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Carolyn Edgar Headshot

Always Blaming The Parents

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When the nanny of a wealthy Upper West Side family was accused of murdering two of her employer's three children, the response from some was all too familiar: blame the mother. Commenters on sites all across the Internet have attacked the children's mother, Marina Krim, for hiring a nanny instead of caring for her three children without assistance. Responding to a recent article at The Daily Beast about the Krim murders, a commenter said, "Maybe parents ought to think long and hard about their choices and maybe raise their own children instead of farming it out to third-world refugees."

By faulting the parents, victim-blamers seek to convince themselves that tragedies like the Krim murders could never happen to them. It's a phenomenon that even has a name among health and safety experts--the "It won't happen to me" myth. We hope that if we can pin evil on someone's choices, it protects us from the same evil. But it won't, of course. Instead, the rush to judgment inflicts even more pain on grieving parents, and prevents us from focusing on how to lessen the chances that other families may suffer a similar fate.

As anyone who follows child murder stories knows, "it won't happen to me" parent-blaming happens whenever children are the victims of grisly attacks. When a crazed gunman shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, some questioned why anyone would take small children to a midnight showing of a movie like The Dark Knight in the first. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, Geraldo Rivera famously opined that Martin may have never attracted George Zimmerman's notice had his parents not allowed him to dress like a "thug" in a hoodie.

In response to those who have lambasted Ms. Krim as a spoiled rich woman who couldn't handle her own kids, people close to the Krims have defended her as a mother. In a recent New York Times article, Karen Krim, Ms. Krim's mother-in-law, described Ms. Krim as a "hands-on" mother who "didn't have a nanny so she could go out and play tennis--not that there's anything wrong with that."

But what if Ms. Krim had hired a nanny so she could go out and play tennis? Would that make her an uncaring mother? The notion that women should be able to take care of their children without any outside help is pure myth. As Jessica Valenti points out in her new book Why Have Kids?, "It used to be that parenting was thought of as a community exercise, with help from family and neighbors... now it's positioned as all-American individualism."

Despite the guilt-inducing rhetoric to the contrary, it is the rare family--even with a stay-at-home mom who does all of the day-to-day care herself--who will never pay someone to watch their children. Honest parents know--and fear--that disaster can strike their kids, no matter who is in charge. That's one reason this case has resonated with so many people. A trusted nanny having a sudden mental breakdown--as appears to be the case with Ms. Ortega--is as random and uncontrollable as a freak accident.

Child care is a universal need--and concern--for all families. That makes the Krim case not just another example of rich people problems.  Indeed, if any parents should be worried about the possibility that "this could happen to me," it is not well-heeled women who can afford to pay a premium for nannies who come through agencies that provide extensive background screening.

Lower-income families are at even greater risk, often having little choice but to leave their children with shady caregivers, sometimes with devastating results.  Last year, a worker left seven children alone in her home daycare facility in Houston to go shopping; a fire broke out while she was gone, killing four of the children. If the Krim case is going to start a conversation about nannies and childcare, the focus should be on providing greater controls, for the benefit of both families and nannies alike, to what is now a shadowy, under-regulated market.

In any event, the focus on Ms. Krim's parenting choices is misplaced. Whether Ms. Krim was a model mom or a neglectful one is irrelevant. By all accounts, Ms. Krim was a wonderful mother--but even if she was awful, her kids didn't deserve to die.
When senseless violence takes the lives of young children, judging another family's parenting choices allows us to delude ourselves into believing that random evil can be avoided. That, of course, is a fallacy. Lulu and Leo Krim are not dead because they had a bad mother. If anything, this case shows that wealth and privilege have no power to protect our children from unpredictable harm.

This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store.