Unless you've had your head in the sand over the last few days you've probably heard about Harambe - the Gorilla that was sadly killed to save a boy's life in Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday. A Justice for Harambe petition has been set up with almost 400,000 signatures. The petition states, " [T]he situation was caused by parental negligence and the zoo is not responsible for the child's injuries and possible trauma. We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life... We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child's home situation." These claims have been backed up by the angle within the mainstream media and numerous videos, like the one on the Harambe facebook page which essentially blames parents for using their cell phones too much.
I get that everyone is upset about Harambe losing his life. It's sad, it truly is, but this is where my views diverge with the hatred being portrayed throughout mainstream media and social media (aka, the general public). This incident has become an opportunity to judge parents. This time it's about us not controlling our children enough. Other times the focus is that we are controlling them too much. It seems that we can never get it right. And perhaps that's the point - there is no right. As parents we make judgements calls in a split second, day in, day out. Thankfully on the whole they don't have quite such dramatic consequences, or perhaps they do but parents are generally making good decisions, so relatively few reach the media's radar. Rest assured though that where things do go wrong, like with this incident, everyone is there with the benefit of hindsight to tell us parents exactly where we went wrong. Parents don't have the benefit of hindsight though, we have to parent in real-time.
As a parent, my child is not constantly within arm's reach and I am not always able to stop him doing something that puts him, or others, at risk of being hurt. Sure, I assess the situation and if, say, we are approaching a busy road I hold my son's hand and remind him of the dangers. However, I am human - I am not infallible. What does it say that as a society we have decided that, following an horrific ordeal, the most appropriate collective action we can take, is to set up a petition to question the parents' parenting skills in the most public and humiliating way possible. Are we all so sure we are, or would be, perfect parents? I for one am not.
On Saturday, as this incident unfolded, I was with my son in a public garden when he suddenly disappeared. I immediately alerted my friend to go up to the top where the gate leads to a very busy road, whilst I searched where he'd last been playing. Yes, I admit I took my eyes off him for a second; I looked at him, saw him engaged with a game and took the decision that it was safe to take my eyes off him for three seconds whilst I looked at something my niece was showing me. I looked up and he was gone. I had made the wrong call. He chose that exact second (presumably, I didn't see) to run as fast as possible, and as far as possible, away from me. Was I being a bad parent? I don't think so. Was I being human? I believe yes. My friend found my son at the top of the garden, he had come to no harm. I spoke to him about the dangers of doing this, like I always do when he runs off, and I hope one day it will sink in.
That moment was towards the end of a long day. I had been watching my son's movements every second, on high alert ready to intervene at a second's notice if necessary. Essentially I had spent the day being an average, great parent. Had my son's disappearing act ended up a little differently, that is not how society would have treated me. Society would not have seen what a long and mentally exhausting day it was. They would not have known that in the evening as we headed home I had a panic attack from the pressures of watching my child (alone) none-stop all day. They wouldn't appreciate how unbelievably hard that kind of unseen parenting work is, work parents do every second of every day.
To the petitioners I ask you to reflect on what you are saying. Do you realise that sometimes, with the best of intentions the worst things can befall our children? Do you realise that often when we look like we are doing nothing we are actually doing everything in our power to be the best parent - one that allows our child space, gives them experiences and is there to step in should the need arise. Sometimes things happen which we don't foresee, sometimes that can end in the most extreme results like the sad fate that befell Harambe. That does not mean we as a society should attack so-called 'neglectful' parents. There are lessons to learn from the incident, no doubt about it - for the boy, for his parents and for the zoo. There are also lessons for society; lessons about what our collective reaction to the incident shows about our (mis-)understanding of what parenting is and how, if we truly care about others - humans and animals alike - we might be better off assisting parents rather than stepping in after the event with an arrogant and aggressive attack of hindsight.