The past month has unleashed a newsfeed of horrifying, deadly mayhem. Not your garden variety tragedy. This has been cruel, what-kind-of-world-do-we-live-in insanity.
The universe is emphatically issuing a big “screw you,” wagging its finger in our collective faces and yelling, “I can do more heinous things than your most paranoid thoughts can conjure, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”
What kind of fresh hell is this? Who among us isn’t looking up waiting for the locusts and frogs to descend in plague-like fashion? As parents who’ve brought human beings into this world, these senseless, violent acts shake us to the core.
Our most hardwired instinct is to protect our children, but these events leave us breathless in the face of their randomness and our utter lack of control. Just like that, Badass Moms morph into Frightened Moms.
Before we can regain our footing, we need to understand how these three reactions are turning us into agents of fear.
Deflection: Blame and shame
As Melissa Fenton so deftly pointed out in her now-viral Facebook post, unsettling events have unleashed a vocal contingent of blamers and shamers whose first instinct is to create a villain. Driven by panic and a misguided superiority complex, this group deflects by ruthlessly assigning responsibility. In the situations involving young children, this manifests as a separate, secondary cruelty – finger-pointing and gratuitously piling on already-suffering parents.
The blamers and shamers will sanctimoniously decry a mom who admirably took multiple children to the zoo for a day of fun and momentarily turned her gaze from one to tend to another. The blamers and shamers question the “audacity” of letting a little boy walk along a hotel beach within physical reach and “failing” to consider the possibility that a vicious reptile would burst out of the man-made lagoon and snatch him away forever.
Displacement: Trading fear for blame
While Melissa rightly calls out the pitchforkers for their lack of compassion, in fairness, I suspect some blamers have a less nefarious motivation. Specifically, a subconscious reckoning with our own powerlessness in the face of the universe’s cruelty is enough to send us scrambling to erect a neat, linear connection between someone’s incompetence and a subsequent tragedy. We grasp at this connection, utilizing it as a barrier between “us” and “them.”
In other words, if I never do X, then Y will never happen to me. If we can believe someone is to blame or guilty of some lapse – i.e., not watching her child closely enough, or not envisioning all the variations of horror that could occur – we can distance ourselves from the notion that it could happen to us.
It’s much easier to judge and assign blame than it is to acknowledge our own universal vulnerability as human beings. It’s much easier to judge and assign blame than admit that it could be any one of us in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could be any one of us experiencing the devastating misfortune of a momentary lapse in parenting at the precise moment the universe cruelly doles out a random act.
Defense mechanism: Anxiety
Other Frightened Moms respond to these horrific events with an anxiety-fueled hypervigilance in deference to these events and their power over us. Parenting becomes a fine line of balancing the unrealistic desire to take the family and hole up in a fallout shelter and the realistic need to allow family members to walk out the door and go about their normal business.
Consumed with thoughts about the fragility of life, we worry, we fret, and we warn – earning us the title of “family killjoy” and inducing eye rolls.
Fear’s antidote: The Badass Mom
So, how do we move from Frightened Mom back to Badass Mom?
By being mindful of the toll these reactions – deflection, displacement, and defense – can take. Left unchecked, this mix of blame, superiority, anger, and anxiety operates as a toxic petri dish cultivating the worst in all of us.
The fixation on villains heaps unwarranted blame on families already suffering unconscionable pain. An unwillingness to walk in the shoes of another out of fear it will expose our vulnerability strips us of our compassion, thereby denying comfort to people in pain. And unbridled anxiety robs us of joy and optimism in our daily lives.
We need to bring the badass back for every one us – blamers, deflectors, and worry warts.
Raise your right middle finger high to the sky, and repeat after me:
I embrace the notion of, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” And I promise to count blessings rather than point fingers.
I pledge to support, rather than pile on. Understand this, universe: if you come for her, you come for me.
Back off, universe. I will resist the pull of anxiety and refuse to be intimidated by your tactics.
Look out. The Badass Mom is back. And she’s pissed.