There have been several recent tragic accidents in the national news involving young children one of whom was injured while another died. Just the other day there was a death in our community of a young child who had been forgotten in the family car during the summer heat. I am heartsick for the families that have been involved in all of these situations. But, I am even more sickened by the fact that there has been such a backlash against these parents and “shaming” rather than compassion.
I have practiced pediatrics long enough to have known several children who died in tragic accidents. Yes, accidents! For my parenting “peer” group, these accidents occurred long before social media, and the constant barrage of iPhone footage being shown on a news loop across the country 24 hours a day. Fortunately, for my friends who lost a child, or for a child I cared for in my practice, the out pouring of sadness and compassion came from their family, friends and neighbors. I cannot remember anyone “judging” these parents as we too all had small children and our whispered sentiments were often, “there but for the grace of God go I”.
If you are in the throes of raising your children, I would expect that you can remember and now understand what your parents told you and mine told me, “accidents happen”. Fortunately for most of us these accidents involve bumps, bruises, stitches or even broken bones. When that happens, I would heave a big sigh of relief that all of these “accidents” and injuries were “fixable”, even if they left a few scars. (My boys were great at soothing my tears as they said, “scars are cool Mom”).
Fast forward to today and the sentiments seem to have changed. Over the last weeks, I have watched TV and read different sites on the internet only to see and hear too many terribly mean and downright hurtful comments regarding the parents of the children involved in the accidents. Whether it was the child who fell into the gorilla enclosure who thankfully survived, or the toddler who was pulled into the lagoon by an alligator and drowned, or the child who died in a hot car….these are just unspeakable, tragic accidents. It doesn’t matter how many children you have, it is not possible to keep your child within arms reach, or to have constant eye contact with them from birth-21 years of age (and accidents happen after that as well). I just had an friend who lost her 29 year old son in a tragic accident on their ranch….I am heartsick for them.
The definition of an accident is “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, that typically results in damage or injury”. So, it is not a planned event, or even something that is preventable, despite all of the latest gizmos and safety features we wrap around our children. But when the tragic unforeseen accident occurs and a child is harmed, who are we to judge that parent or family. These were not cases of child abuse, or of a child being left unattended , or not riding in a car seat…these were all accidents that occurred within a few feet of the parents. Horrible, terrible, unfair and all accidental.
So, as both a parent and pediatrician I wonder what has happened to empathy in today’s society? Would it not be more appropriate for the parenting public to be saying ( or posting or texting or whatever) “there but for the grace of God go I ”? These are the times you hug your child a bit tighter or call them to just check in and hope and pray that you never find yourself on the other side of an accident, because accidents can happen - even to great parents and happy children.