I am. Why just last week, while picking up school supplies for my kids, I expressed eagerness that school is starting soon. Judging from the shocked looks on the other mom’s faces I might as well have said I hate my kids and am miserable being around them. (For the record, I love them intensely, but after 12 weeks we are ALL ready for school to start!) And the list goes on. I make them go to bed on time, even if other kids are still out playing, mostly because I am tired. I feed them healthy food, which my son informed me is stunting his growth. Why, just this morning, obviously for lack of anything else to do, I cold-heartedly held my daughter’s hands tightly so she couldn’t whack the dentist’s hand away while he filled a small cavity. And yes, I am completely ignoring the mind-numbing electronic games my children are playing so I can work right now.
I promise you, any one of those scenarios (and they are only the tip of the bad mom iceberg), could earn me condemnatory looks and censure. Why? Because parenting is bloody hard work, we all parent differently, and we are all desperately hoping that we are getting it right – so if we see someone doing it ‘wrong’ (meaning differently), it makes us feel better, a ‘well, at least I’m not doing THAT’ sigh of relief. I’m just as guilty as the next person on that one, it’s human nature to break things down into categories and rules, to make them manageable for our brains to navigate, to make us feel better. It’s why we enjoy the human train wrecks on reality shows.
Yet the majority of parenting is a huge gray area because every child is different, every parent is different, every situation is different, every culture is different, every geographic location is different, every socio-economic situation is different. The only thing that is the same is the love a parent feels for their child. When a child drowns, far too often there is condemnation of the parent. Why weren’t they watching? Why weren’t they more careful? And the more insidious, rarely spoken, maybe they didn’t love their child enough. They did. They loved their child with an intensity that shook their soul, just as you love your child. Yes, there is the rare aberration, a parent that willingly hurts or murders their child, but that is indeed rare. The overwhelming majority of parents who lose a child to drowning feel a depth of grief that we are all terrified of feeling – so we look away or attribute it to ‘bad parenting’.
The sad fact is that most people don’t know that drowning is such a danger to young children. Most people don’t know how to teach their child to be safe around water. And every parent loses track of their child at some point for the two minutes it takes to drown. Most of what we do as parents – get by on our instincts, upbringing, observing, and trial-and-error – works out just fine. Unfortunately, most of us don’t really know how to be safe around water, which is why child drowning is such an epidemic. So next time you hear about a child drowning, rather than judging the parent, try understanding that it can, and does, happen to the most loved children. Realize that most of us don’t understand how to act around water, so we aren’t supervising and teaching our children correctly either. Then commit yourself to learning more about water safety and teaching your child how to act safely around water. After all, you are a good mom or dad. Really.