“What kind of parents neglect their child long enough for him to enter a gorilla enclosure?!?”

This week, a young child somehow got into a gorilla enclosure at a zoo in the United States, attracting the attention of a male gorilla who then hauled him around.  When animal experts determined that there was no other way to save the life of the child, the gorilla was killed.

This situation has sparked the outraged censure by the internet audience toward the mother of the child. After all, what kind of grossly negligent parent ignores her child long enough for him to enter a dangerous area like a gorilla enclosure?

Reading the hate filled comments spewed at the mother of this young boy, I wondered: where is the compassion, the empathy, the understanding that unpredictable situations sometimes happen despite our best efforts?

How could so many people who themselves were parents be so sanctimonious, so judgmental, so quick to criticize another parent?

It’s inconceivable to me that all of these parents have never taken their eyes off of their young children for a moment.  That their children placidly sit next to their sides wherever they go, never exploring a new environment, never testing any boundaries.

And it’s also inconceivable to me that the vast majority of parents haven’t experienced how very quickly a young child can get into challenging situations – perhaps amusing in hindsight when the child is safe but frightening in the moment.

Let’s face it — kids are active, they keep us on our toes and we often don’t learn what they’re capable of until after they’ve done something we never would have guessed they could do. It’s quite humbling to honestly acknowledge that even the most responsible and thoughtful parents can’t prevent every potentially dangerous situation.

If we’ve all been in situations that leave us holding our breaths and then exhaling in gratitude when everything is okay in the end, why the rush to berate this unfortunate mother?

I believe that deep inside themselves, all parents are aware that no matter how hard we try, we can’t guarantee our child’s safety at every moment.  While this zoo situation (that took place in a very few minutes) may not be likely for them, there are other potentially dangerous settings that could have unfolded for their child.

Fascinating brain research has shown that when we are disturbed by the discomfort of vulnerable feelings, we have one of two responses:  The first is to allow ourselves to feel the vulnerability; we are then able to feel compassion and empathy for the person or situation in question. The second option is to move away from our discomfort and turn against those who have triggered those feelings.

When we sense that we, too, could have been in a situation in which our child’s safety was jeopardized due to us not being aware of their actions for just a moment or two – that possibility is so alarming, so frightening, that our minds have to shut down that thought and the feelings that it raises.  And what better defense than to attack someone else, comforting yourself that this couldn’t happen to you because you don’t have those failings?

Practically speaking, what does this mean for us?

Simply this: we’re all doing the best we can to raise our kids.  When you see a tired parent in the store lose her temper with her screaming toddler or read of four year old who managed to get into an enclosure that should never have been accessible to him – take a moment to remember that we all make mistakes.

And be grateful that your lapses have never been captured on social media.

About the Author
Avivah Werner is a parenting consultant, speaker and mother to ten amazing children who has inspired and empowered parents across the globe to parent with compassionate strength, based on her principles of Leadership Parenting. For more thoughts on raising great kids, visit avivahwerner.com.