The Parents Fault?

This was partly inspired by this thread, but it’s something that’s bothered me for a very long time. Why is it that every time a child dies/gets hurt, people have a knee-jerk reaction and yell at the parents?

Example: A very close friend of the family lost his daughter when she was 8. She was playing and he brought her into the driveway while the garbage truck came. He ran inside to get her an apple. The garbage truck, which had a malfunctioning camera, pulled into the yard, and she tripped on her bike trying to get away and was run over and killed. A horrible accident, right? Everyone involved, including the driver, was devastated.

Well, as soon as the papers printed the story, people had to find someone to blame for the accident, and The Family Friend was a great target. They would harrass him at work. They would call him on the phone and ask him why he wasn’t watching her more closely. They blamed him for her death. Complete strangers who only knew of the story through the news would tell him he was a horrible parent.

He lost his marriage, his house and job, and his family was torn apart by her death and never recovered. He died a couple of years ago from alcohol and drug abuse. He never stopped blaming himself and he couldn’t get over the guilt. That had more to do with the death than with the comments, but the comments haunted him and his family for years and made sure they had a hard time moving on.

I understand that people have to have something or someone to blame for death, but you know what? Accidents happen. People die. Your child could just as easily die, regardless of your parenting skills. It’s pretty easy to place blame, but unless that parent actually caused the death you should probably give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially if the child is old enough to supervise themselves.

In other words, think before you fucking speak.
This does not go for your average “Parent dropped child on head, told child to jump”, etc. This is for all of those “Why wasn’t the parent watching them?”

There’s the problem. A lot of people just can’t cope emotionally with the reality that the universe is ultimately indifferent to the fate of individuals, and that being a good person or a loving parent offers no protection from freak accidents or unhappy chance. Why, that means their OWN beloved child could die, despite their very best attempts to protect him! That thought scares them witless. So they HAVE to blame someone for a child’s tragic death - because that implies that the child died because someone was at fault. Which means their own child will be safe, since THEY would never be so negilgent.

The behavior you’re describing is a classic psychological defense mechanism, which offers powerful emotional benefits to the person using it. Unfortunately, that means we’re never going to be completely able to abolish it. The people who make those comments don’t WANT to think, because the conclusions thinking leads to are (in the case of the tragic death of a child) too frightening for them to bear.

But it’s also a symptom of the “Someone has to paywhenever something goes wrong/there is an accident” attitude that is so prevelant in American society today. A perfect example of this is the recent blackout of part of the East Coast. Bill O’Reilly was shrieking and bleating and positively apoplectic that no one had been held responsible/fired/arrested/taken the blame for what happened.

People, including Dopers forget that no one is perfect and that everyone makes mistakes.

Except for the Baby Jesus.:smiley:

This is like those 9/11 lawsuits, in a way.

I mean, they’re still asshats, but I can see why they throw blame around:

It’s tragic and frustrating when a loved one dies.

It’s even more tragic and frustrating when a loved one dies, and there’s noone to blame.


I think it’s worse when you blame someone. The festering resentment doesn’t leave much room for healing.

What happened to this family friend is just unthinkable. How can people be so sure that they are right? How can they not see the horror that this man was living with without their saying anything! Why didn’t they support him and reassure him? Where was their compassion?

How would these people feel if now they were blamed for his death?

I can’t imagine ever telling a stranger who’d suffered a child’s death that they weren’t watching them closely. Even it were true-and Joyfulgirl’s friend’s case it clearly wasn’t-it would be too cruel.

I know a woman whose teenage son was in a car with a bunch of other kids, going out to lunch from summer school, driving too fast (the driver only had his license a couple of weeks and was clearly showing off for his friends), and they hit a pickup, killed the driver of that, a father of three, as well as four of the kids in the car, including my acquaintance’s son.

Two years later, she was still trying to get them to increase the charges against the boy who was driving and charge his parents with something, because she simply couldn’t accept that it was a case of teenagers doing a typically dumb teenage thing, i.e. showing off for one’s friends, and unfortunately it had really, really grim consequences.

I can sympathize with how she felt – her son was dead, and it’s hard to chalk it up to a tragic accident. But in most respects, it WAS a tragic accident, his friend who was driving wasn’t trying to kill anyone, and can you imagine how HE will feel for the rest of his life, knowing what he did?

In her case, however, I don’t think anyone blamed the parents. That seems to happen more with younger kids, who are expected to be watched more closely. Even there, tragic accidents happen. I know another woman who’s 6-year-old son was killed in a hit-and-run right in front of their house by a speeding driver who swerved into his bicycle because she was too busy on her cell phone to notice him. But nobody was blaming the parents in that case, either – although they were blaming themselves!

I guess we all wish we could teach our kids to think before they act. By the time they do, they’re not kids any more, is the problem! And some of the dumb stuff I did as a kid and teenager certainly could have led to my death; it was just dumb luck that I survived. Which is the case for most of us. Sometimes it’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival by sheer accident.

