It faded long ago -- the obsession with Gorilla-Mom. We forgot about her way before the Harambe memes disappeared, but we won't forget our feelings about her. We're comfortable with those feelings -- the ones that allow us to throw self-righteous shade at the mothers of the world who are screwing up all over the place. It's troubling to see anyone jumping on the parent-shame bandwagon, but most troubling when the charge is led by child-free folks with pitchforks -- and now they're going after Ikea Mom.
It only takes a hot minute for the next Horrible Parent du jour to surface. This week it's Utah mom Kayli Shoff, who left her twin toddlers playing in their bedroom for a couple of minutes to do god-knows-what ... Take a shower? Dash to the basement to run a load of laundry? Go to the bathroom?
The unthinkable happened in those moments: The kids began climbing on the dresser and it toppled onto one of them. The other lifted it, Herculean-style, and it was all captured on their nanny cam. Kayli and her husband released the in-room video as a warning to other parents to highlight the importance of securing their furniture, and, as could easily be predicted, the armchair parenting commentators weighed in en masse as to the fitness of these folks to parent.
A scroll through Good Morning America's Facebook video post of the incident will give you a glimpse into just what I'm talking about. Comments like these are peppered amongst the more than 20,000 people weighing in on the video:
"... This mom is a terrible mom and needs her kids taken away. Even of [sic] she did just run downstairs or to the shower take the monitor with you so you can watch your babies. Obviously she didnt [sic] care enough."
"Where was mom that she did not hear Dresser fall over ? [sic] ..... posting selfies in bathroom?"
Parents and child-free folks alike participate. For parents, it seems to be a tool of survival: We all know we could be next. We'd best not utter a word about that time we couldn't find our kid, or the afternoon he slipped and took a tumble. That shaming stick is swift and it's ruthless, and, well, it's better someone else than us, right?
But when child-free people of the world jump in -- well, that's another story. And while they're busy feeling butt-hurt and sad over being called a-holes for their judgmental parenting snark, I'm over here wondering if it's possible for them to summon a tiny part of that sadness to try to conjure up what parents (especially moms and femme-presenting parents) the world over feel every day of our lives under the weight of relentless parenting-related shame.
Some qualify themselves as armchair critics because of their "parenting" experience as former babysitters. But, seriously? Sure, occasionally caring for other people's children renders them accountable, professionally, but it's certainly no comparison to the anxiety, pride, love, and sheer terror inherent in parenting children, nonstop, for decades.
Judge-y child-free folks simply have no idea what weeks, then months, then years of constant vigilance is truly like. Only those who have parented can possibly have any concept of the fact that even when a child sleeps, you don't get a break.
Every noise, every not-noise, every in-between is a threat. And it's all terrifying.
When you are a parent, there are things you know can't happen, but still fear could. Sometimes, out of nowhere, that scene from the 1980s made-for-TV movie Adam rolls through your mind, and you can't rid yourself of the image and sounds of John Walsh's guttural wails when he learns they'd found his murdered 6-year-old.
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It creeps up when I spin around in the large box store and my kid has just darted behind the patio table display to play an impromptu game of hide-and-seek, and he doesn't come out the first time I call his name. It takes half a second for him to come out -- but that's just long enough for my mind to imagine the worst of things ...
It happens when I hear the thumping coming down the stairs -- the too-fast "bump, bump, bump, bump, bump" that only happens during a fall -- and I instantly assume my toddler, who can barely crawl, has somehow come out of his deep sleep, opened the door, and leapt the gate.
The whole family went screaming for the stairs when that happened, bracing for the worst. I'll never forget how my look at the dinner table prompted everyone's concern. How every last one of us jumped up and ran at the stairs in single file, yelling some version of, "Oh god, oh no!"
How when we got there, we found our international college student sitting mid-step on his ass, saying, "I'm okay," in his thick Arabic accent. I couldn't just laugh it off -- not the same way my older kids could, and not the same way a sitter would be able to.
No, I had to go sit on the back porch and cry heaving sobs for a half hour. The shaking wouldn't stop, the images of what might have been, consuming. Four years later, when it was safe to take the daytime gate down, it happened anyway -- he slipped on a step, while looking at a toy in his hand, and tumbled from about midway to the bottom.
He was fine, but I still didn't dare to tell anyone. Because you know what they think of parents whose children tumble down the stairs. Good parents always watch, always know, are always spotting.
Two days after the fall, the mancala game fell off the shelf in the night with loud thumps and bumps. My first irrational thought was, Oh my god, not again!
Nope, not again. He was in bed, exactly where I'd left him, curled up on his side, his fine hair flipping in the fan breeze -- consumed by a sleep-induced peace I crave for him and covet for myself. I crawled back into bed, mimicked his posture, even pointed the fan at my head, but the trembling wouldn't stop for what felt like forever.
Parents are always one breath away from our worst nightmare.
It really doesn't take even a small amount of imagination to consider how easy it is to slip on a step, or how hard it would be to find your child in the crowd at a zoo after looking away for a brief second, or to think about the necessary daily tasks that require you to take your eyes off your child periodically throughout the day.
Almost no one is standing in solidarity with parents who are overwhelmed and under-supported -- and in spite of that, most of us are doing a damn good job. I have a mug that I love that reads: "How to be an ally to parents: Help or STFU." Maybe a little messier and less fun than an armchair snark-fest, but it's really quite simple.
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If we're able to suggest that people are smart and invested in choices about their reproductive health, we should damn well be willing to extend that to folks who are parents. What if we all decided to make the assumption that most of the time, parents are the most invested people in the safety and well-being of their own children, and that most of the time, we're acting on that investment and doing our very best?
Ikea Mom isn't the first, and she absolutely won't be the last, in this endless parade of Parent Shaming -- the colosseum-style spectacle that we flock to our screens for, that we can't get enough of. If shaming women is our favorite genre, shaming mothers is our favorite show.
I wonder what it will take to collectively change the channel.