Why I Won't Be Judging You If Your Kid Climbs Into A Gorilla Enclosure

Critics blame mom for Cincinnati Zoo gorilla killing after toddler crawls into animal enclosure.

Love & Relationships

“At least my kid didn't crawl into a gorilla enclosure!"

This is what we’re all telling ourselves as we pass judgment on the mother whose three-year-old recently made headlines after making his way into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo this past Saturday. But the truth is anyone who has a toddler knows that we’re all one two-minute nap or text message away from our own kid super gluing the dog to the hamster. While the animal lover in me is sorry that 17-year-old gorilla, named Harambe had to die, I’m not as quick to call that kid’s mother a bad parent before I’ll say she was a parent having a bad day.


The video of Harambe seemingly being a threat to the toddler’s well-being made the viral rounds this weekend as the internet joined in a universal outcry of parent shaming in support of the ethical treatment of animals. According to The Huffington Post, zoo officials feared for the boy’s safety after he crawled into the gorilla enclosure. In the video, Harambe doesn’t immediately appear to want to harm the child, at first shielding him before dragging him through the water. Zoo director Thayne Maynard expressed that staff believed tranquilizers would take too long to go into effect so they made a decision to shoot the gorilla in order to get the boy out the enclosure safely.

But of course the internet wasn’t quite here for the “gorilla warfare” and immediately placed blame on the mother and her “obvious” lack of perfect parenting:

“The gorilla was taking care of the boy. Better than his mother did. By the middle of this week they will have filed a suit against the zoo, the city and any adult that saw the boy and didn't stop him.”

“The parents should be charged with child negligence and have to pay some sort of fine to the zoo. If you can't control your kid in public, then they don't deserve to be in public. Get them one of those ridiculous child leashes if you have to.”

“I have to say I disagree with killing the animal. They should have tried to sedate it and shot it if it was really harming the child. It seemed to hold it and care about it. Senseless behavior on the zoo officials and poor parenting. I am glad the child is safe but what a story.”

I don't know about you, but in the unfortunate situation this happened to my child, I wouldn't be thinking about the gorilla's intentions to "hold and care" my baby.  But you know, people always have the best things to say when they're not in the situation themselves.

I wrote a piece a few months ago about how I judged other parents before I actually had my own child, and if this mother is a bad parent for her attention span being a little fried, then I am willing to bet anyone who has ever had to parent a toddler should be getting a visit from child services. My 1-year-old daughter literally just fell outside of our house right in front of my face when I was less than a foot away from her and nearly ripped half her nail bed off. Or what about the other night when she thought it was a good idea to repeatedly hit our Pitbull/Boxer mix in the head with a hanger before we caught her in the nick of time before the nine-year-old canine completely ran out of patience?

My point is, if you’re parenting a toddler and are truthful about it, you’re well aware even when you dedicate all of your attention twenty-four hours a day, there are times when only the grace of God himself can explain how your child makes it through the day in one piece. And if you’ve never parented a toddler, well to be honest you don’t have any damn idea how fragile your attention-span actually is and how much your patience will be tested until you have to tell a three-year-old fifteen times in a row that car keys do not go in the electrical socket.

Witnesses also report that the mother was watching several kids at once. My attention-span gets fried keeping my daughter from killing herself within the confines of my own home so a day at the zoo or in the park almost means I have to turn into a Marvel X-men’s “Quicksilver” looking out for “stranger-danger”, uneven pavements and weird bugs that she thinks might be better off in her mouth. I can only imagine trying to keep an eye on several kids at once, but instead of criticizing what seems like an overwhelmed parent and asking her what was she doing while her kid was trying to get a closer look, my question is what we’re all of the onlookers doing as well? I know the limits of stepping in to help other parents is taboo in today’s society, but I can’t help but feel like the same people moaning over why Harambe had to die were also the ones who turned a blind eye and pulled out their camera phones while the boy was getting his “Planet of the Apes” on. I'm not saying I don't understand the criticism, but something tells me this mom needs some "Me-Time", a glass of red wine or just a helping hand more than she needs your judgment. Parenting is not easy, even when you have everything working in your favor.

[Tweet "Parenting is not easy, even when you have everything working in your favor."]

News reports state that mourners attended a vigil for Harambe and the hashtag #JusticeforHarambe is even trending on Facebook.  A Change.org petition even garnered over 138,000 signatures asking for the family to be charged in the animal’s death. Cincinnati police expressed they have no intentions of charging the family since they don’t believe a crime has been committed. Protestors gathered outside the zoo later in the day accusing staff of using “excessive force” and blaming them for failing to use less lethal ways of getting the child to safety. Even PETA joined in on the action tweeting blaming the Cincinnati Zoo itself more than the visitors:

[Tweet "Bad things happen and it isn’t always someone’s fault"]

As an animal lover myself,  I really hated to see that Harambe had to lose his life, but I’m not quick to say that bad parenting is to blame. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my adult life is that bad things happen and it isn’t always someone’s fault.

Parenting is a delicate balance of allowing your child the freedom to explore and learn about the world while keeping the plastic bubble (and plenty of band-aids) handy just in case it gets ugly.

Kids are determined, curious and quick creatures and none of us are on our A-game all the time, even those of us who are reassuring ourselves that we’re killing this parenting thing because our kid didn’t crawl into the gorilla enclosure. Maybe instead of scrolling through our phones and tweeting #JusticeforHarambe we should look up every now and then at the world happening around us. You might just see a parent who needs some help instead of your judgement.


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