Babies & Wild Animals: The Latest In Sanctimonious ‘Irresponsible Parenting’ Outrage

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gorillaSo there’s a 20-year-old YouTube video that’s suddenly causing controversy because it shows an 18-month-old little girl playing with a gorilla. They’re just hanging out, throwing straw at each other. The video was made by Damian Aspinall, who owns a wild animal park in England, and shows his daughter Tansy playing and even being carried by an enormous gorilla. The video is sweet and it was made to demonstrate how gentle and caring these primates really are.

Instead, it’s drawing plenty of finger-wagging and over-hyped media reports about “irresponsible parenting.” There’s an interview on Good Morning America with Damian and his daughter, who managed to make it to the age of 23 despite playing with the gorillas, defending the video and the parenting choice in general.  The Today Show cast sat around getting shamey with Matt Lauer closing the segment by assuring everyone that his children would never be hopping into a wild animal’s cage.

Listen, I’m sure I should be giving my opinion on this thing that happened two decades ago and didn’t seem to do much other than produce some controversial family movies. The problem is that I’ve just seen too much of this nonsense to get worked up. Remember the 5-year-old swimming with sharks? Everyone went crazy over that bit of “irresponsible parenting” as well, exclaiming that they would never put their own child in harm’s way like that. Even tame pictures on our Facebook of pets snuggling newborns have drawn outrage from people who can’t believe parents would put their little ones at risk.

I think it’s time to back off of the parenting sanctimony. First of all, we all make parenting choices about what we think is safe and reasonable. I let my daughter groom and ride horses starting at three years old. I’ve known people who had serious accidents while riding in their childhood. But I considered the experience, joy and responsibility to be worth that risk. My daughter learned how to talk to her horse Munchie. She learned how to help take care of the horse that carried her. She formed a relationship that beautiful animal. When Munchie, who lives with a family friend in their stables, got sick, my daughter cried. Then she made “Get Well” cards to hang in her stall.

Was there a chance that my daughter would be kicked by that horse? There’s always that chance. There’s a chance of something horrible happening all the time. That’s why it’s our job as parents to help teach our kids about safety and to weigh the pros and cons of each activity. We won’t all come up with the same answers, and that’s just fine. Our kids are different and they’ll all have different experiences.

But let’s stop with the knee-jerk “irresponsible parenting” nonsense. We don’t all see animals as scary and dangerous. We respect that they can be unpredictable and we do the best we can to prepare for those circumstances. Every parent who brings a pet into their home acknowledges this and does their best to keep both their animals and their kids safe.

Would have I put my daughter in a cage with a gorilla? Who cares. Damian Aspinall chose to and his daughter is fine. He had a relationship with the animals and made his own choice. I let my daughter visit and ride horses. That’s my choice. Not every decision a parent makes determines whether they are good or bad, safe or irresponsible. We’re all just parents doing what we think is best.

(Photo: Jackson Gee/Shutterstock)

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