. There has been a lot of talk about online abuse and in particular misogynistic online abuse lately, and sadly it was found that 50% of online abuse against women is undertaken by other women see article. Where is the sisterhood?? If women are such harsh judges of women on twitter/Facebook I wonder if it is also them who are so quick to judge over other mothers. If only we could develop an icon that flashes up: ‘This looks like an abusive tweet. Are you sure you want to send this? Are you really a blameless human who can judge another human who got themselves into a difficult situation?’ – along the lines of the old Microsoft Word helper, Clippy.
Whilst I’m waiting for some genius to develop my twitter Clippy against abuse, my Lippy-Clippy so to speak, I can only hope that people will continue to try their best at parenting, and leave out the need to punish people who make mistakes by omission or misjudgment more than the authorities do which we put in place to deal with situations like this. It is a sad irony that we have gone back to public whipping posts in the 21st century, conducted by keyboard experts on most subjects, but in particular parenting. Parenting experts, or expert parents – step away from the keyboard and have a think about who you’re trying to punish and whether your intended punishment does the accused parent and their children any good in the long run.