An Alligator Kills a Little Boy -- & We Blame His Parents Because the Truth Is Terrifying


Whenever something terrible happens to a child, there's always a chorus of critics ready to blame the parents -- no matter how completely out of anyone's control that particular tragedy might have been. Case in point: The horrific snatching of a 2-year-old by an alligator at Disney World in Orlando on Tuesday night. The boy was dragged into a lagoon right in front of his mother, father, and 4-year-old sister; his father even tried to wrestle the child away from the alligator. Still, people seem to think the parents could have done more -- when the truth is, sometimes awful things happen and nobody can do anything to stop them, even the best parents in the world.


The question is, why are we so ready to point fingers at people who've just suffered an unfathomable loss? Why are we so quick to place blame on the grieving when we should be offering compassion and consolation?

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Some of the comments coming in about this story are just plain cruel, and seemingly heartless -- similar to the damning posts we saw in the aftermath of the incident involving a little boy falling into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo (which resulted in Harambe the gorilla being fatally shot):

Poor alligator?! Nope. Sorry. Poor baby. Poor parents. Poor everybody with a heart that broke when they heard this story. NOT poor alligator. As a mom whose youngest is a toddler, I literally broke out into hives when I read the news this morning. I couldn't -- and can't -- stop thinking about the anguish that family is experiencing right now. It's a complete and utter nightmare. If I think about it too much I can't even breathe. How could anyone respond to this horror with such callousness? 

While there is most likely an element of self-righteousness and ignorance at play here, I have to believe that -- at the root -- our society's tendency to blame parents for tragedies like this one stems from the fact that we just don't want to believe something like this can happen to us. We want to think we can control the random elements around us in such a way that our children will be protected from harm at all times. We want to think that if we take every possible precaution, our children will be immune to accidents and illnesses and predators and every other imaginable danger.

But none of that is true. Anything can happen to anyone at any time. Anything.

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That's a terrifying reality to accept. I understand. To be able to function, we all have to operate on a certain level of denial. Yes, the wolf is always at the door, but sometimes you just have to close the door and try not to think about what's on the other side. Still, we can't allow our denial to get to the point where it prevents us from showing compassion to people who are forced, through no fault of their own, to live that terrifying reality we're trying so very hard to avoid.

It's almost as if we're afraid to identify with the victims of tragedy because in doing so, we'll render ourselves equally vulnerable. The thing is, we're equally vulnerable anyway -- and insisting that people bring random misfortune upon themselves won't change that. So how can we remain open enough to empathize without living in constant abject terror?

That I don't know, unfortunately. And I'm not sure anyone does. For example, when my first daughter was born, I suffered from postpartum depression. On the way to an appointment with my therapist, I spotted a headline on the newsstand about a baby being snatched out of his stroller by a bear. By the time I got to my therapist's office, I was a basket case thinking about the story: What if? What if that happened to my baby?

"I tell all my new moms not to read or watch the news," my therapist said.

Well, sure, but that was back in 2001, before social media. Avoiding the news to stay sane is nearly impossible at this point. And anyway, I'm not sure that's the right approach. We can't deny that awful things happen to other people's children that could just as easily happen to our own. It's one of the worst parts of being a human, quite frankly. And none of us can escape it.

So shouldn't we at least try to be there for each other through it all? To offer comfort and love, not judgment and hate? 

Life is hard. Being a parent is really hard. Let's not make it harder. Let's try to remember that at heart, we are all afraid -- and it's fear that compels us to judge, and to hate. It's fear that drives us away from compassion, when that's exactly what these parents need the most.



Image via Anne Meadows


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