In my house, there is a staircase to the basement. There’s no door frame at the top of it, and its extra-wide opening is bordered by two tall, round posts.
When it came time to baby-proof our house for our close-to-crawling baby, we discovered that literally no stores in the area carried baby gates that would work on these stairs. None of them were wide enough, and on top of that, all of the baby gates had to be secured to a flat surface, and the posts on our stairs are round.
I literally spent hours online trying to find a good way to make the stairs baby-safe, bought two different baby gates online, and received them only to find they weren’t wide enough.
As I was obsessing and worrying over the stairs, my son learned to crawl. So, as a temporary fix, we placed two large, heavy storage totes at the top of the stairs to keep our son from falling down them.
For the few weeks that they were there, when I needed to go up and down the stairs while I wasn’t holding my baby, I would just step over a tote. When I was holding my son, I would slide a tote out of the way, every time except one.
One afternoon I was holding my son, and I realized I needed to run downstairs to grab something. And for some reason, this one time, I stepped over the tote instead of moving it.
It wasn’t a conscious thought. I didn’t weight the pros and cons. I didn’t think about moving it and then decide against it. I just stepped over the tote with my baby in my arms. My foot caught on the lid, and I tripped.
Holding my son, I almost fell down the stairs, head first.
And in that split second, I pictured in vivid detail what would happen when we both hit the bottom of the stairs, and I knew it would be all my fault. It was perhaps the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life.
Courtesy of Bethany Neumeyer
We didn’t fall. My hand caught the railing, and I regained my balance. Then I sat down on the floor, shaking and sobbing and rocking my son. I was lucky that he was perfectly fine and unaware that he’d ever been in danger.
A few days later, thanks to at least an hour of work by my husband and a friend who cut pieces of wood and drilled ten long screws directly into the wood posts at the top of our stairs, an extra-long baby gate was finally installed at the top of our stairs.
It’s four years later, and of course my son has no memory of that incident. But when I read stories of parents who turned their backs for a second, who got distracted for just a minute, who made one mistake that maybe wasn’t even a conscious decision, I wonder what the comments would’ve said if I’d fallen while holding my son.
“This is what happens when parents don’t care enough to properly baby-proof their homes.” “What kind of moron steps over something at the top of the stairs while holding a baby??” “This woman is obviously unfit to be a mom.”
And the truth is that most – if not all – parents have had these moments. The stories get whispered in moms groups or told only to close friends.
I’ve heard them again and again from women who I know to be wonderful, caring mothers. Babies who have rolled off of beds or fallen out of strollers. Car seats meticulously buckled and checked and then inadvertently not latched in to the actual car.
A good friend of mine laughingly tells the story of the time her parents forgot her at church – packed up the other kids but accidentally left her behind.
My husband, an emergency room physician, sees them as patients in the ER – babies who fell down the steps when mom looked away for just a second, kids who slipped in the bathtub and needed sutures, toddlers whose loving daddies threw them high in the air to catch them, forgetting that there was a moving ceiling fan above them.
And the only difference between all of these stories and the ones that make the news is that the children in the stories above were fine. Are still fine. A back was turned briefly, or there was a moment of forgetfulness or a brief lapse in judgement, but there was no permanent damage.
The parents feel horrible and guilty, but there is no news story, no comment section eviscerating a good person whose life went horribly wrong in just a few short seconds.
The fact is, there really are terrible parents in the world. Parents who are abusive or cruel or negligent. News stories that make me sick to my stomach when I read them.
This is not about them. This is about the busy, sleep-deprived, trying-their-best-but-sometimes-screwing-up moms and dads who will live forever with not only the guilt of their mistakes and grief from their losses but also with the shame heaped upon them by other parents who’ve forgotten their own close calls and near misses.
But I think if we were all honest with ourselves, we would realize that we’ve all been seconds away from being the shamed parent on social media. That the thing that separates us from those parents is not our own superior parenting but luck. And perhaps, if we remember that, we’ll be willing to extend a little more grace to parents who weren’t quite so lucky.
For more from Bethany Neumeyer visit I Was Promised More Naps, Facebook and Instagram.