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Dear New Mom on Social Media,
By now, the tragedy at the Cincinnati Zoo is taking over your timeline and probably scaring the shit out of you. Like many of us, it’s OK to be relieved the four-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure is safe and sound but to also want the commentary to stop. Social media doesn’t allow time to silently consider facts and complicated matters. It’s much easier to focus our collective unease at the easiest possible target: the mother of that child.
The idea your child could fall into a gorilla enclosure is horrifying. But I’m equally horrified by the hateful comments directed at the toddler’s mother from other moms. When you found out you were pregnant, you might have experienced myriad emotions and perhaps even felt a certain sense of community about the group of warrior moms you were entering. You’ve likely prepared your answers for the “breast is best” debates you’ve heard about for years.
One thing you may not be entirely prepared for is how vicious women are when faced with guilt. Mom Guilt.
You’ve heard about it. It’s a strong emotion. Guilt manifests itself in such a hideous way when there is another mother or child who does or says something that allows us individually to take a deep breath and say: “Thank God it wasn’t my fuck-up today.”
You can’t actually say that out loud, by the way. You are not actually allowed to admit when you’ve fallen short as a mother. It seems like everyone around you is thinking it. They’re relieved for just a moment or a 24-hour news cycle that it’s impossible to feel all of the guilt because at least one other mom feels it publicly.
It’s a sad fact of the motherhood condition that as often as you find vocal cheerleaders, you hear other mothers rooting for you to fail.
And I’m sorry for that. I’ve rooted for other moms to fail, too.
Many times, Mom Guilt rears its ugly head when you are least able to fend it off. It hits when you’re exhausted and impatient, making it nearly impossible to be kind to yourself much less to anyone else. It makes sense that to feel better, you just want to get the monkey off your back, so to speak. It’s much easier to point the finger at the easiest target, and who is easier than than the mom who messed up last?
As a mom, I fail every day, many times. I have chased my almost-three-year-old across my front lawn while holding an infant and wearing high heels because he just likes to run. I have left birthday parties early because there are no fences or baby gates, and it’s just impossible to pretend to be a human being when you’re being a mom to a child at a party in a place that is not child-proof. I’ve also stayed too long at parties because I wanted to be a human more than I wanted to chase my child, who has been the annoying toddler digging inside a new neighbor’s entertainment center because he likes to hide from me for sport. The only difference between me and this mother is a gorilla wasn’t on the other side, waiting to catch my child when he ran from me.
You will not see a petition calling on people to stop Zaprudering the cell phone footage and understand that sometimes tragic circumstances call for nothing more than old-fashioned compassion. But there are more than 300,000 people who have signed a petition calling for police to investigate the mother.
Quintessential Mom Guilt is when you feel so guilty that you cannot muster compassion. No one will tell you before you have children that Mom Guilt disables the part of your brain that allows you to rationally and clearly assess facts from opinions, and not just when it comes to your children. Compassion is arguably the one emotion human beings have that separates us from other animals. And it is the one thing we as mothers are desperately failing to exhibit when it comes to how we treat one another.
Some have analyzed Harambe’s actions and suggested the gorilla could have been protecting the pint-sized intruder in his habitat. Or perhaps Harambe was protecting other gorillas from the child.
But, for you, new mom, I’m sorry to say there is no one willing to stand up and protect this mama from the guilt she likely feels today and will feel every day after.