You Shouldn't Be Okay With That.

I read an article today written by a mother who claims to be "okay" with her daughter's cruelty to animals.  You can read the post here, but I can sum it up for you.  It starts off with her describing a gift given to a 4-yr-old girl from her grandfather, a salamander he found under a rock and put in a terrarium for her.  The little girl proceeds to pull the salamander's tail off.  After harassing the animal as much as the mother could handle, they released it.  Instead of releasing it in a proper environment, the mother allowed her daughter to chuck it into a lake with a simple, "Can salamanders swim?  I hope so."  It continues by describing a child who gleefully stomps on ants, who hits her dog.

The writing is very typical of mom blogs these days, a proud showcasing of parental apathy, of refusal to not only model the appropriate behavior but also a failure to provide correction when improper actions are exhibited.  The mother laments the bad behavior but admits to allowing it, hoping that one day her daughter will figure out on her own what is right and what is wrong.

We have our own salamander story, though ours started out a little different.  One morning, our calico, Martha, dragged a salamander up from the basement.  It was uninjured, though stunned and sluggish.  The snow was heavy outside, so we couldn't release it back to the wild in good conscience.  We found ourselves with an amphibious, temporary roommate.

Evelyn took an immediate interest to the salamander, as she does with all life forms she finds, from worms and spiders to birds and squirrels.  She wanted to know his name, if he missed his parents.  She loved to watch me take care of it, always my little buddy sitting at the counter as I dropped flightless fruit flies into the little home we made him.  She would sit like some kids sit in front of the television, her chin propped in her hands and she watched in wide-eyed wonder at the pink tongue darting out and scooping up a meal.

When it was time to release Roger, as I named him the instant she asked for his moniker, we gently put him in a small jar and brought him to a local park with a small lake.  We walked to the water's edge, a blurry line of mud and decaying leaves.  As I tipped the jar and Roger stepped onto the earth, she smiled.  "He's going to go see his mom and dad now," she said.  "Perhaps," I said.  "He'll be happy here, no matter what."  We watched the salamander slowly walk away, until he disappeared under a leaf.  "Bye, Roger!" she waved as we headed to the playground.

This behavior isn't unusual for children, the desire to understand the world around them and the animals within it, to treat with kindness whatever creature comes our way.  The innocence and naivete of childhood are fertile grounds for compassion and empathy, but the right seeds need to be planted and when weeds start to grow, they need to be pulled up by the root.

Empathy isn't taught by asking a child who has just crushed an ant how she would feel if she was crushed.  It is taught constantly by the actions we do every day without thought.  A child who sees her mother scream at a spider before crushing it with a napkin is learning a different lesson about the dignity of life than a child who watches her mother trap it in a cup and release it outside.  A child who watches her father toss a glass of water on a noisy tomcat in the yard is learning a different lesson than the child who watches her father close the window and shrug that cats will be cats.

A child who is allowed to crush ants joyfully, to injure a wild animal, to abuse the family dog without repercussion is learning a lesson - that violence isn't wrong, that animals are disposable, that pain and suffering are entertaining.  I suppose a mother who is okay with her daughter's cruelty to animals needs to stop and ask herself, "Am I okay with these lessons?"  She probably isn't, but her actions - or lack of action - shows her child otherwise.

Us?  We'll just keep naming ants and pointing out which is carrying food, and which is returning home to see its mom and dad.

Immediately after saving him from the cat and cleaning him up.

Setting Roger free.

Roger, who we talk about still.


  1. I echo your sentiments about that wretched article in the Stir. It was disturbing and frightening. Good for you for this blog in response! Evelyn seems like a wonderful little girl who is curious, compassionate, and has positive role models. Thank you for posting this!

  2. She's 4! My goodness. Most everyone who commented on that article over reacted. I honestly believe if she had a less shocking headline her article would not have been taken out of context and people would have viewed it from a different angle. The headline alone simply attracts all the peda (sp?) followers. And the article itself doesn't even state that she's ok with her daughter being mean to animals. She expressed concern to her daughter about her being mean to living creatures. She corrected her daughter when she hit the dog and claimed her daughter never hit the dog again since then.. Which shows the daughter can learn from her behavior.. She's only 4. Some 4 yr olds you have to continuously guide in the right direction before it sinks in and they're doing the right thing on there own.

    Regarding the salamander.. she did not allow the girl to throw it into the lake.. The girl did it on her own after the mom said let's set it free. It's only an article on her describing certain situations. You don't know if she was continuously trying to teach her daughter how to treat the salamander.. so we can't assume that she just allowed it and was ok with it. She's clearly concerned about it unlike what her headline reads. The way I look at the article is.. She's opening up discussion on the subject to see what other kids do. She was made aware of what the dad used to do.. She's heard other kids are like this.

