Don't blame parenting for the shooting of a 5-year-old in West Baltimore

A 5-year-old girl was shot in the city on Monday. Carrying a doll in her small hands, she was walking to the corner store for juice when a bullet, meant for someone else, struck her.

There are so many things to be outraged about in those two sentences. Personally, I get stuck at “a 5-year-old girl was shot.”

But when the stories started trickling out about this unfathomable tragedy, I was amazed at how many people found something else other than that to be angry about. In social media comments, some wondered why the girl was walking to the store alone. A child outside unsupervised?! What kind of horrible people would allow that?

“This is tragic,” someone wrote on the Sun’s Facebook page under an article that pictured the girl’s crumpled doll surrounded by bullet casings. “But I have to ask what the parents are doing to put their children in harms [sic] way like this?”

Perhaps the readers missed the part about how her 7-year-old sister was in the back seat of a car, supervised, when she was shot and killed last summer.

It seems that, for every person lamenting the gun violence in our city and the proliferation of weapons in our society, there are two more judging the parenting that they say led to a child’s being randomly shot on her way to a corner store to get juice, with a baby doll in her hands.

The national pastime/blood sport of judging parents didn’t start with this news story, but it caught my attention because my husband and I have been thinking a lot lately about the coddling of today’s children, our own especially.

Our ultimate goal for our children can be summed entirely in one word: self-sufficiency.

I read an article in The Atlantic recently that cited a statistic that almost made me choke: “About 60 percent of adults under age 35 now live without a spouse or a partner. One in three adults in this age range live with their parents, making that the most common living arrangement for the cohort.”

Say what now? Under 35? Surely the writer meant under 25?

We want to raise our sons and our daughter to learn to expertly care for themselves financially, emotionally and physically — well before they reach age 35. And yet, until just recently, they weren’t allowed even to use the toaster.

So we’ve been rethinking our protectiveness and giving them more freedom, inch by inch. Yes, use the microwave. Yes, make a pan of Jiffy cornbread (with our assistance with the oven). Yes, you can try to iron your own clothes. Yes, even walk around the corner to the neighbor’s to play.

It isn’t easy to overcome our own fears — or society’s judgment.

Over the summer, the boys were in a community play at a church on the corner of our long street, six-tenths of a mile away. Once, when I needed to cook meals for the week during a rehearsal, I told them they could walk home, just the two of them, when it ended. We’d practiced a couple times, with them walking and me driving slooooowly in the car beside them. But this would be the real thing, and the boys were ecstatic.

Alas, it was not to be. A very kind church member insisted on walking with them to our house.

“I told them there was no way your mom said you could walk home alone,” she told me, as she proudly delivered the crestfallen 8-year-olds to our front door.

True, we rarely see so much as a water gun in our neighborhood, much less open-air gun battles, so we don’t have the same fears as those who live in the kinds of areas where two sisters are shot in the span of months.

But if something were to happen to one of our boys while walking less than a mile home from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” rehearsal, what would the Internet say about my husband and me?

Here’s what I would hope to hear: What a horrible thing to have happen to the child you love so dearly. What can I do to help?

Save the wrath for those who would shoot guns in a neighborhood where a 5-year-old girl is walking to the corner store to get juice, with a baby doll in her hands.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Constellation. She and her husband have twin 8-year-old sons, a 6-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanikawhite@gmail.com. Her column appears monthly.

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