If you’ve been a parent for longer than a day, chances are high that you’ve already started The List. The List, if you’re unfamiliar, is a running tally of all the things you’ve already done wrong as a parent. These range from the fairly benign (diaper on backward) to the heart-pounding biggies (left your kid in the car), and each of them is a reminder of how imperfect we all are as humans, particularly when the stakes are high. And in parenting, the stakes are very high indeed — you’re responsible for another life.
Proof of that comes in the form of a tragedy sometimes, as it did for one Manitoba couple who lost their toddler son in a drowning accident last week. In the epitome of “it takes only a second,” Mom looked away, and when she looked back, her son Chase was gone. It hasn’t taken long for the millions of jurors online to deliver a swift judgment.
The general gist: This mother is a Bad Mother. Her son didn’t have to die. She should have been watching.
It’s a terrible accident, and at a time when these parents need sympathy, they’re getting lectures instead, which is why one mother took to Facebook to publish her own version of The List with the hope of getting people to understand how easily this can happen to anyone.
In a public post that has gotten thousands of shares and is still going strong, a woman who runs the page Mama Lion Strong — a fitness and wellness page — laid it all out on the line, telling the story of how her own son’s life was in danger when he toddled out of the yard and up to the street.
It goes on from there, a list of “transgressions” that range from a little one playing with a butcher knife to some other scary childhood injuries. It’s an ugly warts-and-all portrait of parenthood. It’s all the things we never want to talk about. All the times that we turn our backs for “just one second” or leave our capable kids to their own devices, only to turn back around and find them in danger:
Chances are, whether or not you’ll ever admit it, you have a running log with one or two or even five of these types of scary moments on there. If you don’t, just wait. It’s coming, even for you.
This woman laid all of this bare with the hope that people would see that there is no perfect mother, that life is not fair. One mom or dad might slip up over and over again, and thankfully nothing bad will ever happen. A totally different parent might hover incessantly, and then on the day they stop to tie their shoe, tragedy could strike. There’s a phrase for it, applicable even for the nonreligious: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
In other words? That could be us. That could be you. That could be anybody.
But somehow we’ve all lost sight of this little truth. Collectively, particularly behind the shield of the Internet, when tragedy strikes another family, we are there to walk them through everything that they’ve done wrong. Everything they could have done right. Our “if onlys” take on a sinister undertone. If only you were a better parent. If only you were like me.
But everyone — everyone — will have a slip. Everyone will turn their back. Everyone will learn that you can try to protect your children, but as they venture out into the world, they’ll find danger there. Whether they are 2 or 22, they will find it, and it will find them. And while some people are sharing this post to highlight the truth of that, others are using it as a stick with which to beat the woman who wrote it. Her vulnerable admission to imperfection is now a weapon, and it’s sad.
Because when that day comes and something terrible almost or actually happens, no one will judge you more harshly than you yourself. In the moment when the self-loathing is suffocating, what voices do you hope will be the loudest? The ones saying “it could happen to anyone,” or the ones telling you that you deserved it?
Think about the answer, and then think about which one you’re lending the volume of your own voice to.