How parents deal with tragedy. A.K.A. forgive the sanctimonious, for they know not what they do.

Like all of you, I’m sure, I have not stopped thinking of the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings. And yet, I would very much like to.

I have written before that I have not even been able to watch a single episode of Law & Order since having children. My sense of empathy kicks in and I immediately put myself in the shoes of the fictional victim’s fictional parents and then…that’s it. I’m done for. So you can imagine how much it shakes me to hear of any story involving random acts of violence that end in the unthinkable.

I’d imagine we can all agree on that. But that’s where the agreement ends.

Trying to take my overly emotional parenting hat off, I’ve been pouring through posts and am finding it interesting to take note of all the different and ways that parents who are bloggers and writers process this kind of story. Some in more contentious ways than others. Some are downright…I won’t say it.

Okay, starts with a d.

Some parents simply grieve and ask for thoughts and prayers. Some defend their right to hold their children a little closer despite statistical improbability of this happening to our own children. Some thoughts turn to root causes, and arguments for stricter gun control laws –or, conversely, arguments for bearing more weapons. Because hey! Guns don’t kill people, mentally unstable people with access to assault weapons thanks to gun show loopholes and lobbying groups and…oh, wait. Wrong argument.

Some have written about the danger of assumptions about the gunman before we have facts. Some have written about the lack of service for the mentally ill.

Some are celebrating the lives of the deceased, like the brother of victim Jessica Ghawi.

I have seen quite a few articles and posts offering suggestions on how we talk to our kids about tragedies, and I think that’s one topic that never gets old–even if I wish it were less frequently necessary.

But the one reaction that has perhaps bothered me the most (because I expect no-holds barred gun advocates to do say what they say) are those who have come out immediately to blame the parents of the victims, asking why children or tweens or teens were allowed in a midnight movie in the first place. One such post is here, although I admit I hesitate to link to it.

The short answer to the question about why those kids were there: they were there because they were there.

Maybe it was a big special treat for someone’s birthday. Or because it was a crazy family adventure, like the parents who take their kids out at midnight for Black Friday shopping. Or maybe in some cultures, it’s just not a big deal. I still remember on a trip to Club Med, how odd the Europeans thought we were putting our 3 year old to sleep before 8, when their children were just sitting down to dinner. Or maybe, hey–it was downright inappropriate.

In any case, none of that matters for one freaking second. Not now. Not in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy.

The children were the victims. Not the perpetrators. Their families, more so. And I have seen those parents who have lost children themselves, like Tanis and Heather, jumping in on social media channels in fierce defense of those families from a perfectly appropriate position to do so.

I’ll leave them to it.

My feelings were very much reflected by a moving post called Put Your Stones Down, at Life in Pleasantville (h/t Christina) in which she wrote:

So many parents lives were changed forever yesterday. Pain, horror, guilt, grief, anger, are only some of the emotions these poor people with have to deal with for years to come. They should have nothing but our complete sympathy, but instead the judgers come out, in record time really, to shame the parents a little more.

I have little more to add.

So now, after my blood pressure has had some time to resume its usual level, I’ve come to a conclusion:

I think perhaps some parents handle the horrific thought of a dead or hurt child with logic that allows them to assure themselves, Well at least *my children* would never be in that situation.

On the outside, it’s the pinnacle of thoughtlessness and sanctimony. The very opposite of Lisa Belkin’s post, linked above, in which she suggests that any one of our children could have been there.

And yet, the more I think of it, I wonder if the posts and comments that attack parenting choices of murder victims are a defense mechanism to protect our own minds for the excruciating, horrible, fleeting image of our own children in the theater that night.

Sanctimony and finger-pointing born from pain.

I’m trying desperately not to call those people douches. I’m trying to imagine them hurting, just as I am.

I just hope then that we can all imagine the hurt of the families of the victims, too.


Hey there awesome commenters – I know this is a highly charged topic and comments overall are thoughtful and fantastic as always. But anyone calling anyone else names, and I’m deleting. Please attack the idea and not the person. Thanks, Professor Liz.


104 thoughts on “How parents deal with tragedy. A.K.A. forgive the sanctimonious, for they know not what they do.”

  1. I think you’re totally right, Liz. In the wake of something like this, people look for reassurance — any kind of reassurance — that it would never happen to them. Maybe they hold onto the idea that they would never take their kids to a midnight movie, and that allows them to believe in the illusion that they’re safe. We all need that illusion, I think, to keep moving forward. Why they feel the need to judge others…. well, I totally don’t understand that.

  2. Thank you! You have expressed my feeling more eloquently than I ever could.

  3. Beautifully put. I think you’re right, that it’s essentially a defense mechanism when people lash out at inappropriate targets. All of us are guilty of saying the wrong thing at one time or another, so I think it’s important to try to give others the benefit of the doubt. But it’s a shame that there are people who can’t lead from what I consider to be a more compassionate place.

    1. “lead from a more compassionate place”

      That’s a brilliant line. I could learn a lot from that.

      1. Yes, a brilliant line. I love it. It resonates. Mom101, your blog really resonates too. I was one of those quick to blog types yesterday – call it an emotional knee jerk. Mine was not overtly judging, just trying to rationalize my own parenting choices when it comes to guns. Most of all, my heart is breaking for the victims and their families.

  4. So smart, so measured.

    I applaud you for giving the blamers the benefit of the doubt, even if (maybe especially because) they are not granting the victims the same courtesy.

    The fact that someone can hear about what happened in Aurora and have the first thought be “why were the children there?” is chilling.

    It reminds me of the “why was she wearing a miniskirt?” and “wasn’t she drinking?” questions aimed at sexual assault victims. Maybe those questions are still there.

    What happened in Aurora is senseless and we all have to come to grips with it, impossible as it is. Life is fragile. Terrible things happen to people.

    That’s hard to do.

    It’s so much easier to speculate why the children were at the movies at midnight.

    1. Marinka, thanks for this. Those questions, and the implicit “That’s what you get for [parenting decision *I* would never have made]…” judgment.

      Nobody *deserves* to be a victim. Not even when they’re being stupid or careless (hello, teen years), let alone just living their lives as they see fit.

