Parenting is hard at the best of times. Trying to get the balance of raising independent, resourceful and confident yet respectful children is like, my friend, Jọkẹ says, walking a tightrope. We don’t get it right every single time. We make mistakes.
Sometimes those mistakes have no lasting consequences beyond feeling a bit guilty about our wrong judgement call and no one will ever find out about them except we mention it. Other times, our mistakes are grievous and affect our children, and possibly others, adversely.
In this age of phone and watch cameras, some of our mistakes are immortalised in film and replayed over and over again across the world for everyone to see.
That one momentary lapse. That one time we looked away. That one time we got distracted. Perhaps that one time we let our guard down. It is that one moment by which our entire parenting gets judged.
I don’t know much about the mum of the child who accidentally fell/deliberately climbed/speedily crawled (depending on who is telling the story) into the gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo a few days ago. I have read one eyewitness’ account of how this mum was frantically looking for her child when she couldn’t find him where he was a few seconds ago while she snapped a photo. This account tells of how this mum nearly passed out when she realised her child was in the enclosure with a 400-pound male silverback gorilla. I don’t know what she looks like, her name or how old she is. I don’t know if she is a good or negligent parent.
I don’t know her but I can only imagine what those ten minutes her child was in with that gorilla must have been like for her. Ten excruciatingly long, drawn out and painful minutes! Six hundred seconds of wondering if this was last she would see her child alive. The self-recrimination, the utter helplessness, the metallic taste of fear, the confusion! I know that long after those ten minutes were over, presently and possibly long after this is a distant memory to the rest of us, she will relive those moments, again and again.I know that the guilt will stay with her for a long time.
All parents make mistakes. Good parents make mistakes. Bad parents are mistakes on legs. Making mistakes goes with the parenting territory. Try as we might to keep them safe, our children get up to mischief. We would probably all hate it if our parenting were defined by our mistakes.
I am deeply saddened that the gorilla was shot. I am also deeply relieved that the child is safe. I feel both emotions alongside each other. They are not mutually exclusive. We can mourn the loss of the creature whilst empathising with a parenting lapse.