When tragedy strikes a family, it used to be that people brought casseroles.
Now they bring judgment.
And the worst offenders? Moms. We all know about the judgment heaped on the parents of the little boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure. (“Parents,” but really it’s always the mom that gets blamed.) Now it has started for the parents of the 2-year-old who was snatched and killed by an alligator while playing on the shores of a Disney resort in Florida.
People quickly weighed in on Facebook:
Hopefully, Lane Graves' parents are surrounded by loved ones and support. It's hard to imagine that mean internet comments could penetrate their crushing grief. But the rest of us notice, and it hurts us all to see this kind of reaction. Why do moms judge each other like this, even in the face of the worst type of pain?
I think I know: fear. The yawning chasm of pitch-black fear lives in the soul of every parent. You have a baby and then you realize that you’ve got to protect this innocent, defenseless child from everything bad in the world, and you have no idea how.
And it doesn’t get better as children get older — in some ways, the threats get worse, from exposed outlets to speeding cars to school shootings to drug overdoses. You can do everything “right” and sometimes a literal monster will snatch your child away from you at the “happiest place on earth.”
“Mommy judgment comes from a place of inner scarcity, inner lack,” psychologist and parenting author Dr. Shefali Tsabary said at a TODAY Parenting Team event last year, in what must have been the most-quoted comment of the day.
The mom-judgers are terrified. To have a child is to make a decision to have your heart go walking around outside your body, as Elizabeth Stone famously wrote, and that quote resonates because the awful vulnerability of it is so true. We can’t protect our children from everything, no matter how hard we try. Accidents happen. Tragedies strike. Sometimes children die.
That is a very, very hard truth for people to accept. If we let it — if we stare into that fear honestly — it can make us stronger and more compassionate.
Now I’m not saying that we should go around hugging hateful mom-judgers because they’re afraid. I’m not the Dalai Lama or Oprah or something. But when I despair at their lack of empathy and wonder what the world is coming to, or when I feel personally attacked by mom judgers, it helps to remember Dr. Tsabary’s words.
Loving someone as much as we love our kids means waking up every day with the knowledge that you could lose everything to cruel chance. In the best of times, that knowledge binds us together and makes us more compassionate. Let’s each try to shut down the judgment and close ranks around the family of Lane Graves, doing our best as a virtual community of parents to surround them with love. Let's put down our gavels and start making a casserole.
Rebecca Dube is the Head of TODAY Parents, Digital, editor of the TODAY Parenting Team and an imperfect but loving mom of two boys.