Thanks for this. I had never heard about this before. Hell, the story in the OP had me doing this very thing without even knowing it. Once you pointed it out then I realized it and pretty much changed my view completely.

(I just read back over that and it sounds like it could be taken as sarcasm, but it’s not. I’m serious)

I always find it funny when I hear many of these stories, because there’s just no possible way that a parent could, or evern should watch their child 24/7. I was one of those kids who’s parents constantly told them “Why don’t you go outside and play instead of watching t.v.?” Always my impression that going outside and playing football, or baseball, or having watergun fights with our friends was a good thing. We didn’t need adults getting in the way and fucking things up. Now, if something did go wrong (Billy steps in a goffer hole and breaks his ankle), we’d always run and get an adult. It’s good to have one close by in case there is an emergency, but in an instance like this, how the hell could any of the adults be held accountable. I’m sorry, there just comes a point in your child’s life when they should be expected to perform certain activities on their own without the coddling of their parents.
Of course, this age depends on the activity involved. I once got stuck at the pool because there were two kids (6 and 8 I believe) who were swimming there unwatched. I wanted to leave, but there was no way in hell I was going to take off without an adult present in case one of these kids got hurt or started drowning. But if I saw a group of kids about the same age playing baseball in a vacant lot, I wouldn’t think twice about it.
What happened to the friend in the OP was a terrible, terrible tragedy and accident…but he can’t be blamed for pulling his daughter off the street, then going inside to get her an apple. If the truck had gone by properly, and the instant didn’t take place, and someone observed him come back out and give the apple to his daughter, they’d probably be thinking “Wow, what a nice dad, see how he cares for his kids.” As has been pointed out in this thread and others in the past, it’s become a habit in our society that “Someone’s always to blame.” Hell, there was a case last year where four 20-somethings were driving in a truck in on a dark road, all of whome had had too much to drink. They all died, and the parents of three of the children were trying to sue the parents of the driver. The only one’s responsible were the kids involved, but noone wants to take responsibility for their actions, or for the actions of their loved ones when things go wrong. It’s a horrible thing, because as a community, we should be reaching out to help comfort those going threw such tragedy, not trying to crucify them.

I’m sure there are plenty of other misspellings in my post, but “gopher hole” is the only one I really feel foolish about.

Thanks for all the replies. I’m glad other people agree with me. Everytime I hear about a kid being hurt or killed I think “Here we go again…”

Sometimes it can also take a bizarre turn, like when my friend died in a car accident. Instead of blaming the car company for making a faulty seatbelt that opened, his family tried to blame the driver of the other car, which had stalled. Everyone in the situation did everything right and he still died, but his mom couldn’t accept that. Like artemis said, people use blame as a coping mechanism, but accusations like that can do alot of damage, so it still gets to me.

It’s reprehensible enough to find someone to blame when the accident is blameless. But when you are a complete stranger calling the grieving father of the decedant, that’s just plain evil. Let the man grieve, for godsakes. I’m quite certain he feels bad enough already. Your particular brand of “help” won’t do any good other than to stroke your self-righteous ego.

Part of it is projection.

Every parent can think of at least one time that their child was a split-second or a half-step away from being killed, and you should have prevented it. And you feel guilty about it.

And when it happens to somebody else, you exorcise your own demons by condemning those who aren’t as lucky as you.

But tdn is right, calling up a stranger to dump on them is over the line.


I have a problem with this thread. “Accidents” do happen. People get struck by lightning and hit by metiors. Kids trip while running and skin thier knees. Those are “accidents”.

Most everything else, in my opinion is a failure to prepare or execute. I work with a lady whose 17 yr old kid wrecked 2 cars in 2 months, and insists that “shes a good driver” and these were “accidents” that could happen to anyone.

Bullshit! The kid drives beyond her experiance and skill level, too fast, too close to other cars and does not pay attention. This is not an “accident”.

The dude in the OP knew enough to get the kid out of the street when the garbage truck was coming but then wanders off and the kid gets run over? He identified a dangerous situation, then took half-assed action to prevent harm. Yeah, the death was “accidental” in that no-one was activly out to kill the little girl, but with a little extra caution, the kid would be with us today.

I have a problem with people who don’t excercise enough caution and accept responsibility for thier lives and thier charges. Bad shit happens all the time. If you use your head, it doesn’t have to happen to you.

I’m sure this won’t make me too popular round here, but I calls em like I sees em. I had an older brother killed by a defective Firestone 500 tire. The tire companys fault? Sure, partially. They knew the tires were bad and sold them anyway. But my brother knew the tire was bad and didn’t replace it, either. I was nearly killed by a 17 yr old girl yakking on her cell phone as she splattered me into the cosmos with her Accord. Her fault? Yeah, sure, mostly. But, I could have been a little more careful and possibly avoided it. I know something like that won’t happen again.

In short, “accidents” happen more frequently to people who are just plain sloppy and don’t use thier heads.

As for calling them up and giving them hell, that seems a little strange.