One of the disadvantages of living in our hyper-networked world is that many of our mistakes are captured and magnified. And when something disastrous (or nearly so) happens to a child, there tends to be a knee-jerk reaction on the part of some to condemn the parents, even before knowing the facts.
It’s likely that those who are eager to cast the first stone have not, in fact, ever brought up children. Because as every parent can attest – every good and caring and attentive parent – near-disaster seems to hide around the corner at least once a day, and kids have an uncanny ability to seek it. Or, if they’re too young to seek it, we can manage to find it ourselves through a moment’s distraction or inattention.
When you first gaze at your newborn in the crib, and your heart bursts with love and wonder, you make a vow that you will do anything to protect and care for that little one. And you mean it. But growing up is a messy process, and no parent or child gets it right 24/7/365 for the next couple of decades. A loving and dedicated parent can end up looking really bad once in while.
I once nearly drifted out to sea on a slowly-deflating float, not because of bad parenting, but just because – you know, it happened. I shudder to think of the close calls my brothers and I had growing up, and it pains me to remember the trips to the ER with my boys. And I guarantee that’s the case with every parent that decides to roll the dice and have children in a world filled with risk. Stuff happens. Even to families with parents who are trying their level best to get it right.
Yes, there are bad parents. There are sickos who endanger their children carelessly or deliberately. But, I would dare to say that they are a tiny minority. Most of us live with this layer of secret terror in our souls that we’re going to screw up somehow, and that even our best efforts can’t shield our kids from every arrow flying around out there. It’s the good parents who care, and who learn from their mistakes and press on.
Amazingly, somehow, most of these little creatures actually make it through. And when trouble hits, parents need a supportive shoulder, not a scolding index finger.
So, next time there is a news item about some kid getting hurt or barely avoiding disaster, avoid the temptation to cluck your tongue and shake your head and say, “Bad parents!” Most likely, they’re good parents who experienced what every other parent eventually experiences – reality. And when you screw up, give yourself some slack too. Those parents you look up to, who seem to have it all together? – they’re skating on the edge just like you, hoping and praying that their mishaps never become public fodder.
Do be careful about inflatable rafts and undertows, however…