It's a knee-jerk reaction. Something bad happens to a child, and the first question that is asked is: "Where were the parents?"
This is grossly unfair.
Speaking as the parent of three beautiful children over five year gaps, I can honestly say that no parent has a child, or raises one, with the intention of allowing bad things to happen. But bad things do. And sometimes, these bad things are out of our control.
I'm not in the habit of blaming things on accidents. I don't like the word "accident". I try to teach my children that someone is always at fault. There is always someone to blame. I teach them this so they can learn to take responsibility for their mistakes.
A glass is knocked off the edge of a counter and breaks. This is because someone has placed it too close to the edge. A child is thrown through the window of a car during a collision. This is because an irresponsible parent failed to buckle them up. A child is raped in the bathroom of a family-friendly restaurant. This is not because the parent was absent from the bathroom at the time. This is because a rapist raped them.
My 10-year-old daughter ("Almost 11, Dad!") feels independent enough to go to the bathroom by herself. By and large, I allow her to. She is becoming a young woman and is exploring her independence. I allow her to do this when I have a clear view of the entrance to the bathrooms, and if the bathroom is positioned in the same space as the restaurant we may be eating at.
Bear in mind, we choose family-friendly restaurants for precisely this purpose - we feel our children are relatively safe within the play area, or going to the bathrooms provided by themselves. Does allowing them to go to the restroom by themselves constitute poor parenting? Especially in light of the fact that we are among other adults and parents of children who have chosen this restaurant for exactly the same reasons we had?
This past weekend, we took the children to a place that doesn't cater for the needs of children. For the most part, it's a popular hangout for students, but being early afternoon on a Saturday, and most of the child-friendly places chock-a-block with parents going to watch the Springboks' match against the Wallabies, we found ourselves at this establishment.
The memory of the #DrosRape still fresh, when my daughter wanted to go to the loo, I stood outside the door, calling after her every 20 seconds, eager for a response. Would I feel as threatened at a child-friendly establishment? Should we have to live like this at all?
When she was much younger, perhaps three or four, she would run ahead in shopping centres. I needed to curb this behaviour (and I detest putting children on leashes), so I called her close to me and said: "My baby, if you're too far away and someone steals you, I will be forced to find them, and kill them. Then, I will go to jail for a very long time and you will have to grow up without a daddy. Is this what you want?"
She has repeated this story to her brother, 5, and I know she will repeat it to her sister when she's old enough to understand.
Someone is always responsible, but when bad things happen to our children after we have done everything in our power to protect them, we should think very carefully about where we place the blame.
* Lance Witten is the live editor of the Cape Argus.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.