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The One Parenting Lesson We Can Learn From Recent News

Photograph by Twenty20

It's been a harrowing month out there in the big bad world—crazy, unreal, nightmarish stuff. And it's happening non-stop. According to the 24-hour news reel that is the internet, it's a horrible time to be a parent.

The insta-load of all news everywhere has us watching these parenting horrors unfold in what feels like real time. Horrors like kids being ripped from our hands from wild animals. A child jumps into a gorilla cage at the zoo and is violently dragged like a rag doll while his mother looks on. An alligator in a Disney resort lagoon grabs a 2-year old boy in its mouth while the father wrestles the alligator for the child. The dad loses the fight and watches along with his wife, as his toddler is dragged under water by the alligator. A mom wrestles a would-be kidnapper for her 13 year old daughter in a Dollar Store in Florida. A college kid is seen raping a passed out girl behind a dumpster at Stanford and gets away with a few months in jail. And then ... Orlando. Dozens of mothers and fathers are childless. Families are irreparably fractured.

This feels like end-of-world stuff—the kind of stuff where if I wrote it in a screenplay, the first note I would get is, "that's a little far-fetched." But maybe this stuff has always been happening, we just didn't know about it because we didn't have the immediate access to it that we do now.

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We stop being moved by these stories and turn them into litmus tests about our own parenting.

The internet is turning tragedy into spectacle. We are growing accustomed to the rush of adrenaline from the latest parenting disaster in all its nitty gritty details. We are becoming commenting, liking, emoji-dropping, judgmental bystanders with permission to be full on narcissists. Our collective empathy is reduced to a "like" on Facebook when the latest disaster is posted. We are becoming desensitized to our own compassion, obsessing over the details and asking ourselves, "What would I have done? What I have let that happen? Where am I in this story?"

We stop being moved by these stories and turn them into litmus tests about our own parenting. Lately it feels like our own parenting vigilance has come in to question in the shadow of someone else's disaster.

I don't feel good about any of it.

As a parent, we live with our hearts outside of ourselves. When we have a baby (birthed, adopted, however) we spend those first few months in awe, staring at this amazing creature. Our heart is now in the body of another being—a being that we have to take care of. For me every moment holding my new baby felt so intense and near-paralyzing terrifying. What if I drop her? Can I take care of her? How am I going to protect this creature from the world?

But then you get used to things. Caring for your offspring becomes second nature. You get used to it. The kids get bigger and feel sturdier and more unbreakable. You start to leave them, with a sitter, a nanny, a relative, preschool, school, camp, classes and so on. You get stronger at letting go, making space and lengthening the cord. You start to feel safe—like nothing-is-going-to-happen-to-them safe. So maybe you play with fire a bit and you don't even know it. You don't know it because you are giving your child their independence and reclaiming some of yours. This too feels natural.

You may leave your kid in the parked car while you run in the house to grab the school lunch that they forgot. You have your kids sit in a restaurant while you go to the bathroom. You leave your 11-year-old home while you run to Trader Joe's to grab eggs when legally, they are supposed to be 12 or 13 before that can happen. You check the pasta while they are in the tub. You're on Facebook while your kid is climbing a tree. You're emailing while they're playing on the monkey bars. You throw out the garbage while they're eating lunch. They can fall, choke, be kidnapped, have a seizure, heart attack, drown. You are doing your life while they are doing theirs. Because that is, at some point, what is going to happen. They may dash off into a gorilla cage while you are taking a photo of the gorilla. They may wade in the water of a man-made lake. They will go to a dance club to celebrate life. They will walk home from a party on a college campus.

I could have easily been the mom at the zoo, taking photos, checking an email while a kid dashed off, out of site.

I am no different from all the other parents obsessing over the details, acting them out, wondering where I fit in, what I would have done. Never has it been more challenging to pay attention. Our devices are attached to us more than our kids are. I could have easily been the mom at the zoo, taking photos, checking an email while a kid dashed off, out of site. (Luckily my kids are older and have a more developed inner-safety compass).

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And this where I need to get my humanity and empathy in check. As much as we want to vilify these parents for losing grip on their kids (and kudos to the mom who didn't and kicked that would-be kidnapper in the balls!!) we need to just leave it. We need to stop posting and sharing and commenting on all these tragedies like we know better, because we don't. It only takes a minute, a second, for an accident to happen. And poof, just like that, a world implodes, collapses and falls apart forever.

Accidents are happening everywhere. They always have been. They just weren't shoved in our faces. So stay vigilant, check in and worry about your own family. When you're at the park, stop commenting on Facebook about the "assholes that let their kid get dragged by alligator" and keep your eyes on your kids. Because wouldn't that be the greatest, latest disaster headline?

"Kid breaks his neck falling off the monkey bars while mom is on Facebook commenting on the Harambe disaster."

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