Recently, a lot of people have been sharing a video which shows an unsupervised toddler playing next to a pool, falling in and being unable to get out. Comments on this video have nearly all been condemnatory – the original tagline is “Vidéo Choc (Fuck ce genre de parents)” which roughly translated means “Shocking video (fuck this kind of parents)” and most of the comments about it are slightly longer and ruder versions of this.
People sharing the video have done so with comments of their own along the lines of “You need a license to drive but not to be a parent” and “This would never have happened to my children”. It’s easy to understand why people say these things and indeed on watching the video my first reaction was shock and condemnation too.
But then I got to thinking….. about the time when a friend’s child rode his balance bike so fast down a hill she couldn’t keep up with him and it took her over 40 minutes to find him. And the time another friend and her husband thought the other one was watching their daughter, and they only realised that she was no longer in the restaurant after some considerable time had passed. My son has run away from me at the zoo, worming his way through crowds that took me a lot longer to get through, resulting in him being out of my sight for about ten minutes.
I’m sure if we were being honest, every parent and guardian could tell at least one story like this. We have just been more fortunate than the mother in the video because no-one has released security camera footage of our incidents, to be watched and condemned as it goes viral across the internet.
So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the mother in the video. Imagine you are out shopping with a young boy and a toddler. You are frazzled because you didn’t get enough sleep last night or the night before, you were supposed to be doing something else that morning but your older boy has just grown out of his shoes for the third time that month and you have to go and buy him a new pair. So the toddler is fractious because he doesn’t want to be shopping, the older boy is complaining because he wants an expensive pair of fashionable trainers that you can’t afford, you desperately need more coffee just to stay awake…..
then you turn around and your worst nightmare has occurred – the toddler has disappeared! You run around frantically trying to find him, hampered by your shopping bags and handbag, you tell security and ask them to look for him……….. but he’s nowhere to be seen.
Eventually, your older boy finds him face down in a pool and you drag him out, exhausted beyond words and nearly beyond action as the huge impact of that adrenaline rush and frantic searching hits home.
Do you really think that what this mother needs is condemnation? Or do you think that some compassion for the awful situation she found herself in would be a better response?
I think we all need to take a step back and say “That could have been me.” Because it could have been.
Anyone who claims they have never let their child out of their sight in public is deceiving themselves. The same for anyone who claims to have never had a minute or two when their attention was distracted. And that’s all it takes! Toddlers are born escape artists. You physically cannot watch them every second of the day, it’s just not possible. If you have never been in this situation or a similar one, then you are extremely lucky. But that’s still no excuse for condemning those who have been there.
Unless you stay at home all day or have them permanently attached to you, you have to accept that when you are out with a small child, there is a risk that they will run away and something bad may happen to them. Obviously you do everything you can to prevent this but it is not possible to be 100% certain that it won’t. And staying home all day every day really isn’t an option, particularly if you have an older child and having tried the toddler rein option myself, I can attest that it attracts plenty of condemnation also. “You shouldn’t treat your child like a dog” was possibly the kindest remark I’ve heard from on-lookers.
Next time you see a video like this being shared instead of making a condemnatory judgement, have some compassion instead. Compassion not condemnation. That’s what parents need. You may need it too, one day.