  5. It was so interesting yesterday morning, the first “leave the parents alone” tweet I saw was from Sassymonkey, backed up by Elisa, and then by me.

    You know I love that sort of thing.

    I don’t know, Liz. I guess resting in the logical belief that they’d never put their kids in that situation first may be a useful defense mechanism (although I know MANY parents who allow young teenagers to go to late-night movies, and, in fact, to walk out the door. Terrifying, really, when I think about it. And I’m not kidding.) But does all judgment have to come out of our brains to our fingers to the world, in which these hurting people live? It would be nice if, while smoke is still rising and bodies are STILL IN a theater that just got shot up by the unthinkable, people would step back and just let themselves feel a tiny bit of the pain, maybe even be a little overwhelmed to the point of not having an opinion YET, that now 80-some families (at least) will feel forever. (That grammar sucks, sorry.)

    I know it’s scary. I know it’s difficult. It’s SO much easier to intellectualize and have a platform and blahblahblah. But it doesn’t make anything better for anybody. And while everything may be about us, because that’s our immediate lens, it just takes one little psychic leap to make it about the person/people to whom it happened. I see that happening less and less and less in the discourse, and it’s a drag.

    I don’t know why any of those people in that theater were there, but I do know that they were all someone’s kid, someone’s something. It’s horrible and it’s sad and it’s too much, and that’s why I think people keep talking, even when there’s not a whole lot to say.

    1. This week, I was called out for saying something angry that was in my heart about a child, in public, on my blog. I didn’t name or identify anyone (lord knows I changed the details) and I defended my right to feel that way. So I understand that feelings are feelings. But I totally see where the dissenters were coming from–they were empathizing with the child. Then again, my critical comments will not be forever associated with a real person or incident when she Googles her name for the rest of her life.

      I guess I’d make a shitty journalist.

  6. Liz, so well said. Becoming a parent has changed my world-view and some of my habits. There are many shows and movies that I know I’ll never watch again because they feature a mother or a child in danger because of health or circumstance.

    True – we judge too much – about everything. Why anyone was there has nothing to do with the story that is told or the events that unfolded. That people are hanging on to that is the wrong reaction. It might also be the case though, that they are focussed on that so that they don’t have to look at the real story.

  7. It’s easier to be an asshole in these situations. Empathy takes practice, thought, and a lot of heart. We should all practice more.

  8. It is terribly easy to sit in front of your computer, in the safety of your own home and ask these terribly non-important victim shaming questions after a tragedy. I get it. And I understand the rational behind it. I’m sure I have even done it myself at one point.

    But the thing is, I know the pain of losing a child due to a decision I made. And no amount of shaming, or telling me it wasn’t my fault or ANYTHING, will ever lessen the pain that my husband and I bear due to our child’s death.

    Jumping on the victims’ parents is a hasty, easy way to process a tragedy and to make sense of the something nonsensical. However, it is not helpful.

    There may be a place for this particular discussion, about why society thinks it’s acceptable to bring young children to a movie theatre to view a movie filled with adult violence, but from where I view life, I’m here to say that TODAY, and likely not even TOMORROW is the time for this discussion to take place.

    By asking these questions RIGHT NOW, instead of waiting for a bit and allowing the victims and their families the time and respect to deal with the horror of this event all that is being accomplished is the further isolation of the victims’ families. It’s victimizing the people who most need (and deserve) our support.

    The question right now should not be “Why did those parents have young children/tweens/teens inside a midnight viewing of a violent movie?” Instead it should be “Why did a man bring in weapons and shoot into a crowded movie theatre?”

    Any other questions could have waited to be asked. Just my two cents.

    1. Amen. Thank you Liz and Tanis and everyone else who is calling out this sick spate of victim shaming. Did we already forget the injunction to mourn with those that mourn? Weeping and sick over this shooting.

      1. P.S. Ellen Galinsky of Families and Work Institute calls this “parentism”. It is akin to other forms of isms like racism. Whilst in this article she is discussing the vitriol directed at Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer, I think it applies here too.
        “Another thing strikes me about the public responses to these two stories — the vitriol; the harsh, at times, abusive criticism we throw at others who manage their work and family lives differently than we do. I call that being “parentist.” If you substitute the words “person of color” in some of the statements made about Mayer or Slaughter, they would be seen as racist.”

    1. I have to agree that it seems to be people’s way of justifying that it would never have happened to their kids because they would not have allowed them to have been present. Children died at the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City because it was 9:02 a.m., and they were in the daycare or with their parents and grandparents, who were conducting business in the building. Could have happened to anyone. Children died at Columbine (or any other number of school shootings) because they were there to get an education. Could have happened to anyone. Children died on 09/11/2001, because they were flying with their families. Could have happened to anyone. Children die every day at the hands of others, and it cannot be successfully predicted where, how, when, or especially – why.

      Helicopter Parents whose only coping concept may be to isolate their child – no movies, home schooling, don’t talk to strangers, etc., have it all wrong. You cannot prevent tragedy from striking. You can minimize risks, but until two days ago the biggest risk associated with going to the movies – even at midnight – was a theater fire. More likely, it was that you kid would spend a fortune on overpriced junk and come home with a stomachache.

      Even the boy in the plastic bubble longed to escape, although he knew the outside world could – and would – eventually kill him. The best we can do as parents is to teach our children that the world, while a scary place, is still amazing and beautiful. We need to teach them what to do when danger strikes, while balancing it so as not to strike fear into their everyday lives. It is a delicate balance, and I think more often than not, we all fall more heavily on one side or the other.

      1. Nicely put. I was thinking of Columbine. No one said, “well, if only those parents had put their children who were shot in private school…”

        Or hell, maybe they did.

        1. Actually, they said, “well, if only the parents of the shooters had done A, B, or C…” like they are such superior parents that their child would never do that.

          There’s always someone to point a finger because it’s easier than admitting you aren’t perfect either.

  9. Well written. I love posts like these that don’t turn into emotional rants. I think the big point that’s missing is this:

    We all have thoughts, emotional reactions, what ifs. Even I had the thought of “why were young children at the movie?” But knowing when to express it publicly and when to keep it a private thought that perhaps you discuss with your spouse is a fine line many people forget to walk.

