Why One Mom Is Reminding Parents That Jokes About “Keeping the Kids Alive” Aren’t Funny

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Jessica Watson and babies
Image source: Jessica Watson

Of course I’m a good Mom. The kids are alive, aren’t they?

I had a shower AND kept the kids alive. GO ME!

If the kids are alive at the end of the day, I say job well done.

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve seen one of those “funny” memes about “just” keeping the kids alive floating around out there in Internetland somewhere. You may have been guilty of chuckling along to one of them and patting yourself on the back for making it through one of those tougher days when bedtime feels like your greatest accomplishment.

But Jessica Watson, a mom from Michigan and author of the children’s book Soon, has a gentle reminder for parents who may be tempted to share a meme or quote about doing the bare minimum of parenting and keeping the kids alive:

Those kinds of “jokes” just aren’t funny to parents who have lost children.

Jessica Watson with husband and babies
Image source: Jessica Watson

Watson runs the website Four Plus an Angel, a blog dedicated to her journey of life as a mom of five children: four surviving and one daughter, Hadley, who passed away shortly after birth. And recently, Watson shared a Facebook post that addressed how she and other loss parents feel when they see “jokes” about keeping kids alive through the day.

Watson writes:

“At the risk of sounding like an easily-offended, overly-sensitive Facebooker, I have a favor to ask: Could you think twice before sharing one of those ‘funny’ posts or memes about how at least you kept the kids alive today or all was fine because nobody died? I’m not sure if this applies to all loss moms, but for me those posts strike a nerve.

My child isn’t alive.

Casually talking about parenting as successful because no one has died is a bit of a punch in the gut for those of us who watched on helplessly as our children died. Living, breathing children is not something to pat yourself on the back about, it’s a gift some will never realize and something to be thankful down to your bones for.”

Reading Watson’s words felt like my own punch in the gut because I immediately realized the truth in what she was saying. And while it can be tempting to protest that parenting is hard and we all need a little humor to get through it, the truth is, there’s power in listening to the experiences of others, and respecting how what may seem like a harmless “joke” to one parent can deeply affect another.

For Watson and other loss parents, these types of memes and “jokes” can hit on one of their deepest struggles: that “good” parents don’t let their kids die.

“Losing a child came with a huge amount of guilt for me,” Watson explains. “For a long time, I second-guessed all kinds of circumstances around her death and whether I could have done something differently, so when it’s implied that someone is being a good parent as long as their kids are alive, it brings back a lot of those old feelings that losing Hadley was somehow my fault.”

Watson tells Babble that she had been contemplating her post for quite some time. Despite the fact that she normally avoids conflict or creating waves, she knew she had to speak out, not just for herself, but for other loss parents as well.

Jessica Watson and children
Image source: Jessica Watson

She adds that although she’s aware that many of these memes exist to help parents cope, she had seen one too many of the “at least the kids didn’t die today” types of posts recently. Realizing that she wasn’t the only loss mom struggling with seeing them, she decided to speak out.

Although her post was met with one or two “give me a break” sentiments, many of the comments were supportive, as fellow loss parents expressed their thanks for capturing how so many of them have felt. Others noted that they simply never considered how something so “innocent” could affect a parent who has lost a child.

With a tragedy as significant as losing a child, Watson has found that people often appreciate learning how they can better support a parent, as this kind of loss can be such an isolating experience.

“Coping with the loss of a child is not an easy road and I’ve found that many people genuinely want to help, but just don’t know how,” she adds. “If you tell them what you need or how to help they truly appreciate the advice.”

Jessica Watson and family
Image source: Jessica Watson

Does this mean that we should all be afraid of passing around parenting memes on the Internet? Nope, says Watson. As a mom of two surviving triplets, another singleton, and a daughter with autism, she assures us that she’s no stranger to using the Internet as an outlet now and then to cope with the demands of parenthood. All she’s asking is that we do it in a way that is a little more sensitive to the challenges faced by parents who have lost a child.

“I think it’s totally healthy to vent about the early years of parenthood and the Internet makes it easier to do that,” she says. “I do think there is a difference though between venting about our kids’ snail pace in the morning or their crazy meal requests and saying things about them in a public forum that might hurt their feelings someday.”

So, go ahead and post all the memes about your kids somehow losing one shoe or living off candy canes as a food group this holiday break. Just think twice before you share something “funny” that might actually hurt your fellow parent.

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