    Then of course we have the ones who say ohh cruelty to animals is the first signs of a serial killer.. umm that's if she's actually going on a killing spree of animals.. torturing animals on purpose. At 4 she doesn't understand yet. She's not purposely torturing animals. She hit the dog got corrected and didn't do it again. It may happen again and she may have to be corrected again but that's part of raising some 4 yr olds. They're all different.

    My son is a very stubborn strong willed 4 yr old. He will argue with you about the sky being blue. He may make a good lawyer some day.. But then again I was told I was the same way and did not pursue becoming a lawyer lol

    I taught my son to kill spiders for me. He used to do that but now he rather would play with them which makes me cringe.. I don't like them in the house. We spray for ants outside otherwise they get in the house.. The ants issue shouldn't even be an issue.

    Now let me get to others comments regarding this article.. and i quote:

    "I hope your daughter is maimed and thrown into a lake"
    "I hope your daughter is a psychopath and comes after you! "
    "You are a poor excuse for a mother, and your daughter is a monster! !"

    These are not prefect quotes as I did not go back to copy and paste.. But this is how a majority of the comments went. Really? And they think the mom needs help.. They're calling a 4 year old a monster and saying they hope she is maimed! People need to get a clue and look themselves in the mirror before they try to judge someone else.

    Now lastly I would like to encourage you to view things with more of an open mind and don't go straight to judgement and accusations. If you don't realize there is more behaviors and personalities out there aside from your own and your children then go research it...

    I probably should have created my own blog post to your blog with how long my comment is but oh well

    1. You are what is wrong with parenting today.

    2. Do you have anything to say about THIS blog post, about Roger? Way to derail.

    3. Are these replies to me? It's not very clear

    4. Katie, thank you for your response. I feel like you didn't entirely get my message about compassion being a constant lesson and that it can - and should - be expected from children of all ages toward life of all sizes, though.

      It starts with educating ourselves on the importance of all the life forms we encounter, I suppose. There are many who say, "It's just an ant" but they know very little about the intricate and amazing life each ant leads. Ending a life should never be a joyful occasion; violence toward any animal should never be acceptable.

      I can't speak for the people whose comments were ugly, who wished harm on this child and her family. I certainly do not share their sentiment. The only thing I hope is that no child is left to figure out "right from wrong" themselves when it comes to egregious acts of violence, and that parents everywhere are rational enough to teach their children about the value and dignity of living creatures.

    5. Also, I'd like to add that no child should be manhandling a wild creature without proper supervision. Allowing a child to grab and throw a salamander, in this instance, is not proper supervision. It is not the appropriate way to handle a living creature that shouldn't be handled in the first place.

    6. I didn't miss your point about compassion being a constant lesson. I did say some kids need more guidance than others and you have to continually repeat yourself and discipline until they get it. No child has the same exact learning capacity as another. Your child may learn and understand more quick than other children. My son is one who takes longer. Since he was a baby... learning opportunities have taken several discussions, time outs, punishments in general for whichever was appropriate for his age.. I feel like I'm constantly repeating myself. But when it clicks it clicks and you realize all that hard work paid off. He still has issues with listening.. But he's still at the age of pushing buttons, trying limits, starting to be manipulative to get his way.. For now its still cute and we know better. There are also kids with learning disabilities or other things going on that cause there behavior.. We don't yet know if our son might need a little extra help during school since he still is in a developmental age that can have these behaviors. We do plan to talk to someone but aren't looking for some label or diagnosis until he's a little older and possibly could outgrow some of these things he does. There's much more going on then what i have mentioned. But any time a child learns slower than others you kinda have to gain more patience and lower your expectations a bit. You still continue to guide them of course but lowering your expectations keeps you from getting as stressed out and helps you to keep your patience. And when they do something right or are having a really good day and especially a really good week you feel so happy and so proud of your child.

      Regarding the proper supervision.. there's been times where I've been with my son and he's so quick he's into something he shouldn't be.. Especially while we're outside.. The author of that article stated she didn't want her to rip the salamanders tail off and I'm sure told her not to do that. It's a learning experience. All the while she was probably telling her how to handle the salamander and to not be rough with it. Then when she just wasn't listening to that she decided to have her let it free. Before she knows it she's throwing it into the lake. I can totally relate to this lady. I have a difficult stubborn strong willed child and if i try to take something from him bc he's not listening it always gets thrown rather than handed to me. I get you can't relate bc your children must be super easy.. so do some research and try to put yourselves in the shoes of the moms who don't have it so easy.

      And i also don't think this child even understands death so i don't think she is joyfully killing ants. She's just having fun outside exploring. When I kill ants its to keep them from getting in my house. The only joy is knowing they won't be crawling on my counters. And it's not a big issue. There's plenty of ants to go around. Kids will be kids. She's not the only one who kills ants. Adults also kill ants. My son plays with ants i think that is worse ew

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"Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts." - Buddha