    As my husband say: “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one.” but they don’t always need to be shown in public.

    1. I think you’re right. I’m not sure if it comes down to bloggers and journalists looking for a new “angle,” or the belief we have the right to say what’s on our minds at any time at any cost.

      I see that excuse used for a lot of really hateful posts over the years – “I have the right to my opinion.” The posts I have seen this week blaming victims weren’t particularly hateful. But they were hurtful.

      That said, I’d imagine many bloggers – me included – at some point have written something that hurt someone, however unintentional. I guess it’s how we learn to better chose our words.

  10. I’ve been thinking about the Jessica you mentioned. I’m unsure
    if this is being reported in the US but Jessica was in Toronto
    earlier this summer and just missed a mass shooting in the Eaton
    Centre food court. She was there buying food and suddenly felt
    the need to leave. Within minutes the shooting began. One person, two shootings, two different countries, one summer. How
    do we process that…how does her poor family? Was it fare? Why was
    she stalked by death? It’s disturbing. I feel horrible for everyone but especially Jessica and her family.

    1. There are many, many stories like that of WTC victims who escaped later to be killed in tragic ways. Life and death are inherently unfair.

    1. That’s so so good Beta Dad, thanks. I wish I had seen it. I could have just linked there and said, “what she said!”

  11. I think you nailed it. It’s an defense mechanism. “It couldn’t possibly happen to me. I am a better mother. My children would never have been in that situation.” Immature and based in fear. Excellent post.

  12. Thanks for so eloquently describing the anger I felt yesterday over such judgement. How ridiculous, children die and the haters come out in droves to question their parents! Unbelievable. As if the grief they are suffering is not valid. Unbelievable. Thank you.

  13. And yes, we have a once in a lifetime moment for Barak Obama, Mitt Romney and even the 535 members of our Congress to agree to cast off the NRA and make a schoolyard pact to pass gun control laws that make sense. We are all tired of how these few men and women are paid off to vote in ways that are against every best interest of Americans. Now is the moment. Do you think they have the balls for it?

    1. I would think would be better served for another post. As for me, I see it as that if more citizens were armed, crazy people would get off less shots. I plan to get my concealed carry licens ASAP, and am buying a gun today. (I am a former police officer, however, so I am well- trained in firearms use and retention.)

      1. Oh geez please…let’s not get into this debate here. There are more regulations in this country around Teddy Bears than guns. But that’s another post.

  14. To me, this judgment comes from wanting a way to control anxiety and fear about this happening to our own kids. And this reassurance I think most parents have inside that we *can* protect our kids from the horrible. I think in a way we have to believe this in order to get through our days, especially when tragedy like this happens.

    And so “BUT ONLY IF THEY HADN’T TAKEN THEIR KIDS TO THEATER” is really “Well I would never do that so phew at least my kids would be safe and alive!”

    Of course, it could just be some people are assholes. That’s always a factor.

    The hard truth we parents hopefully never have to learn is that it doesn’t matter. We don’t know what’s going to happen. And no amount of sheltering, bubbling, coddling will truly and completely protect them.

    My kid jumped out of her crib the one night I left her alone and she broke her leg in two places. I beat myself up day in and out and she was just in a cast for six weeks.

    My sister died from meningitis as a baby, and I’m pretty sure my mother continues to wonder whether she should have done something differently.

    To me, it seems more helpful for parents to focus on what we *should* do when our choices do somehow negatively affect our children. And how do we parent in challenging times like these + arm our children with the knowledge to be able to make good choices themselves.

    But that’s a pretty tough topic to handle and swallow.

    Instead, we just fire accusations about kids and the movies, and make rash judgments about parenting choices than help parents figure out what to do next.

    And guess what? It’s not “avoid all midnight showings of movies.” As much as we’d like to wish it was.

    1. I agree, totally.

      To a degree, I think some of it is even unconscious. A defense mechanism designed to protect the mind from the unthinkable. If we thought every day about how we are going to die, we wouldn’t be able to leave the house and if we were forced to face all the horrible (and totally unpreventable) things that could befall our children, well…

      “They shouldn’t have even been there” is easier to say than it is to really think about what it would be like to be watching a movie and having someone come in and shoot the place up around you or your child. The unpredictable, unpreventable, human tragedy brings a feeling of helplessness and it’s my experience that some will go to almost any length to not experience that very scary feeling. I think this is why the news will be preoccupied with finding the ‘signs’ and what people might have ‘missed’ and how the next tragedy can be ‘prevented,’ just like it causes the knee-jerk, ‘What were those kids doing there, ANYWAY?!’ from some people.

  15. I stayed off the Internet yesterday almost completely since I have no tolerance for victim shaming and can’t much tolerate the more weapons argument on days of tragedy either (though like you said, it is expected). I hope youre right that those rude and inconsiderate words arise from a place of insecurity. As a parent I now realize more than ever that everyone is someone’s child- and no matter what happens, what different choices could have been made, on days of tragedy that is all that really matters.

  16. I wrote something similar to your post yesterday. I think that we blame these parents because we need to make sense of something. We need to find a way to feel safe and know that it won’t happen to us because we, we are GOOD parents and therefore our children are safe. When in reality, what happened had nothing to do with good parenting. It was an act of unpredictable, inexplicable violence. And to try to rationalize it, to search for blame only makes the pain greater for a huge number of people.

  17. I agree we should all feel the deepest of sympathy for those who have lost a precious member of their family..but I can’t seem to get beyond the upset of what you mention. I can’t agree with a 6 or 4 or whatever age young kid being at an R movie at midnight. Put aside what happened…just the place in and of itself upsets me. Sorry…my failing…there is a reason it’s R rated. I feel sad that we are defending these parents saying ‘no parent is perfect’. I worry it will make others feel that it’s okay to let your kids view violent movies etc. Maybe this is a bit off topic but it worries me in an era where kids are so desensitized to violence already via video games that rip people apart and show disturbing images. When do we draw the line and finally say…this isn’t right? When do we teach what is right by showing our upset and not keeping quiet? When do we start to help the kids and not worry about the parents ‘feelings’? No, it’s not a good time ‘right’ after a tragedy perhaps…but it’s understandable why people would be upset. Maybe we should also show kind words to those who cared enough about kids to speak out. Maybe we should all just show more kindness all around.

