Parenting Persectives: Encouraging compassion in tragedy

My heart broke when I heard the news. The baby. The hot van. The horrific, tragic accident that caused a little one to lose her life.

That’s what I tried to focus on as the judgment and criticism poured down on Facebook: It was an accident. The kind that could happen to anyone, no matter how vehemently we deny we would ever forget our child in a vehicle.

But it does happen, about 40 times a year on average, to “otherwise loving, caring, responsible, attentive, educated parents,” Amber Rollins, director of, said in a Forum article after the June 11 Moorhead incident. A change in routine is often to blame.

I knew this from reading too many stories about similar deaths. Stories that made me realize I wasn’t above such a tragedy. Stories that prompted me to keep my purse in the backseat after my first baby was born, ensuring I’d look back there before walking away from the parked car.

So I called for compassion. For love. For prayer. For all the things I hope people would offer me if I ever made a mistake with lifelong consequences.

As it turns out, in this case, there were previous complaints of neglect, signs that something perhaps could or should have been done sooner. More fuel for the fire.

Manslaughter charges have been filed. Judgment will be handed down by the court.

Still, I try not to judge, knowing the pressures of parenting and the imperfections that exist within every parent.

I think back to when my daughter Eve was just 6 weeks old. Flustered in my postpartum state, I forgot to buckle the straps of her car seat after a doctor’s appointment, and didn’t realize my mistake until after the car ride home.

I’d carried her across a parking lot and driven several blocks with her simply reclining unsecured in the seat. By the grace of God, Eve was safe.

I remember last summer, at a lake resort, little Owen strapped in his stroller, its canopy protecting him from the sun as Eve, my husband and I set about fishing from the dock. Except I forgot to press down on the stroller’s brakes. The wind picked up and the canopy acted like a sail. Down the dock he rolled at an alarming speed.

I froze, envisioning the stroller veering into the lake, my baby drowned, all my fault.

My husband caught the stroller before it fell, incensed at my forgetfulness. By the grace of God, Owen was safe.

There are precautions we can take, safety measures to avoid the preventable, education and resources to encourage best practices.

Even still, accidents happen.

And so there’s something else we can do: Empathize.

We are in this together.

We are imperfect.

We are parents.

Sherri Richards is a reporter for The Forum and mom to 5-year-old Eve and 22-month-old Owen. She blogs at