Gorilla Death Sparks Bitter Backlash and Opens up Discussion on Responsible Parenting

The untimely death of Harambe, the silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, over Memorial Day weekend caused angry backlash from animal rights activist and parents around the world. The parents of the four-year-old boy that fell into the gorilla exhibit have received numerous criticisms on their parenting. They been called negligent and irresponsible.

What is responsible parenting? In a nutshell, it’s keeping your kids safe, fed and loved. A responsible parent takes ownership of their children’s problems and seeks to correct them. Can a responsible parent prevent every conceivable action that their child will do? I’ve yet to see a parent that can.

I am a mom of two boys ages eight and three. For the most part, my eight-year-old is trustworthy and never wanders off, especially in public areas. Now my three-year-old is another story. He’s fearless, curious and naturally drawn to danger.  I’m very vigilant when I’m out with my kids. But my three-year-old has managed to slip from my grasp and get into his fair share of trouble.

As a mom, safety of my children is my utmost priority. At the same time, I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I want them to step out of their comfort zone every once in awhile. As a child, I was allowed to roam the neighborhood with my friends and play outdoors until dinner time with little or no parental supervision. I realize things are different now, but I still like to give my kids some freedom.

Recently my three-year-old put me to the ultimate test. I stepped out my front door to take our dog to relieve himself in the front yard. It was early morning and my three-year-old wanted to come with me. I told him no, because it usually turns into him hopping on his bike and making his way to the street. I told him he could not come out the front door. Less than a minute passed, the dog did his business and I walked back into the house. No sign of my son. I called for him and got no answer. My older son was still in bed and I figured perhaps he went in to bother him. Nope, not there.

I searched every room and yelled his name and received no answer. To make a long story short, my child decided to unlock the back door, walk out into the backyard to get to the back gate and walk around the house to meet me in the front yard. All this at 7 in the morning, in his pajamas and barefoot. When I found him and asked why he disobeyed me, his response was that he did not. I told him he could not walk out the front door, but did not say he couldn’t go out the back.

The whole incident mostly likely was less than 10 minutes but it felt like hours for me in my panic state. I realized how easily I could have lost him. I would have been that irresponsible and negligent mom that lost her three-year-old while she was at home. I could have been the mom that the internet criticized for her bad parenting.

Does this make me a bad parent? I don’t think so. Is the mom of the little boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure a bad mom? I don’t think so. People are not perfect. The last thing in the world I want is for harm to come to my child. Yet, do I need to seclude him and trap him in a bubble to prevent it?

People make mistakes. Accidents can happen. Children have free will. None of this makes us bad parents. The best we can do is try. Try to be kind and loving and not judgmental. Imagine being in someone else’s shoes for a moment. It’s easy to judge with hindsight and from the sidelines.


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