    1. With due respect, I can’t agree that we shouldn’t worry about people’s feelings. To me, the lack of compassion is the end of society. It’s not about political correctness, either. It’s about looking for causes, not blaming victims.

      I don’t know if we’re just wired differently, and obviously you are not alone in your feelings. But when I hear of people with a murdered child, I don’t think to ask “How did you get yourself into that situation?” any more than I look at children murdered in drive-by shootings in inner-city neighborhoods and think, “how did you get yourself into that situation?” Personally, I think, “oh my God, what a tragedy. How do we prevent more from happening?”

      Somehow, I don’t think the answer is: keep children out of movie theaters. In other words, the cause of the tragedy has nothing to do with who the patrons were in the theater. It has everything to do with the gunman.

      And that’s why I believe that those who start pointing fingers are really just insulating themselves. And I’m trying very hard to have compassion for them too, but I admit, I don’t inherently reserve the same kindness for people who seek to attack and hurt innocent victims, as those who have had their children and family members murdered.

      Now, if there’s another discussion to be had, at a more appropriate time about exposing children to violent movies, or bringing them into R-rated films, I think that’s fair. But personally, I don’t think it’s fair to conflate it with the causes or effects of mass murder. In any case, I appreciate you feeling comfortable offering up an opposing view here and I do expect anyone responding will be respectful even in disagreement.

    2. One last little thing: I’m not defending parents by saying “no parent is perfect.” Because that implies they have made an imperfect decision. Who am I to say that without knowing all of the circumstances? We all have different values and boundaries as parents.

    3. @Kathy. I do agree with you on one point… “Maybe we should all just show more kindness all around.”
      But I can’t help but disagree with most everything else you said.

      We all have our own opinions, and we all have our own beliefs about what is ok to do with/allow for our children. So maybe these parents did make a bad choice in allowing their children to watch a rated R movie. Maybe it wasn’t the best decision to have them out for a midnite showing. Maybe your right about all of that… but do you seriously mean to say that this is their fault? They brought this on themselves? For the sake of my own heart breaking, I’m going to assume I misread your post.

      I have no desire to add fuel to an already out-of-control wildfire of a debate. The fact that this is even BEING debated right now is beyond my comprehension.

      I have somehow managed to avoid the details of this tragedy up till this point, and the overwhelming ball of yuck growing inside my chest has me regretting having stumbled upon the subject as we speak. How anyone can blame the victims, in a time like this is just… revolting.

      What has happened to us? Where has our empathy gone? Are we not still mommies and daddys, grandmas and grandpas just like them? Have we forgotten how to stand up for each other? Don’t we teach our children to treat others as you wish to be treated?

      One of the major issues we deal with everyday in this country is bullying- are we not doing just that? Bullying these parents in their most critical time of need?

      After 9/11, I nearly decided to not ever have children. I just couldn’t face the thought of going through that again someday, and having to explain it to a child. (Took nearly a decade to let that fear go, now in my early 30’s I have two beautiful boys) I stopped watching the news, reading newspapers, all to avoid the pain I feel when I hear of such tragedy (which honestly happens way more than too often) but if there’s one good thing that came from the collapse of the towers… It brought our country together. It reminded us all that even though there is evil in this world, we will stand together and overcome, that no matter how horrific the tragedy or how great the devastation we will persevere. Sadly I feel as if we’ve taken a step backward today.

      No matter what we believe, right or wrong, we all need to take a long look in the mirror, kick ourselves in the ass, agree to disagree, and get back to taking care of the broken. They need us now more than ever.

      1. I just now finally got the guts to read a little more into all of this. I read an article on huffingtonpost “Stop Wondering Why There Were Young Children At The Aurora Theater”
        By Lisa Belkin

        Heart. Officially. Broken.

      1. It’s funny I just looked it up – indeed PG13. Which indicates that parents are entitled to make their own decisions about whether children may see it with them, despite the content.


  18. The best take I saw on this was on twitter from @themanwife: “The question isn’t, “Why did parents bring an infant to a Midnight showing?” It’s, “Why did a guy bring an assault rifle into a theatre?”” Tanis said something similar above. The person at fault here was the person with the gun. Full stop.

    1. AGREE.
      I tweeted something similar-ish yesterday afternoon:
      Your status should not be “This is so tragic…but why was there a baby there?” Your status should be “THIS IS SO TRAGIC.” PERIOD.

  19. The surge of tweets and blog posts calling out the parents of the children in the theatre has been maddening to me. The survivors of that shooting will be second-guessing every decision they made related to going to the movie theatre that day for the REST OF THEIR LIVES, as will their families and friends.

    How do we know what led parents to decide to bring children that day? We don’t. Maybe the parents had a long-planned date night, and the sitter fell through at the last minute. No child has ever been permanently harmed by staying up late one night. The imagery in the movie, while likely over the heads of the children, would *probably* not do permanent harm while they are in the capable hands of loving, warm parents. Be real – the parents didn’t bring their children with them on a drug buy, they took them to the movies. Late. Big deal.

    No one goes to the movies with the expectation that they or their children will be murdered while there, regardless of the time of day.

  20. Sometimes I wish everyone would just reserve ANY reaction in the wake of tragic events, for they really have no understanding of how their words and opinions will affect others. But I know that will never happen.

    I can tell you this. It’s incredibly difficult, even for those who weren’t there and don’t have immediate connections, to process. It’s incredibly difficult to even begin to explain the “whys” this happened and it’s incredibly inappropriate for ANYONE to make judgments on the people who were there (with or without their children), the emergency personnel or the family of the shooter.

    What they went through will affect all of them for the rest of their lives. This experience has been written into their personal histories whether they wanted it to be or not. Having ran down the streets in Oslo, Norway last year (tomorrow is the anniversary), I know firsthand that even if you’re left physically unscathed, the scars may last a lifetime. The ONLY focus should be on helping the survivors and bringing justice to the sick person responsible. And that’s all.

