This is a column about being a parent, and being afraid.
As any parent can tell you, there are a lot of moments of sheer terror that come with the territory. There’s that moment of panic when your toddler nearly runs into the street. (Or the gorilla enclosure. Hey, I’m the parent of a child who once stuck his head inside the ball return at the bowling alley: trust me when I say I don’t judge.) Then there’s that heart-stopping five minutes when you can’t find your child at the department store. (Because apparently it’s fun to hide inside the sales rack while they lock all the doors and call your name. On Christmas Eve.) And, of course, there’s that terrifying few hours when every time you turn on the GPS in your child’s phone their dot shows up in jail. (Whose bright idea was it to put a coffee shop so close to the jail, anyway?) But this column isn’t about that kind of fear. No, despite the fact that there are stacks and stacks of examples of all the times when we are desperately afraid that something bad has happened to our children, this column is about the other kind of parental fear.
This column is about the fear that someday our children are going to do something bad to someone else. In other words, this is the Brock Turner column.
There’s a great line in A Bug’s Life when Hopper brushes off the new Queen’s excuses by saying, “First rule of leadership: everything is your fault.” That one line describes parenting perfectly. It doesn’t matter if it is factually true or not: in parenting, like literature, oftentimes the Truth is revealed in stories that are inherently not true at all.
Did Brock Turner’s parent’s bad parenting create the remorseless creature we saw in court? Did their neglect, or smothering, or cluelessness, or enabling make him into the predator he is? Maybe. It doesn’t really matter, though, because we already know in our parenting hearts that they are the ones to blame. They are the parents. We are the parents. Everything is our fault.
I used to think that my primary role as a parent was to protect my children from the world, to stand like a seawall between them and the constant buffeting of life, but as they have gotten older, and as they have become more capable of protecting themselves (or at least less likely to stick their heads into the bowling ball return), I have started to feel as if my primary role shouldn’t rather be to protect the world from them. Or rather, to help them to become the type of people the world doesn’t need to be protected from. The type of person who doesn’t throw their beer cans out the truck window, who realizes that the super cheap 3-pack of t-shirts comes with a price you can’t always see, and that the only thing as bad as being a bully is being the person who watches and does nothing.
Only time will tell whether or not my bad—or good—parenting has created the kind of person who attacks a helpless woman behind a dumpster, or the kind of person who jumps off of their bicycle to save them. Of course I hope for the latter, but if for some reason I have gotten the former, then I hope that I have the strength to let them get the punishment they—and I—deserve.
Because, whichever way it happens, it will most certainly all be my fault.