It’s been one year since one of the most unthinkable and horrific events to ever happen to a family, happened. As the country settled into another summer full of vacation fun, another family would never look at summer vacation the same again. On June 14, 2016, on a warm Florida summer evening full of possibility, laughter, dripping ice cream cones and fireworks, a two year old toddler was snatched off the shoreline of a Walt Disney World Resort hotel by an alligator- all amidst a background of twinkling castles and magical monorails. It was a story almost too unbelievable to believe, and yet when we did believe it, after our shock and sadness, came something almost as unbelievable- unwarranted and brazen judgment of this family.
Right after it happened, I choose to write about the ruthless and disgusting reaction the internet had to this family’s tragedy, not because I felt it would change anything, but because I felt what I was witnessing across the internet needed to be brought to light. I was witnessing a modern day witch hunt- one which saw keystrokes take the place of pitchforks, with mobs of shamers (also known as perfect parents) stomping almost sadistically into comment sections, only to tear down and cast stones on a grieving mother and father whom we can only assume at that point would throw themselves into a sea of starving sharks if it meant they could rewind the last day of their life.
It was as if millions of people instantly became experts on reptile behavior, Florida fish and wildlife habitats, alligator feeding and mating patterns, alligator lake populations, and the definitions of wading, swimming and warning. And as if that wasn’t enough to make your head explode, everyone subsequently became a childhood development expert with an emphasis on 24/7 parental supervision. To leave one’s child’s out of eyeshot for even one second was immediately abhorrent, and if said child should encounter even the slightest bit of danger (falling off a bike?) parents should assumably be held 100% accountable and neglect charges should be pursued.
As is typical these days when you read something on the internet that you cannot comprehend or don’t agree with, people came after this family like it was their life’s mission to condemn, justify, and try to explain away something we know was an incomprehensible accident. Some say that by placing shame and blame on the parent, it helps us to process tragic losses of children like this, in a way shielding us from the fact we don’t ever think it would or could happen to us. By resisting the idea that accidents happen and instead willfully accepting the alternative that someone is always to blame, we protect both our ego and our sanity. It helps us to process sudden death with blame, because in our mind’s we are perfect, and as parents we are never one step, or one second not supervising, behind. That happens to other people, not us.
The great irony of all this is the fact that as parents we all talk (or rather TYPE) out of both sides of our mouths. Our own parenting insecurities tend to over power rationality, as we try to reconcile the faults we have when it comes to raising or own children, compared to strangers on the internet. One minute we espouse all things accepting and loving, obsessively hash tagging things like #loveislove, #acceptance, #stopshaming, and #supportmothers and the next minute we slink into FB groups and comments sections and have no hesitation calling out other parents as #idiots. We sit behind screens and all too quickly and comfortably pull the trigger and gleefully flick the keyboards with “You should have been watching,” “I never take my eyes off my kids,” “How about you actually parent you a-hole?” and “They deserve what happened to them, I would have been watching.”
When will we learn our lesson? And when we will begin to ignore shaming comments and commenters and better yet, call them out? Do we not realize that people who are able to so easily write something that makes another human shrink, are only doing so because of what is going on in their own lives? And that comments like that are about as miserable and sad as person who wrote them?
If anything good came out of what happened along that shoreline at the Grand Floridian 12 months ago, it’s that as a collective, we were reminded of both our children’s vulnerability and immortality, and our reactions to deaths like that are never, ever the time to shame and blame. They are a time to put aside our assumptions, judgements, and pitchforks, and replace them with one thing- love. Love for a grieving family. And as our own blessed lives go on, may we be gently reminded of the suffering of others, and when it’s brought to our attention, let that be a time we put our best face, and keyboard strokes, forward.
There’s really only one comment you need to leave, and that’s one filled with love and compassion.