Last Thursday night, I was sitting here at my computer, reading Facebook and doing some online holiday shopping, when the phone rang. It was my friend, telling me to turn on the television. I did, and immediately saw photographs of a woman and her young son with lots of alarming fonts and effects to point out the seriousness of the situation. An Amber Alert had been issued and that news was then scrolling across the bottom of the screen for the next couple of hours.
This was of course not the first time that I’d seen an Amber Alert, but this was the first time I knew the people involved. Not just the child, but the woman who was being accused of abducting him. His mother. A woman who has been in my house several times and whose house I and my children have visited in return.
From the Department of Justice’s Amber Alert website:
The AMBER Alert™ Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child.
Perhaps because an Amber Alert had been issued, this mother and son were found safe in Rhode Island only a few hours after they were reported missing. Happy ending, as far as we know, right?
But during that few hours when they were missing, I learned something about myself: I’m not as non-judgmental as I want to believe. I read many of the comments about this story on Facebook and other sites. It’s not surprising that people are more hurtful and hateful online than they are in person. Of course it’s easier to be that way when you can remain anonymous and attack others from the comfort of your own home. I understand that a child was involved. I also understand that commenters were responding to a news bulletin that was short on facts and high on emotion. MISSING CHILD! ABDUCTED BY MOTHER! SEEMED INCOHERENT AT THE TIME! I get that, and I get why commenters would come out in a lynch mob to condemn this mother. Although I would never have chimed in online in the past, I might have felt some of those same things, may have said them to my husband and my friends. “She’s a bad mother . . . deserves to lose custody . . . probably drunk . . .should go to jail . . . should never see her son again . . .”
I sat there reading these comments with my heart in my throat. I was wishing so hard that the boy and his mother would be found safe while at the same time, the speed at which commenters judged the mother simply took my breath away. I found myself writing back to many of the commenters (risking being flamed in the process myself), asking people not to judge until they know the whole story and maybe not even then. We are not part of that family. Most of us don’t even know this family and I won’t be so bold as to call this mother a close friend. We have no right to the details of this situation, what happened that day, what came before, and what will come after. For that matter, would it even change people’s minds if they did find out the whole story? That story will most likely never see the light of day and yet, the family still lives in this town, at least for now. This mother will always be the subject of the first ever Amber Alert issued here. Even in the best-case-scenario, can this story ever truly have a happy ending?
It is not our place to judge. I realized that I, too, often jump to conclusions, especially when a child is potentially at risk. I used to work for Pennsylvania’s equivalent of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) so I know firsthand the horrors that children can experience, many, many times at the hands of their own parent. I cannot defend this mother’s actions as I don’t really know her actions.
All I can say is that I will look much more closely at my knee-jerk reactions, especially when it comes to judging another mother. People in glass houses, you know.
And that mother? She loves her child just as much as I love mine. I know THAT for a fact.