A two-year old boy was killed by an alligator at Disneyworld's Grand Floridian Resort last Tuesday. Lane Graves was on the beach of Seven Seas Lagoon, which the Floridian shares with one other property (the Polynesian Village Resort, where my own family stayed last November), with his father, mother, and four-year old sister, all of whom apparently witnessed the attack. The parents also reportedly entered the water in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue their son.
It's a horrific story. As a father myself, I can't even begin to comprehend the overwhelming and frankly unreal crush of grief and guilt weighing down on those poor people, who were on a vacation from their home in Nebraska. And yes, I used the word "guilt" because any parent that isn't a complete sociopath or a meth addict is going to feel remorse whenever their child is hurt or, worse, accidentally killed.
But that guilt clearly isn't enough for some people. The microphones had barely gone cold after the Orange County Sheriff's initial press conference when the internet descended to pass judgment upon the stricken parents:
Between the 'demfools' handle, holier-than-thou pronouncement, and Trump-ian "sad," this guy scored the d-bag trifecta.
"A 2 year old at Disney!" I'll bet they let him eat gluten, too!
You have an interesting way of saying you're sorry, dude.
These are, admittedly, a handful of cherry-picked examples from actual news sources (I'm being charitable with Fox), and the less said about the comments sections at TMZ or Yahoo! the better. Still, they're offered to highlight a not uncommon trend: complete strangers with no immediate knowledge of a situation offering their unsolicited opinions on What Went Wrong.
This phenomenon isn't exclusive to parenting, as anyone who's spent more than 30 seconds online knows. For example, there's a thing called "optimism bias." Optimism bias is — put simply, in deference to you, Internet Commenter — the unrealistic presumption that bad things are more likely to happen to someone who isn't you. You can see it in play with people who insist they don't need to wear seatbelts, or smokers convinced they couldn't possibly contract contract lung cancer ("gimme a carton of 'low birth weights'"). That's not what's in play here, however. No, the flood of online Helen Lovejoys who appear every time there's a story involving an endangered/injured child are mostly just assholes.
It's reminiscent of the hilariously bloodthirsty calls for justice against the mother of the three-year old boy that fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo less than a month ago. The woman, distracted by the three other children in her care, didn't see her son slip into the exhibit until it was too late. Zoo officials shot the Western Lowland gorilla known as Harambe rather than risk him harming the child. Criticism in that case took on a decidedly racist tone, with commenters going so far as to bring up the father's criminal record. This was completely relevant given the fact he was nowhere near the zoo when the incident occurred.
Of course there are bad parents, some criminally so, but the the combination of the 24-hour news cycle and the immediacy of social media has created a delightful combination of anonymous geniuses who are experts in absolutely everything, especially child rearing.
To start with, if you're not a mother or father and are questioning the decision among skills of others who have made that leap ... well, I admire your chutzpah. Parenting can actually be pretty hard, a reality most of us accepted when we made the call to have kids. If you haven't gone six to nine to 18(!) months without a decent night's sleep and still come out on the other side with a relatively well-adjusted toddler, you may want to keep your opinions limited to subjects you're more familiar with, like sanctimonious contempt for others and going out to eat whenever you feel like it.
Because face it, childless people; your tepid brand of self-righteousness can't hold a candle to that of actual parents, who are pretty much the worst. This is especially the case with the Online Parent Commentariat, who act like just because they managed to raise a child who doesn't stab other kids with scissors or fling feces at the bus driver suddenly makes them this generation's Dr. Spock. They forget, in other words, the amount of luck that helped them reach this point.
Every mother and father reading this could fill an encyclopedia with their own dipshit maneuvers that only serendipity or a dead smart phone battery prevented from going viral. But just to clear things up, here's a simple system to determine your parental worth, courtesy of examples I've read over the years from the OPC. Raise your hand if you think you're a "good parent," then lower it if your child has ever:
1) ...Gone to the emergency room to get stitches or a broken bone set — Where were you when your kid was injured, you negligent monster?
2) ...Played in the trash or cat litter or the toilet — What, you couldn't keep an eye on them in your *own house*?
3) ...Been left with a nanny — Are you nuts? Letting a total stranger look after your precious little angel?
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4) ...Gone to day care — How selfish are you? Valuing your career ahead of the well-being of your progeny?
Incidentally, if your child isn't vaccinated or you have loaded, unsecured firearms in your house, your fucking hand shouldn't have been up in the first place.
Is it still up? Congratulations, you're officially June Cleaver. Then again, June did let Wally hang around that creepy Eddie Haskell kid.
Children get away from us, and manage to get their hands on things they shouldn't. 999 times out of 1,000, this isn't a big deal; you find them in the next aisle at the grocery store, or they eat a couple dog biscuits. Sometimes, unfortunately, something terrible happens. But accidents aren't negligence, and that's not necessarily "bad parenting." Maybe, just maybe, instead of vilifying a family who's going to mourn the death of their child for the rest of their lives, we can instead offer them a little compassion and understanding for thinking it was okay to let a kid splash on the edge a man-made lake in middle of the country's largest theme park.