May the 3rd 2007: The day Madeline McCann was stolen from a hotel never to be seen again. I remember feeling outraged when I heard that the parents had been eating at a restaurant nearby and not in the hotel apartment where their young daughter had been sleeping.
“What sort of a mother would do that!” I proclaimed loudly to all who would hear me.
May the 3rd 2008: The day I was supposed to be forty weeks pregnant with my third child. Three months after his funeral.
What I didn’t stop to consider in 2007 was that I was living in a house made from only the most brittle glass. Throwing stones was a bad idea. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people, and their children pay the ultimate price. My son died of listeria poisoning caused by something I ate, we will never know what it was. Am I to blame for that? Some people might say I am, and I might need to breathe deeply before explaining that I never ate any of the “banned” foods, I did everything right …… but in my heart of hearts I still blame myself. All these years later though, I know a thing or two more than I did then. I know I don’t need to defend myself to those people who would attack me, I need to invite them to a place where compassion is the root of their reaction. I myself needed an invitation to that place.
Kate McCann, Madeline’s mother has endured criticism from one side of the globe to the other but here’s the crux of it. No matter how cruel other people can be, no matter how many insults can be levelled at her, there’s not one person on the planet who holds her as responsible as she holds herself. She shouldn’t HAVE to defend herself to strangers. People shouldn’t be attacking her, they should be searching for the man who is responsible for the disappearance of her daughter.
People are so quick to accuse mothers. For Kate McCann it was her absence that caused the loss of her child. She and a group of other parents were dining nearby, taking turns to check on their sleeping children. In between the checks, Madeline was kidnapped. What about those other parents? They got lucky that night!
For another mother, on another continent, it was her presence that caused the loss of her daughter.
Patricia Ramsey, the mother of Jonbenet Ramsey was blamed for the death of her daughter because her daughter participated in “child beauty pageants”. When Jonbenet was murdered, and her body subsequently located in the basement of her home, Patricia Ramsey was lampooned world wide, people were baying for her blood, literally. No matter what we may think about pageants (and I think they’re really pretty gross on all fronts) her mother did not play any part in the death of her daughter.
In Australia, Rosie Batty lost her son when his father violently attacked him in public. Rosie had done what countless other women have done, and permitted her son’s father to have access visits. People questioned her judgement for that but if she hadn’t allowed the visits, it wouldn’t have stopped the murder, but it would have left her open to attacks of parental alienation. Luke’s father would have been instantly skyrocketed to the victim in the situation. The maligned, desperate, depressed …. murderous father.
Another mother is now grieving the loss of her child in Australia. Eleven year old Zoey Buttiegieg was murdered by a man, as she slept in her bed. Her mother found her lifeless body the morning after. Zoey’s mother, Janelle Saunders has been slandered for hosting a party at her residence that was attended by the murderer. If she assumed that all men were likely to murder her child she’d be called an extremist, a man hater, a danger to society, an unfit mother, but somehow she should have known that THIS man was a murderer …. or she should have abstained from life for the duration of her motherhood, never entertaining people at her home.
Mothers are the softest target. It doesn’t take a hero to hit out at someone who is grieving heavily. If you ask me, it takes a great big coward. A coward who’d best hope their glass home is reinforced with titanium.
In these few well publicised cases we can see that mothers, the people who feel the grief of a lost child more keenly than anyone will ever know, wear the burden of blame. They shouldn’t eat out, they shouldn’t participate in anything controversial with their children, they shouldn’t stop potentially violent fathers from having contact …. but they should stop potentially violent fathers from having contact, they shouldn’t have friends over, and in my case? I shouldn’t have eaten anything.
Despite motherhood, life goes on, it’s an unstoppable force. No one expects fathers to set aside all their humanity for the duration of pregnancy and the following eighteen years, but this is the demand we make of mothers, and never is that more plan than when a mother is at the height of her grief. Deep, life altering pain and grief. Where is the hatred of murderers, abusive fathers, and paedophiles? Why are our expectations of mothers so high that almost none of us can meet them? Furthermore, for those mothers who DO set aside pregnancy and the next eighteen years we assign a special criticism. Those mothers are wowsers who want to suck the fun out of life, they are over protective and not fit to raise children.
Mothers really can’t win can they.
Mothering: Unpaid work that you will never do well enough.
Mothers play a crucial role in protecting children from harm but so does the rest of society, so does law enforcement, so does the government. Each one of us is responsible for keeping children safe, and when all our checkpoints fail, when a child is hurt or lost, it’s our duty to step up and protect the mother from further harm, to find the person who stole her child from her rather than holding her accountable for the actions of a murderer. Murderers are responsible for their actions, mothers are not.