Like pretty much everyone who watched the news yesterday, I was horrified to hear the story of the little boy who was dragged off by an alligator right in front of his family on the beach of the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disney World. My children were the exact same age as this family, two and four, on our first visit to Disney World and we walked around the grounds of that very hotel one day. Thinking of what happened to that poor little boy right where my own two year old boy had played a few years back made me physically sick. I can’t even begin to imagine what the family is going through.
But it always seems that no matter how bad something is, there is always a way to make it worse. And sure enough, only a few hours after this horrific event the inevitable comments began to appear.
“Where were the parents?”
“How could they let him wade in the water? Everyone knows there are alligators in Florida!”
“Ignorance is no excuse when your child’s safety is at stake! You’d never see me putting my child at risk like that!”
“The dad had only minor injuries? I would have fought to the death for my baby!”
Seriously, what is the matter with people these days? Is there no empathy or compassion anymore?
Actually, I have a theory about these attitudes. I think the root of the parental blame that gets thrown around so liberally these days is fear. Every single one of us is one breath, one sickness, one accident away from death. It’s all around us, and if we ever forget there’s a 24 hour news cycle out there to remind us. Most of us can accept this and live our lives without being crippled by fear and anxiety. But we can’t accept this reality when it comes to our kids.
So what happens? Somehow, modern parents have bought into the lie that they can subvert this reality of life if they just work hard enough. If they do absolutely everything perfectly correctly, they can reduce the risks down to zero and everything will be okay. And like most things, this attitude has a good side. Carseats and improved auto safety have reduced road fatalities significantly. We make our kids wear helmets on their bikes and watch the recall and safety notices. There’s nothing wrong with working hard to reduce the risks our kids face.
But nothing can ever reduce the risks to zero. Every day we hear about kids being hurt, kids being killed; horrible things happen every day and we shut down at the thought that it could our children or it could be our families. So what do we do instead? We blame. We look for things that separate those other families from us, choices those parents made that we wouldn’t so we can go back to our little fantasy world where being the perfect parent will keep our child 100% safe. We make up a little Walter Mitty type fantasy in our heads where we would have been the parent who could have overpowered the alligator to snatch our little one back to safety. We pretend that we have never been distracted for even a second with our own toddlers. We search for a way to label these parents as “lazy” or “uncaring” and tell ourselves that tragedies only happen to bad parents, not good parents like ourselves.
So, what does all this have to do with family travel, besides the fact that it’s weighing heavily on this family traveller’s mind right now? Well, I guess when I think about it, so much of this negativity and blame is bound up in fear. We live in a culture that cultivates fear and breeds anxiety and guilt. Blaming parents when tragedies happen is just a symptom of our own issues, the knowledge that no matter how hard we try and how much effort we put into putting a perfect face out to the world we are imperfect people in a world full of dangers. Life becomes all about minimizing risks and what better way to do that than to stay close to home, avoid new experiences and keep things predictable.
Everyone has a different tolerance for risks; I understand that. There are places I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking my children even though other people do it all the time. But I do think that the key to conquering fear is growth; always going a little more out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself a bit more. And there’s no better way to do that than to travel. When you explore a new place with kids you see that the world isn’t such a scary, dangerous place after all and different isn’t necessarily bad. The world is filled with lovely people and places.
So what’s holding you back? Do you fear what your friends and family would say if you tried something new and it didn’t work out? Do you feel that the pressure to be perfect and control all possible variables is so stressful at home that you’d never be able to survive somewhere new?
Oh, and above all else, when in doubt, be kind. Giving in to the culture of fear and blame hurts everyone in the end.