It comes fast on the heels of a similar story out of Gastonia, NC, where a three year old girl was also killed by her mother's boyfriend, although the cause of death hasn't been released as far as I could find.
In the New Jersey story, the mother was present. Indeed, it seems the toddler became upset after an argument by the adults--an argument in which the mother was pushed by her boyfriend. When the toddler began crying, the boyfriend turned his rage on her.
Inevitably when these stories hit the news cycle, you'll see the same types of sentiments trotted out: "These silly mothers. Being a mother means giving up everything. You should never let someone hurt your child--never." Indeed, when the New Jersey story broke, I encountered and responded to this sentiment several times.
The entire time that I was considering the argument, though, I couldn't help but compare and contrast it to the reception that the father of the Gastonia toddler received upon his daughter's death.
Josh Kinnett, the toddler's father, hadn't seen his daughter in more than a year and a half--over half of her life, she'd been without her father. Then the following shows up in the news story:
"There would be times she would call me up crying, hysterically crying where to the point I got worried. Do I call the police right now?" he said. "She told me crazy stories - how he would beat on her and they would fight all the time and stuff."
Here, Kinnett is describing phone calls he received from his daughter's mother after their separation and her subsequent connection with his daughter's murderer. This line in particular played over and over in my head, because here's the truth: if these arguments were really about a parent's responsibility to protect their child, why do they so often focus only on half of that equation?
In the story out of New Jersey, no one asked where this child's father was either, and here, in North Carolina, the father received an outpouring of community support--despite the fact that, by his own admission, he hadn't seen his child for over half of her life and he repeatedly ignored his ex's stories that indicated his daughter might be in danger.
Where are the pitchforks for these men? Why are there not calls for them to be in jail? Why aren't people questioning their inability to defend their children? Why aren't people disputing their right to be called a parent?
If we're going to do this, do it fairly.
Naturally, this makes me questions whether the real issue here is protecting children, or whether it's policing women's sexuality. So often we hear that women should deal with the "consequences" of an unplanned pregnancy. It's their punishment for choosing to have sex. Rarely do you hear similar rhetoric applied to the men that they are having sex with. Men are, we are effectively told, impulsive, aggressive, visual creatures that lack a serious measure of self control. Men don't want to settle down; they have to be trapped or seduced or manipulated into long-term relationships, and that's why women shouldn't be surprised when they sleep with them, get pregnant, and wind up alone.
Simultaneously, we live in a nation that is surprisingly keen on keeping women pregnant but not acknowledging that bearing and raising children is expensive. Raising a child, alone, on a single income is difficult. It's much easier to do so when you have additional incomes from another party. This leaves women with children more vulnerable to abusive relationships. Relationships that seem stable and settled can swiftly change after this financial interdependency is established, becoming dangerous to all parties. Yet it remains the woman's responsibility to accept the consequences and protect her children. If she doesn't accept the consequences, how will she ever learn?
And what's to learn? The only lesson is not to have sex outside of socially acceptable norms for females. That's it.
If you're going to apply this argument, if you're going to insist that the mothers in these cases are really the ones to blame for putting their children in these situations, be fair about it.
Ask where the fathers were too. Ask why they didn't work hard enough to keep their families together. Ask why they didn't check in on their children. Ask why they weren't there.
Hold men like Josh Kinnett, who freely admits he ignored evidence that his children in dangerous situation that left one of them dead, accountable.
Do that, or admit what you're really upset about in this situation, because either all parents are equally accountable, or it's not about the children at all.