  21. I’ve seen some of these posts on blogs and on Facebook (not on Babble, because why would I read the parenting equivalent of screaming-headline-seeking Huffington Post?), and it was shocking. So soon after something like that happens, the judgmental parents-of-the-year point fingers at the father of the 3-months-old. “Dad of the year? Unlikely!!!” — That was one headline.

    First of all, a 3-months-old baby doesn’t care about midnights and nap-times. And secondly, how is it any of their business? The Internet at its worse, yet again.

    1. That headline makes me want to throw up.

      I also saw comments on Lisa’s post that said, “well MY teens would never be out that late. So I’d never have to even worry about this.”

      Because it’s all about them.

          1. Or get in the car with someone who’s drinking. Or text and drive. Or have sex without a condom. Or Or Or…

            I once wrote that every mother’s loss is every mother’s loss. Maybe I just am lucky to be in a very compassionate community.

  22. It’s sloppy logic, mostly because there will be theaters packed with kids all weekend/summer long. It’s an unimportant fact that his happened at a midnight showing.

    But I do extend some compassion for parents who try their best to figure out a reason why their child wouldn’t be in that danger. Even thinking about harm to a child is unbearable. It’s a little bit of magical thinking people do; unfortunately, some do it out loud.

    That said, there are still good reasons to teach children safety and talk about staying out of potentially dangerous situations. In this situation, however, there’s nothing much else to do except take note of the exits before you find a seat.

    Riding in cars, accidents in the home, sports accidents. People would do much better to figure out how to make these events more safe for their kids.

  23. Everyone seems to forget that this could have happened at 10 am. We can all argue about what is appropriate for young children to watch and what is the appropriate time for them to be out, but now is not the time. I still remember on my daughter’s first grade back to school night when the principal explained the process for an active shooter drill and I nearly stopped breathing. This is the world we live in.

  24. As a part of this hurting community, i just would like to thank you for this blog post. It’s such a shame that in situations as these, people are so quick to point fingers at everyone and anyone…when we all know there is one person that deserves the blame. Those parents taking their kids to the movie theatre didn’t cause gun shot wounds, the person that shot the gun did. Again, thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.

  25. One of the most fundamental issues we have as a culture is both an inability and an unwillingness to understand the circumstances of others. Empathy is fleeting at best and in its absence we judge-we shame, blame and attack.

    Last night I sat in a theatre watching a live performance of Woody Sez. Four musicians chronicled the life of Woody Guthrie, singing of the excruciating trials of parents in the first half of the 1900s. I wept as I was reacquainted with the reality that withou making an effort not a one of us truly understands the ache of people beside us.

    We ought to make that effort in times of crisis but also when times seem less dire. Never know, might be us one day.

  26. I am of the opinion that to place blame on anyone or anything other than the man who made the conscious choice to blow away a room full of innocent people is, in equal parts, ridiculous, moronic, illogical, and mean-spirited.

    It’s nobody’s fault but the gunman. The theater at midnight could just as easily have been a McDonald’s at noon, or a mall at 3:00 p.m., or an orthodontist’s waiting room at 9 in the morning.

    Everyone involved was an innocent victim, just living, just loving, just having fun. Everyone, that is, except the gunman, for whom I waste no sympathy.

  27. Thank You for this post. I saw SO many posts yesterday of people questioning why children were in the theater. I couldn’t help myself at first… defending it, listing all of the reasons you gave (special treats, birthdays, etc. & more) and finally I had to stop myself from engaging.

    To me, the only real question is why was there an obviously troubled & armed young man in a movie theater…

  28. Looking at this from the UK, where gun control is strictly enforced and ownership is way too much hassle for most people, and requires filling out endless forms, I have to ask why America continues to make it so easy to buy weapons.

    From what I know this guy wasn’t carrying a saturday night special and a hunting rifle. He was ‘fully loaded’ with state of the art firearms. So my question is, why do you need these guns?
    The old NRA ‘right to bear arms’ mantra just don’t wash with us Europeans… And neither does the old guns don’t kill people, people kill people – that just sounds prehistoric.

    Sorry to be so scathing. I love America and have visited more times than I remember . But how many more of these episodes are we going to see?

    1. I have a real problem with this snooty European attitude that keeps popping up around the blogosphere and it is not because two world wars started in Europe.

      It is because I can point to the guy in Norway who murdered innocent people. It is because I can point to the subway bombers in London, the IRA, what is happening in Syria and to a million places in Africa.

      The finger pointing in which we say guns are the problem doesn’t address the issue of who did what and why. Some of these people would murder others regardless of whether they had an automatic weapon or an axe.

      Murder is murder. It isn’t made less awful because fewer people died.

        1. I think it is an important and useful conversation to have but I would love to have more current information than that wikipedia article.

          When I looked at the references it appears it is quite dated. I wonder if the numbers have gone up or down.

          I also wonder about the difference in laws in general. If I am not mistaken the UK has closed cameras all over the place and that could have a very significant impact on crime too.

          Any way you slice it I think we need to investigate what is happening and try to determine why. Is it happening with greater frequency or has the advent of the net impacted things so that we hear about stuff we didn’t before.

  29. I confess: I’ve judged parents who have made decisions that I consider poor or dangerous or reckless: leaving a newborn on the floor next to an aggressive dog with no supervision, bringing drugs into your home and leaving them where a small child can find and ingest them, driving drunk with a kid in the car (bonus judgey points if the kid isn’t strapped into a car seat). I can’t help it. Do I feel sympathy for them if, God forbid, their decision ends in tragedy? Absolutely. Does my judgement of their irresponsible actions outweigh how much my heart hurts for their pain? No, not all.

    But this? Parents taking their kids to a movie, however late or violent? This, to me, is not a poor parenting decision. It is a DIFFERENT parenting decision. And their decision is not to blame for what happened. I promise you, that in theaters across the country on Thursday night, there were countless parents sitting down to watch that very same movie with their 6 yr old and 9 yr old and 14 yr old and yes, even some 3 month olds. And they watched the movie, and it probably scared some kids and maybe a few parents had to leave early. But they took their kids, and they saw the movie, and they were NOT gunned down by a maniac. Because, but for the grace of God they go, they happened to not be in that particular theater.

