Yesterday, we witnessed something happen that I haven’t been able to shake.
It felt like a beautiful spring day, and we spent a few hours of the afternoon at a brewery – such nice weather we were having that the brewery had their outdoor section open for all to enjoy.
We weren’t the only parents there; just about every patron had a child or three in tow. The place was packed full of tiny humans and their adults.
At one point, we see a mother looking extremely frantic, pacing around the indoor section, then heading outside, then back in, towards the front of the building, towards the back, into the bathrooms, into the store next door, and all over again and again and again.
Others in her group begin to exhibit the same expression and behavior.
Suddenly, it becomes clear: a child is missing.
We watch. We listen. We try to remember what the child looked like. Anthony goes next door to search.
Finally, we approach the mother and ask if she’d like us to ask the bartender to make an announcement. For everyone to stop what they’re doing and have a look around. For the child, if he can hear the bartender, to come out of hiding.
But just as we’re about the ask the bartender to step in, relief washes over the group of parents; the child was found. The mother thanks us for getting involved, and admits, “it’s just such a safe place, with all these other parents and children around. You’d never think something could happen.”
But it did.
“He decided he wanted to go for a walk,” someone said.
Turns out, the child was three. Three years old.
So many questions come up for me: why wasn’t someone watching better? Why would you let a child so young go off on their own? What kind of parent would do that? Why did they feel such a sense of safety in a large, overcrowded public place? Why not ask for help immediately?
That last one really struck me. And seeing the mother’s face, and hearing her voice, I knew the answer: she was embarrassed.
And I can’t stop thinking about that. I can’t let go of the feeling that we’ve created such a parent-shaming culture – and sadly, a lot of blame, criticism and finger pointing is often geared towards mothers – that someone would delay asking for help from outside forces in part because they don’t feel comfortable. They feel judged. They feel foolish. They think it’s better if they handle it themselves.
From start to finish, this whole ordeal took place over approximately 20 minutes. Had someone taken the child, that’s critical time. Time needed to take action. To do more than just look. To get everyone to stop and pay attention. To find out if anyone saw anything.
But none of that happened, and thankfully, everything turned out OK. It doesn’t always end happily.
It was a bizarre thing to actually see in person, not on an episode of Law & Order, or in a popular movie. It was happening right there, right next to us, and we were a tiny part of it.
And at the end of it all, I just kept coming back to this idea: that how society makes us feel about our abilities as parents has very real consequences.
Sure, it’s super easy to say that you would have done things differently if it were your child. That you would have asked for help immediately. That you would have been watching better. That your child *knows* better. Hell, I did it at first.
But I urge you to strip that away, and remind yourself that society is a powerful thing, and when you’re made to feel inadequate, or have a false perception of safety, your actions might surprise you.
Next time you judge someone else’s parenting, I hope you’ll remember this story. And if nothing else, I hope you’re reminded that none of us are perfect parents. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help.