In early 2017, a 6-year-old boy went missing in Colorado. His body was found in a nearby pond. The scathing online reaction to the tragedy prompted blogger Stephanie Sprenger to write about it.
“People were blaming the police, they were questioning the Amber Alert, and there was just so much blame out there,” Sprenger recalls. “And for me being a parent, what I had zeroed in on on comments on the news channels’ Facebook pages were comments about how the parents were so negligent and “How could they have let this happen?”
“That is what we are consciously or unconsciously saying when we judge, blame, and shame parents when terrible things happen, that could never happen to me,” said Sprenger. “But, of course, we all know that it can, in some form or another. We have all turned our backs, crossed our fingers while we ran inside the house for a moment, picked up our phone at a park out of boredom. We aren’t perfect. And even if we were? We are also at the mercy of the complexity of the human body, of illness and disease. It’s the worst part of being a parent; I think we can all agree on that.”
“We can (and should) take sexual abuse prevention courses, teach our kids a safe person password, practice role-playing situations, teach our kids about drugs and alcohol, relationships, sex, practice gun safety, feed our children healthy food, stay active with them, keep soda and caffeine out of their little bodies, keep them away from cigarette smoke, but in our hearts we know that no matter what we do, we can never guarantee their health and safety,” Sprenger said. “And that kills us. But here’s one thing I know for sure that has never helped keep our children safe from harm: judging and shaming other parents.”
“Baby Jessica is the perfect example. And I think for those of us who grew up in the eighties, as children, we have vivid recollections of this ,but there was no blaming the parents,” Sprenger remembers. “Everyone in the country was watching and praying for Baby Jessica and sending support to the parents. Nobody said, “How could you let this happen? That would never happen to me.”
“I think one of the things that has changed is the power and anonymity of social media,” Sprenger said. “I also think parents these days are set up a lot more to judge one another because the climate of parenting feels so competitive.”
“But here is what we can do: Tap into that despair, that raw part of us that is gutted when we imagine losing our children, and turn it into pure compassion,” Sprenger said. “Compassion for the parents, because we too can imagine what it would be like, in our worst nightmares. (And let’s not say that “we can’t imagine,” because, yes. We can imagine.) We can realize that the judgment, blaming, and shaming is nothing more than a misguided attempt to secure our own safety through moral superiority, and we can let it go. We can find compassion instead.”
“I think the first step is for us to look at ourselves and really catch ourselves when we are being unkind. That we are sending love and support to the parents. That we believe as parents that we're all in this together. We all love our children.”