    It was a tragic, horrific, unimaginable event, and I cannot (WILL NOT) allow myself to try to imagine the guilt and pain those parents must be feeling. I would, however, suggest that those who are questioning the parenting skills of the people whose kids were there that night (and assigning them some part in this awful mess), imagine what those poor, poor parents are feeling right now. Maybe it’ll keep them from being such insufferable assholes.

  30. Every time I received a comment on my blog today telling me that parents had no right taking their children to a movie that late, it was like a punch in the gut. They had missed my point entirely.

    Don’t agree with kids being at a movie like that, fine. This is not the time to voice that. Period.

    As for the person you begrudgingly linked to. That post was what compelled me to write mine.

    And then there was this sad comment left for me on Twitter. ” I 100% disagree. I’ve had many a movie ruined by kids shouting and babies screaming but it is sad they got shot.”

    I almost threw up. Cold and heartless does not even begin to describe this.

    Thank you Liz for lifting my day, because despite all the supportive comments I received on my post, it was the few that were absolutely tearing me apart today.

    1. Your post was lovely. Thank you again for it. You don’t just have people in agreement, you have people inspired by your words.

  31. I think you absolutely and brilliantly nailed a horrific, unimaginable incident caused by a very sick young man. We do the best we can to keep our loved ones safe. Always. We cannot control what others say and do. Ever.

    As for our country’s gun control laws-don’t get me started.

  32. Until someone has had something terribly tragic and senseless happen in their life and then had to read all about it online via social media and news outlets, they will never understand how tacky and hurtful their comments are. Never.

  33. Recently I was having a conversation with my kids about safety and I said “…because if anything happens to you, I would die myself.” I suspect that is the way the victims’ patents feel in this awful scenario.
    Especially because going to a movie is a “treat”– an expensive outing, a good time .

    I learned a long time ago that other mothers can go one of two ways – incredible or not. There is no in between. There are the pioneers and wonderful examples of women supporting other women like you and then there are the ones who are not that. Judgemental, nasty, mean women who channel their own insecurities into hurting others.

    It is those women who also questioned a few late evening “special” movie outings we had recently. I never thought we could be shot, just cranky.

    1. As I commented elsewhere, I have let my children dance til midnight at a Madrid street fair, and I have pulled them back to the hotel at 8PM at Disney World, while toddlers were passing us on the monorail, just on their way out for the night.

      I’m amazed that anyone–particularly another parent–could feel they could understand another parent’s judgments, motives, or competence simply by looking at a single snapshot of a single moment their lives.

  34. In a time like this when we are faced with a tragedy such as this the first thing we do is look for a reason. Then we lay blame. I think we do this so we can feel better about our own judgements. “I would never bring my six year old to a midnight showing” and comments of the like make people feel sanctimonious. After all they would never be in a position to put their child in danger. The sad reality is that nowhere is safe. Would we be judging the parents of the 9, 6 year old and 3 month old if James Holmes had opened fire at a matinee rather than the midnight showing? Yes. Because we would have found reasons that they should not have been there and reasons we would not have put our own children in danger.

    And of course, there will be the call for stricter gun control. In the US, a misinterpretation of the amendment allowing the right to bear arms has more citizens accessing firearms. Here in Canada, whenever there is a gun crime, the same thing is called for – but in Canada gun crimes are rarely perpetrated by legal guns held by registered and responsible owners. Stricter gun laws will actually punish the responsible owners and not stop the illegal cross-border trade. And it’s these illegal guns that are used in most gun crimes.

  35. I just wrote a post on how people deal with tragedy in their own way, and how I have been attacked because I use humor to deal with it.

    I’ll admit that the fact that there were little kids at a midnight screening bothered me, but that would bother me if the news report was about a fight that broke out over cell phones in the theater or something non-tragic.

    But blaming parents for the deaths of their children at the hands of a gunman is terrible. It’s inconceivable to me the people who said that, especially since I know that they would decry anyone who would blame a woman for being raped.


  36. Thank you for this. You’re right — it doesn’t matter one little bit why those children were there, or what their parents were thinking. What matters is that a horrible thing happened, that people died, and that their loved ones are in pain. Judging them for their choices, making it sound like they deserve what they got because they were ‘bad parents’, is both cruel and purposely blind to the truth. As a community of parents, or even just as a community of PEOPLE, we need to be supporting each other, empathizing, and yes, maybe hugging our children a little closer for a few days.

    But only for a few days. Because it’s just as important that we don’t live our lives in fear as it is that we don’t judge one another. We can’t let the actions of one man change the way we treat each other and the way we live our lives. We just can’t.

  37. Amazing post- As a mother who has also lost her child, I know the regret and self-judgement that I live with everyday- that they will live with for the rest of their lives. It will never go away. They/I will never stop wondering “What if”. They don’t need the world to ask those questions, they will forever be haunted with them in their own heads.

    I was also so angry with the comments online that read “I’m so sorry for the victim’s parents, BUT….”
    There is NO BUT….there are several parents who will never celebrate their child’s birthday again, never approach Mother’s Day, Christmas and holidays the same again because of that man’s actions.

    here are my two cents worth

  38. I did wonder why a 6-year-old was at such a violent movie but it was in no way connected to the tragedy. I agree – you never know why anyone is anywhere. And I refuse to judge. Plus, it completely misses the point. Every person killed there was someone’s child and it is completely heartbreaking.

    1. I think you just nailed a really important distinction, Kelcey – wondering versus judging. Nate also said he wondered. I think that’s natural, because it’s unusual. It’s the holier-than-thou parents that are making me click away from a lot of otherwise good discussions.

