Raising kids. Keeping House. Choosing joy, every day.

Let’s End Parental Condemnation and Public Shaming

When 2 year old Lane Graves was pulled into the water by a vicious alligator in the middle of the idyllic and exclusive Disney’s Grand Floridian Spa and Resort,

and as his parents frantically fought back in horror trying to save the life of their little boy,

the internet exploded with shocking responses: finger pointing, judgement, and shaming.

As if,  1) they have any clue what happened 2) as though they are in a position to judge because they are perfect parents.

I was shocked, not only because we had just been in that very resort a few months earlier with our two year old foster son, who we got permission to take on our family vacation,but because the realization was setting in that we were totally unaware of the danger lurking in the water of that beach that looked so inviting and family friendly.

The beach with alligators in the water is just to the right of this pool...a stones throw away.
The beach with alligators in the water is just to the right of this pool…a stones throw away.
This splash pad area for kids adjoins the beach where little Lane was attacked. Here is Holly and our little guy playing in the splash pad area.


The news of this attack hit my sisters and my cousins pretty hard because we were all just there for the Ocean Spray annual meeting with all our kids.

Our older kids walked near the water on that beach. Being from Massachusetts, the “No Swimming” signs would never have clued us into the fact that there were alligators in the water. Never. Though we wouldn’t have gone swimming, we might have stepped into the water. We might have thought the no swimming restriction was for reasons such as high pesticides or algae counts, or fuel spills or contaminants in the water, or perhaps sharp drop-offs or rocks, but never alligators. Not in the middle of a Disney Resort yards from lawn chairs strewn across a white sandy beach. (If we had been in the Everglades, I would have thought “alligators” but not in a Disney Resort.)

After hearing of this poor family’s dream vacation turned nightmare, I was further shocked by the venom they received on the internet. People who felt free to carelessly comment and rip these already grieving people down one side and up the other.

Twitter was especially rough, surprise, surprise, and full of venom. The parental condemnation police were out in full force with all their slander. Doesn’t Twitter tend to be a haven of slander? Slander is speaking into a situation to ruin the reputation of someone else when you only know half the information. Or it’s judging someone harshly/unfairly in order to blacken the other person’s name and make yourself look better.

Parents, do we really want to be a society that shames parents when an accident occurs? Why are we so quick to assign blame?

Do we actually believe that good parents don’t allow accidents to happen to their kids?

Or conversely, are we willing to say that you are a bad parent if your child has/gets into an accident of any kind? And where does this slippery slope end? Do parents of kids who get life threatening illness also face social-media shaming? How about women who miscarry?  Do we really need to start rehearsing all the what ifs and if only’s:: maybe they didn’t feed them enough organic food, or didn’t vaccinate on schedule or over-vaccinated, or allowed red dye in their child’s diet, or were free range parents or helicopter parents driving the child to hide their behaviors.

Can we just admit that we really can’t control everything?

Let’s go further than that. We don’t control much of anything.

Let’s just admit that we do our best. Our very best. But at the end of the day, accidents happen. Even sickness and death happen, and God-forbid I be the parent pointing fingers at the parent who tried hard enough but still lost a child.

These parents? I want to stick up for them. They saved for a family vacation to Disney. They stayed up late to see fireworks with their little ones. And they WRESTLED AN ALLIGATOR for their sweet boy. The father suffered injuries from a second alligator attacking him as he tried to rescue his son and refused to leave the scene to seek medical treatment in his grief.

I want to say that bad things happen to kids of good parents, and an accident does not necessarily mean that the parent is negligent. An accident means that we live in a fallen world full of grief and misery and pain.

Do you realize that when you publicly shame a parent for an accident, you’re also re-opening old wounds and shaming every other parent who has ever lived with the trauma of losing a child in a horrific way? You’re pointing fingers and driving down the already wounded and that’s not okay.

When our kids were little, they loved to live in a fantasy world where they could do whatever they wanted and be whoever they wished.

I think as parents, we sometimes enter these fantasy worlds as well, and believe the lie that we can always protect our children and that we if we don’t, we’re a bad parent.

I want to suggest that not being able to protect our kids from harm means two things: we are not God, but instead, we are very much human.

We are limited.

We aren’t all knowing or all seeing.

We’re not able to be in all places in all times.

Those are attributes that only God possesses, and that we can never possess.

So when horrible things happen to other people’s kids, let’s remember that in this sinful world, horrible accidents happen. Let’s not put cruel pressure on already grieving people to be like God in ways they were never meant to be like God. Instead, let’s show the attributes of God that we CAN mimic: love, kindness, co-grieving, compassion.

And let’s remember to judge with the type of judgement we’d want to receive, because some day, we might be the ones grieving and bearing the weight of unimaginable loss, and we certainly won’t want shame/slander/unjust judgement and parental comment and condemnation…rather we’ll want mercy and compassion.