Suburban Snapshots

On Treating Others the Way
You'd Want to be Treated

Thursday, July 05, 2012

I found out that last week a friend lost her young nephew in a tragic, freak accident. The news clenched my stomach. My heart broke for her and rest of the boy's family. The story appeared in several local news outlets; I read one article and its accompanying reader comments.

Maybe it's the nature of the Internet, maybe it's the nature of human beings, but before anyone had mentioned sadness or sympathy for the family's loss, they were quick to imply that somehow the parents were to blame here, somehow instead of a freak accident, what happened was neglect. They eagerly pointed fingers and suggested what should and shouldn't have been done in a situation they had no connection to, anonymously reprimanding a family they knew nothing about.

None of us has any right to be smug about those parents unfortunate enough to become headline news. Remember that time you drove just a couple of houses away and didn't make your toddler buckle up? Or the day you had to answer the front door while your 4-year-old was in the tub? That time you left the baby 10 feet away in the car because she was sound asleep? The text you read in traffic?

When my husband was preschool age his family took a vacation in a hotel on a crowded beach. One afternoon as they headed for their spot in the sand, Steve wandered back to the hotel. He slipped out of a group of several family members unnoticed and walked alone to their room. My grandmother once left the house with only 7 of her 8 children, leaving the 18-month-old perched next to the kitchen sink. Once when my mom sent me out to play unaccompanied, I ended up in the wrong apartment trying to find my way home.

Everyone fucks this gig up sometimes. Every single one of us. And any of those stories could have had a different ending.

Still, we rush to judgement; the news can barely breathlessly spit out the "missing toddler" headline before all of us armchair DSS agents have the parents fingered as culprits. And I know that sometimes they are, that real abuse and neglect happen. But in situations where there's been some accident, some one-in-a-million event or two-second misstep that results in unthinkable tragedy, those of us who aren't involved should keep our condemnations to ourselves and instead hope that the affected family finds peace. We have never been the perfect parents we expect complete strangers to be.

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