I have a shocking revelation for you. Although we often look like superheroes, mothers are in fact HUMAN! This means that we are fallible, we make mistakes. Yes, all of us! We lose a child at Target, we leave a hot cup of coffee unattended for a moment, we don’t realize the basement door is open when our two-year-old is toddling around. And each time we make a mistake and survive unscathed (or with very little damage), we thank God that we were spared a tragedy.
Then, we listen to the news or we read a story about another mother that wasn’t so lucky. Our hearts go out to them, we ache for their loss. We want to reach out and hug them, cry with them, and tell them, “I am you, this could have so easily been me.” We hug our children a little tighter, and we try to be more vigilant. We pray that the next time we make a mistake, we will once again be spared. Because in our hearts, we know we are imperfect, we know with certainty there will be a next time.
I was affected in a big way this past winter when a local family lost three of their four children in a house fire. The parents had left their 11-year-old to care for the three younger children while they attended bible study, and the unthinkable happened. My first thoughts, beyond extreme sadness, were “This could have been me.” “I’ve left my 11-year-old alone with her siblings before.”
My heart broke for their family. I yearned for a way to reach out, to help, to let them know they were not alone. I went to a Go Fund Me page that had been set up for them to make a donation, and then I made the mistake of reading the comment section.
Most of the comments were full of support, empathy, and compassion for this poor family. The others, though, literally made me sick to my stomach. Unfortunately, there is a community of people lurking on social media, waiting with their pitchforks and their sanctimonious barbs. Itching to point out all the ways someone has failed at parenting. Hiding behind their computer screens, eagerly anticipating the next tragedy when they will once again be able to hop up on their high horse and declare that this NEVER would have happened to them.
Well, pick up those pitchforks because I have some confessions to make.
- I have lost my daughter at Burlington Coat Factory. I know the feeling of searching frantically, heart racing, sick to your stomach with the reality that you may not find her. Thankfully, I also know the feeling of finally seeing her scared, tears in our eyes, embracing, and not wanting to ever let go.
- I have watched helplessly as my 10-month-old rolled down the basement stairs, which luckily were carpeted, because someone accidentally left the door open. I was grateful that the end result was only a few tears.
- I have fallen asleep on the couch, pregnant and tired from working third shift, and awoken to the screams of my 4-year-old. I remember bounding down the basement stairs, fearing what I would find when I reached the playroom. She broke her arm climbing a shelf, on my watch.
- And in one of my “proudest” mommy moments…my 3-year-old took a walk around the block by himself. And to top it off, I didn’t even know he was gone. I was throwing a 40th birthday party for my husband. I figured the kids were all together playing in the backyard or the playroom. The guests were just beginning to arrive, and the atmosphere was chaotic to say the least. Then, two of my neighbors from the other side of the block showed up with my son. I shudder to think what could have happened if not for my caring and observant neighbors. I had allowed my oldest daughter to take him for a walk around the block the day prior, and in his 3-year-old brain, he thought that meant he was ready to go on his own. Needless to say, my husband and I had a long talk with him following that episode.
Any one of these scenarios could have easily turned into a tragic headline. Then, it would have been me waiting for the firing squad to line up and take aim. I would have just been another “nameless, faceless bad parent that got what she deserved.” Not one of these cowards would care that I loved my child with every fiber of my being, that my entire world had just been shattered to pieces, that I may even be contemplating ending my own life because of the guilt.
What has happened to our society that instead of turning to compassion and empathy, we turn to judgement and blame?
I want to reach through the computer screen and throttle these internet trolls with my bare hands. Shake some sense into them, explain to them the virtues of empathy and compassion. I have to believe that most of these comments come from a place of fear. Just another mother trying to convince herself that as long as she does this or that, she will avoid catastrophe. My heart cannot fathom that there is a human being who could look a grieving mother in the eyes, and say the horrible things they so freely type anonymously.
I want to protect my fellow mothers. I want to wrap them in a cocoon of us who do understand, who do have compassion, who are kind and sympathetic. Those of us mothers who know we are one simple twist of fate away from being in their shoes.
Together, in love, we can drown out the hateful, judgmental accusers. We can create a cacophony of benevolence and kindheartedness that will reduce their sanctimonious allegations to unintelligible drivel. Because love and compassion is the only way to drive out hateful ignorance.