Mum urges us not to judge and shame families when a child accidentally dies

Jennifer Campbell

Compassion wins: When a child tragically drowned after wandering away from home, a mum sought to address the blame, abuse and anger directed at the little boy’s grieving family.

(Top image – Jennifer’s adorable little mischief makers. Source – Jennifer Campbell)

The blame game

It makes absolute sense that when a child unexpectedly dies, we attempt to reconcile the unfathomable loss by finding someone to blame.

Helpfully, there usually is someone to blame, if we dig deep enough. Someone who made a life-changing choice that unintentionally resulted in the most tragic of consequences. That person is marked a bad parent/carer/person and distressed onlookers point their fingers and focus their anger, in full fury, in that direction.

As painful as this can be for the already grieving families on the receiving end of this judgement and shaming, it’s easy to see why strangers are so quick to anger and judge.

It’s part of how we cope with life’s unpredictability.

If we are able to establish why accidents happen, and how they might have been prevented, it seems to anchor and soothe us.

Distance and demonise

We’re quickly reassured that a terrible, avoidable mistake – by an incompetent or malicious parent – resulted in the tragedy. We assume we are better than that. We would never make such a mistake. Then we deduce that we – and our kids – are safe from similar harm.

Finger-pointing and judging provides a sense of security and distance. In a quest to advocate for an innocent child we do not know, we demonise the family, and take a step away from a tragedy that might otherwise seem terrifyingly relatable.

We won’t be the parent who doesn’t see their child in the driveway as we reverse out. We will never lose sight of our child in a crowd. We will never forget they’re in the back seat of the car. We will not take our eyes off them for a minute, at home.

We’re not like those – “terrible” – parents.

One afternoon when we were still living in New Zealand, I sat on the couch pretty much topless, as one is when nursing a…

Posted by Jennifer Campbell – Mama Lion Strong on Sunday, 27 March 2016

Mistake inventory

But one mum thinks we have much in common with these grieving families.

This mum saw this distancing and blaming phenomenon playing out in the wake of the tragic drowning of a little boy in her community and wanted to encourage a different response.

Jennifer Campbell took to Facebook, sharing a post that detailed all the times being distracted or making a mistake could have resulted in tragedy for her children – and how thankful she was that it didn’t.

Aware that the family whose child had drowned were destined to suffer for the rest of their lives, she sought to highlight how quickly people attribute blame and judge already grieving families – especially on social media platforms.

She then listed a bunch of near-misses that could have ended in tragedy for her family, hoping to start a conversation about how intrepid and adventurous children are – and how, combined with parental exhaustion or overwhelm – this could easily result in disaster.

She detailed an incident where her child ran onto the road, unattended. She wrote about a time when her son split his head open, after a fall. She shared the time one of her sons rode away on his bike and was separated from the family and the time she found her very small child cutting cheese with a very big knife.

Jennifer sought to point out how lucky we often are, and that some parents fall prey to much crueller circumstances.

“I prayed that the family never read a word”

Commenters on Jennifer’s Facebook page said they’d witnessed grieving families facing a barrage of criticism and abuse as they came to terms with their loss.

“Accidents are so scary and you’re right could happen to anyone. A little boy accidentally hung himself on his swing set in my town and people were so so cruel. I prayed that the family never read a word,” one woman posted.

“I love and appreciate your honesty and I feel less alone as an ‘imperfect’ parent when I read your truths. My heart goes out to the poor family. Something similar happened in Australia last year,” another woman wrote.

“I can’t get over how many insensitive keyboard warriors are out there. It sickens me to know people are judging this family and have no idea what actually transpired that day,” another commenter said.

Reconciling difficult feelings

Jennifer urged for a compassion-led response to families who’d lost children to accidents that many deem preventable.

“This tragedy could have been our family. It could be yours. Because accidents happen, and when they do people need love and compassion, not lectures and blame,” Jennifer wrote.

“Be kind, gentle, and compassionate in your thoughts and conversations about this. We are all just perfectly imperfect humans, trying our best out here.”


Have you witnessed this regrettable post-tragedy shame and blame game on social media?

Subscribe to Babyology

Our email newsletters keep you up to date with what’s happening on Babyology.

We also have special newsletter-only offers and competitions that are exclusive to Babyology subscribers.

Sign up below:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Send this to a friend