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Parenting in the Age of Public Scrutiny

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure by now you've heard about the gorilla incident at the Cincinnati Zoo. A majestic animal named Harambe had to be put down in order to save the life of a child who had wandered away from his family and into the gorilla enclosure. While zoo staff were able to lure most of the gorillas away, one male gorilla became agitated by the crowds' screams and took possession of the little boy, dragging him throughout the enclosure. Sadly, Harambe was shot and killed. As we've come to expect, the internet once again lost its mind. People across the globe argued that the gorilla did not need to be put down. What was most shocking to me was the attack on the boy's mother. She has received death threats and people feel that child protective services should remove her children from her care.

Let me start by saying that I love animals. I've always had animals growing up. I have taught my son to treat animals with respect; that they are sentient beings and that their lives matter, but in this case, after seeing the video of a little boy being dragged through the moat by a 400 hundred pound gorilla, I understood why the zoo made such a difficult decision. Being forced to put down any animal is a tragedy. I can't begin to imagine how this child's mother feels. I have seen parents with multiple children struggle trying to gather and contain them all at the park, zoo, beach, store. Inevitably one of the children falls, breaks something, scurries away. As parents/caregivers, haven't we all glanced off for a few moments and when we look back our children have gotten into the diaper cream, stopped up the toilet with toys, or taken a major fall. Imagine if we were all defined by our parenting mistakes. Should Child Protective Services come and remove our children from our homes? The difference here is that this mistake happened in a very public way. It was at a public setting and the incident was caught on film. Imagine if your parenting fails were caught on film. How would people judge you?

I remember when I was growing up in NJ, my mom took my sister and I to a themed arcade type restaurant, very similar to Chuck E. Cheese. I wanted to play video games so my mom began looking for quarters in her wallet. While we peered into the change pocket gathering quarters, my little sister left our side. We looked away for just seconds and in that time my sister vanished. We ran around the restaurant and arcade calling out her name. We contacted the management. They contacted the police. My mom was in tears fearing the worst; that someone had kidnapped her child. While the police were gathering information from my mother, something told me to check under the bathroom stalls and sure enough as I got down on my hands and knees, I saw two little feet dangling from under one of the stalls. When I called out my sister's name she responded from behind the stall door, "I pooped all by myself. I'm a big girl." I'm sure my sister is cringing right now as I retell the story but I use it to illustrate a point. My little sister wanted to do something independently and in that moment of her asserting her independence, she caused great mayhem. It was then that I realized that even the most overprotective, responsible parents (and I assure you that mine were) can become distracted. In a split second things can change.

Let's think about how we would define ourselves if in fact we are defined by our mistakes:

If you had sex early then you're a slut. If you slept through the alarm going off then you're lazy. If you failed a test in school then you're a failure. If you stole a pack of bubble gum from the store as a young child then you're a thief. If you teased someone at any point in your life then you're a bully. If you've ever lied then you're a liar.

Is any of that true? Certainly not. None of us is perfect. We learn from our mistakes so that we can make better choices in the future. It is not our job to judge this mother. It is her life, her choices, her mistakes, and her lessons to learn. She and her child will have to live with the trauma of that awful day. All of us can however learn from her mistake. In fact this incident has caused zoos around the world to reevaluate the safety of their animal exhibits so that this type of incident never happens again. Collectively, we as parents will all be extra careful when our children lean a little too far over a railing at the zoo. The silver lining in all of this is that a precious 3 year old boy is safe, and for that I am truly thankful. ~HZM

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