It happened in the blink of an eye.
Fourteen years ago, we were at the playground with a group of friends. My son was six months old, and my middle child was two. My oldest hadn’t yet turned four. One minute she was playing—and the next, I couldn’t find her.
I started the search, frantically calling for her and looking for her white shirt, while another mom stayed with the other two. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s the day a busload of students wearing white shirts were there too. (My friend always dressed her boys in matching bright shirts. Why didn’t I do that?)
I started looking in the woods that surrounded the playground, calling her name over and over and louder and louder. And then I heard it, “Mommy!” But it was so faint. Was she in the trees? She kept calling for me, and I kept calling for her. We could hear each other but couldn’t find each other.
Terrified, I worried that someone had grabbed her. As I ran around, desperate to find her, I thought, “I have to tell Greg that I lost his daughter.” I felt sick about my child missing because WHO DOES THAT?
Thankfully, I found her in the bathroom just a few minutes later—and I learned an important lesson about empathy with other parents that day. I was grateful that social media wasn’t really around then.
Today, I hear stories in which parents face far worse situations: children who died when they were left in a hot car, a boy who almost drowned even though he was surrounded by others in a pool, a nine-year-old girl thrown by a bison in Yellowstone, a teenager who was trafficked by the next-door neighbor.
As their stories make the news or social media, people who comment are often judgmental. Most of the comments start with, “I would never . . .” or “How could they . . .”. You see, we may not realize we are doing it, but these comments reflect our belief that if we can come up with all the ways that those parents failed, we can guarantee that horrible things will not happen to our children.
If we believe in Jesus, we have an opportunity to be different, both with the parents we meet in person and the comments we make (or don’t make) online. In James 2:12,13, we get our guideline:
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
1. Speak with mercy.
As you comment, realize that every parent who has had anything from a slight parenting mishap to a major tragedy is already questioning themselves and carrying a load of guilt. You have the gift of being able to grieve with and pray for them. You have the ability to stand up to mean-spirited comments and offer mercy and compassion. You also get to remind others that the heavenly Father loves every parent and offers forgiveness and mercy too.
2. Act with mercy.
As people share their struggles with everything from toddler tantrums to teenage rebellion, you have the ability to listen, give a hug, not roll your eyes, share your experiences (if asked), and offer encouragement.
In the comments, I’d love to hear encouraging words for parents who are busy raising babies, toddlers, tweens, teens, and young adults.
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who started dressing her kids in bright colors after her experience in the park.