  39. I’ve been thinking about your post for two days, Liz. This may be a bit of a ramble, so apologies in advance. I admit, the thought fleetingly crossed my mind to wonder why such young kids were there, but in no way do I think anyone deserves what happened because of the parenting choice they made that night. In fact, my very next feeling was heartbreak for those parents, knowing that they would be judging themselves for their decisions that night more harshly than anybody else ever could. I had a similar feeling after the horrible July 4th boating accident here in New York. Those poor parents. They will never be able to forgive themselves. None of us make perfect parenting choices 100% of the time. And unless those parents have ESP, none of them could have possibly known what was going to happen that night. I’d also venture to say that taking kids to an inappropriate movie is not that high on the questionable parental decision scale. My grandmother took me to see Kramer vs. Kramer when I was 10, and my parents took us to see Poltergeist when I was 11, and worse, took us to Sizzler for dinner afterward, because after you’ve seen a steak crawl across a kitchen counter and explode with maggots, you really want to eat a nice juicy one! I slept at the bottom of their bed for two weeks, and I’m still afraid of thunderstorms.

    1. Thank Karen. I’m not prepared to say that these are examples of “imperfect” parenting choices. They might just be different parenting choices.

      My first R rated movie was Animal House with my dad. I was 9, I think. I loved it. I loved being with my dad. And I remember going into school and finding out how many other fourth graders had actually seen it too. Then at 10, every single kid in my class saw Grease about 600,000 times–Grease, with all its sexual content, condom jokes, and lyrics about chick “creaming” was the birthday party activity of choice for months.

      In sixth grade, my friends and I started seeing midnight showings of Rocky Horror with my friend’s dad every month or so. A tradition that continued through college.

      So I may have a very different perspective on all this than mainstream America.

  40. I swear, I thought I had left a comment already? Maybe I did, in my sleep? Anyway, when I read a baby had died in the shooting, my first and only reaction was: “Oh NO. Oh NO. Oh NO…” And then I felt sick for days (still feeling just sick about it) and I’m thinking about the mother, and how God, maybe she was lucky and got shot and killed too? I mean that in the sense that if I had one baby, and that baby got shot dead in front of me, I’d pray to God I was next in line. I hope this doesn’t sound awful. I just… can’t deal. Any mother losing her child. It hurts so bad to even think about it.
    Thanks for your post, Liz. How I wish I had a magic wand to make all the bad things in life go away…

  41. A friend of mine posted a picture of a concert ticket from our youth on Thursday: 5 bands for $17.50. That wasn’t cheap for me back then, but it was doable. And it got me thinking about how much concerts cost now, and how movie tickets aren’t cheap, but doable, and I wondered if that midnight showing was kind of the equivalent to my concert back then.
    Both of my bff’s teenagers were at a midnight show that night. If my girls were five years or so older, my husband might have taken them. I was out last Saturday with a friend and her 2 1/2 mo, watching Magic Mike.
    The whole thing is just so damned Sad and so damned stupid.

  42. I read DadCamp/Buzz’s post too and have been adding my own thoughts in his comments. I realize that he isn’t blaming the parents for their children’s deaths and is trying to ask the question separate from the incident: Should children be at this movie at this hour. What frustrates me is his blanket judgement that those who would make such a decision are bad parents. I made the exact same point you did about special occasions. I remember once reading a blog post about one of the best things you could do for your kids was occasionally doing something unconventional with them like staying up late for a special event, taking them for ice cream in their pajamas, etc. Indeed, one of my favorite memories are the two times in my junior high/high school years that my mom pulled me from school for a few hours to take me shopping. We went on numerous shopping trips in my teen years, but those two I remember. Why? Because it was a treat and a rare occurrence. I remember the excitement of it knowing my classmates were in class and I got to hang out doing something fun with mom. That little outing turned into a precious memory. So why shouldn’t a parent decide to let a kid stay up late one night on summer vacation. As long as that kid isn’t talking the entire movie or kicking the back of my seat, I couldn’t care less about them being there. Interestingly, DaddyFiles/Aaron left a comment on that article and in his original response, Buzz said something along the lines of “I guess I’m not as selfish as you Aaron,” which he quickly deleted and revised to say “I guess I just take my parenting responsibility differently, then. ” But I read that original sentiment and the judgement is clear. Yes, I could take my kid to a matinee, but if I want to take them to a midnight show as a treat, it’s my right as a parent. If you don’t want to take your kid to a late show, don’t. And for the record, I personally wouldn’t let my young child see that movie because I’ve heard it’s dark, but if a parent, who knows their child, deems is acceptable for their child, that’s a choice they have the right to make. If a friend of family member who knows the child thinks it’s a bad idea, they can hold the parent accountable. It’s certainly not up to some random stranger to tell a parent what’s appropriate for their child. I’m okay with bloggers having opinions, but there’s a distinct difference between having an opinion and making a judgement. An opinion is that you wouldn’t take your kid to see a violent movie late at night. A judgement is that only a bad parent would do so. His was clearly the latter and I’m not okay with that.

    1. I’m sorry to read this Tami. I don’t want to turn this thread into an attack on any one blogger, but overall, across the web, the judgment I’ve seen is disheartening. We all draw our own lines and create our own standards. As I said in comments on the post you reference, I don’t believe I have the ability to judge any parent’s motives, abilities or competence based on one single snapshot in time. Whether that parent is texting at the playground, feeding her kid a Snickers before breakfast, or heading out for an all-nighter at Disney World with her toddler. It doesn’t affect me. And likely, none of those incidents on their own is scarring a kid for life.

  43. I’ll admit, I’ve been trying to stay away from this story because it hit too close to home. But for a choice of a different theater, my friend’s son would have been in there. Three of her daughter’s friends were and thankfully made it out with their lives. At the time of the incident, she didn’t know if her son was involved and for 3 hours she waited to hear from him. I never want to be in her shoes.

    What gets me the most is that so many were quick to start pointing fingers…at parents for bringing their kids to the show…at the movie makers for making a violent movie. Why weren’t all of the fingers pointing at the sociopath (who has lawyered up by the way) who did this? It is HIS fault. Period.

    Would this have been more worthy of sympathy if he’d walked into a noon showing of Brave? Of course not. Imagine how the parents who chose to let their kids go to that theater are feeling. Imagine how the ones who BROUGHT their kids to that theater are feeling. They must be beating themselves up over it. Why should we join in the mental beating?

  44. I completely agree. I think in the midst of tragedy, a lot of people start fighting and arguing back and forth because they just need somewhere to unload their anxiety, stress, shock, sadness, and fear. It’s unfortunate, but after reading a few things and getting my own blood boiling, I’ve tried to remember that these people have good hearts. They’re grieving in their own way, and while it’s unfortunate that they express it by attacking those who suffered dire losses, like you said, they know not what they do.

