• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Mother Blame in a New Media Environment

Celebrating those who reject scapegoating.



June 8, 2016

Last week it was difficult to miss the story of the Gorilla kid mom. Surely, I can see why people are drawn to the story. For the media, it’s a suspenseful story. For viewers, it’s a dramatic window into the ethical decision to kill an animal. For parents, it’s their worst fear: you take your eyes off your child for a second, and you find your child at the bottom of a gorilla enclosure. Then, you receive hate messages from around the world over what people perceive as your parental failure.

This episode made me think, though, about how quickly many people blamed the mother (many don’t even realize that the child’s dad was there, too) for a child’s failure. This is especially troubling in a world where so much is blamed on and expected from parents.

In part, I blame our media environment, which is to be distinguished from specific media organizations. In an environment where there is so much access to news, studies, blogs, and advice, it’s hard to weed through opinions to find legitimate advice. Advice is often contradicting and changing. It used to be that the medical establishment would debate and vet studies before they were released to the public. Now, one can hear about new recommendations or discoveries instantly. In just the last few months alone, I learned that I actually should have eaten nuts while I was pregnant (to possibly prevent a nut allergy, which my son does indeed have). It turns out that mindfulness may be helpful to children in grades 4 and 5. Helping your child with homework turns out to be bad. Apparently, even the bottle you choose for your baby could influence their health.

At the same time, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media often feature a constant steam of fabulous moments that often inspire envy or guilt in others who are not achieving the same level of excitement in their own lives. Of course, these pictures are just the highlights of someone’s story that they have chosen to share, but you can’t really be sure. I remember my own trip to Disney World with a 4-year old, 2-year old, and an infant. Most of the trip was pretty much a disaster, with my husband and I fighting right in middle of the Main Street over whether we should just abandon the “vacation.” However, without the knowledge of our experience, a review of our vacation photos shows us having a great time. It looks like we bought my son brand-new Disney Crocs to celebrate as a branded souvenir, rather than the truth of our being desperate when he peed all over his last change of clothes and only pair of sneakers. Social media set up expectations of events and activities that seem to be perfect and immersive (like a trip to the zoo).

Instead of focusing on all the people who were blaming “Zoo Mom,” I’m going to celebrate those that chose not to.  People have shared with the public their own near misses. Others have questioned the lack of focus on the dad. The prosecutors themselves have questioned whether there was anything that could have been done to prevent the accident. I’d like to think that maybe we are at a point where mother blame will not be a default reaction to incidents like this.

Maybe I’m moving too quickly, but wouldn’t it be great if those who are so quick to blame children’s failures on mothers also praise mothers when their children experience a success?


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