    My uncle committed suicide a few years ago, and after the funeral my entire family erupted in arguments over who was to blame. No one was, of course. But it’s the grief. I think this is a lot like that. We should band together and hold each other close, but we can’t help acting like one big, dysfunctional family who’s had too much to drink and not enough time to think.

  45. I’ll admit that thoughts about why children and babies were at an incredibly violent late night move did cross my mind. Not to blame any parent, but because of the incongruity of it. Having kids in danger in places when and where you wouldn’t expect them added to the horror, in my mind. I have the same tender heart since becoming a mother, and it hurts when I see a small child (obviously tired) out late at night in a shopping mall or a restaurant.

  46. A couple of thoughts on this:
    When I lived in Oakland there was a movie theater that served food and beer and had ‘baby night’. They played regular, rated R movies and you could bring any baby that wasn’t yet walking. My husband and I loved it and went a couple of times. This was seen as a sort of cool, hipster thing to do. Are suburban parents judged differently from more urban parents?

    Second thing- I remember watching Tron, ET, and Star Wars when I was six or seven years old. These were violent movies. We went late at night and it was the coolest thing ever. Somehow I turned out okay.

    And, I’m going to refer to Joan Didion here, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” If we all fully understood the frailty of our children’s lives we wouldn’t be able to make it through the day. So we tell ourselves the story that if we just do everything right then we can protect them from harm.

    This shooting is horrifying and there is exactly one guilty party: James Holmes.

  47. Then there are parents like me who battle the fear every day that yes, that could happen to me or my child. I, too, stopped watching fictional crime shows. Or real-life murder ones. I don’t need the reminder that it’s a scary world out there – I’ve seen it.

    I pray my child doesn’t have to experience it.

    My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones.

  48. I don’t think there is anything productive that happens from obsessively watching the media reels on it or endlessly reading about it. I’ve made it a point not to do so. I watched the footage of Holmes’ court appearance today and all I could think about what his mother. I’ve been asking my readers what they would do if they were James Holmes’ mother. I would love to hear your response here:

    1. Thanks, I look forward to reading yours. Lisa Belkin also wrote a great post about the parents of murderers.

      I confess I haven’t watched any footage or the court appearance. I saw one victim photo gallery. That’s as much as I can handle.

  49. I’ve been trying to figure out why it bothers me so much to read/hear the comments from people who keep wanting to know why on earth parents would have brought children to the show. And I figured it out: it bothers me b/c not only are they implying that it’s the parents’ fault, they are also implying that the parents knew the risk…which they didn’t! Here’s how I break it down:
    If you don’t leave a toddler in a bath tub, it’s b/c the risk is they might drown.
    If you don’t put your child in a car without a seatbelt/carseat, it’s b/c the risk is that they might die in an accident.
    If you don’t take your child to a midnight showing, it’s b/c the risks are: you might have to leave in the middle b/c they’re annoying other patrons, your child might be so tired that they have a bad few days, or your child might get scared and have nightmares for awhile. In the back of the minds of the parents in that theatre, the risk was NEVER that their child might be involved in a massacre. It is so incredibly, unbelievably unfair to imply that those parents had any idea as to what might happen. Thx for posting, Liz.

  50. Hi. I have to say that I am one of those people who have questioned the parents’ judgments on letting their kids go to a midnight movie. But never have I said that loosing their child was their fault. I simply questioned why a 6 year-old was at an R rated, very violent movie (the midnight thing aside – that movie is not appropriate for a 6 year-0ld).

    My wondering why small children were there has nothing to do with how my heart is breaking for the families. I am not judging those parents at all, I just want to know, out of sheer curiosity, why they thought it was okay for their kids to see it. My 6 year-old is still terrified of the garbage truck. I can’t imagine her seeing a scary movie like that; and here in lies where my thought process of questioning starts. I start with what I know and try to empathize with a parent the only way I know how. And, I am not questioning to ultimatly place the blame on the parent. I question whenever I see a small child out late, or a small child in a situation that my kids would be terrified of. I want to know people and I am genuinely curious as to the steps taken when coming to a decision.

    I am as you put it, a no holds no-holds barred gun advocates (which by the way, I love your phrasing of that). I am a concealed weapons holder as is my husband. We have guns in the house and my children know that they are not toys. I am also a democrate, a mother and a Mormon. But the only one of my traits that questioned why these kids were out is the Mother in me.

    I hate that this has happened. I hate that I feel like I have to carry a gun to protect me and my family. I hate that there are so many mothers that will wake up tomorrow and remember again. Remember again that their babies aren’t coming home. My heart breaks for them all.

  51. Yeah. Add to that the number of supposedly sane people who describe, in graphic detail, the violence they’d like to see done to the perpetrator. (I’m thinking specifically of the 17-year-old suspect in the Jessica Ridgeway murder here.) It’s truly distressing to see that plenty of people can not only envision horrible violence but are happy to carry it out–so long as they believe someone deserves it. (Don’t most psychopaths and the like believe the victim deserved it too?)

    It’s been very troubling to see criticism of Jessica Ridgeway’s mom. I live in a nearby neighborhood two miles away. I’ve run around Ketner Lake many times as part of a longer run through the area. Up until Jessica disappeared, I would have described this area as “perfectly safe.” Lots of kids walk to school. The last three weeks have been terrifying, mostly due to the FBI and police department’s suspicion that the killer was probably a resident of the community–which he was. It’s terrifying to watch police search open space where you run with your children. It’s surreal to volunteer to search for a missing girl and have your search group be taken to your neighborhood to search another area where you regularly run with your children.

    Where we as a community will go from here is a good question, though I’m pretty sure that so long as people want to be judgmental of victims and discuss their fantasies of doing violence to perps, that absolutely nothing will change.

    1. I can’t imagine what it’s like around there right now. I’m so sorry. I don’t know if I can compare threatening a victim to threatening a perpetrator of murder, but I understand that people deal with these things in really complex and often disturbing ways.

Comments are closed.