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Do we hate what we fear most?

Yesterday Madeleine McCann should have been celebrating her 8th birthday with her family. But she isn’t. Her parents last saw her on Thursday 3rd May 2007.

Four years on, Kate McCann has written about her experiences. The abduction of her daughter is seared into our consciousness – the dinner with friends 100 yards away, regular checking of the children in their apartment and then the awful discovery that her daughter was missing and her reaction that she describes as “nausea, terror, disbelief, fear, icy fear, dear God.”

And that kind of unending anguish is not going to be easy to read and I’m not sure something I could bear to read.

Perhaps it was because unending anguish isn’t really much of a read that the British press tried to find new things to write about.

Perhaps why instead of printing about the previous incidents on the Algarve of paedophiles entering children’s rooms and attempted abductions, they started to look around for other angles and stories and for some reason decided that the gaunt and frozen parents were a suitable target.

Or perhaps it was because those parents were so stricken by grief and worry that they didn’t enact whatever it was that the Great British Public had decided was an appropriate amount of public grief. That because they were able to do no more than quietly and blankly mechanically carry on in public obviously meant that there had to be something up, not that they were literally unable to do more than to try and keep holding themselves together for the sake of their other children.

The ‘crime’ for which Kate & Gerry McCann were sentenced to the full howling fury of the British media and public was for doing what many other parents did and continue to do – to go on holiday with friends to somewhere family friendly, to have dinner close by with your apartment in view, to check on your children regularly.

But perhaps it was because they were parents like us doing things like us that they had to be demonised so that we could create some distance between them and us.

That if they were somehow culpable then those moments when we take a calculated risk, as they had done, wouldn’t feel so risky, so bad and with such potentially awful consequences.

Did we have to hate them because deep down, hidden away in the depths of our parenting fears is that awful acid worry that somehow, someday, something equally awful could touch us and our family like it did theirs?

Photo credit 3GDE88RV95BM

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15 comments to Do we hate what we fear most?

  • I’ve been on two Mark Warner holidays, and both times left the children in the apartment sleeping (checking them every 20 minutes) with a nanny patrolling the grounds. And then when the nannies went off duty at midnight, a group of us carried on drinking (shock horror, imperfect parenting) and carried on checking the children every 20 minutes. I know that many parents on Mark Warner holidays did exactly the same thing, and I think the backlash against the McCanns is appalling. Madeleine went missing on our wedding anniversary, and I think of her often.

    • Muddling Along

      Exactly – what they did isn’t something that lots of other people don’t do and they were just horribly horribly unlucky

      The media backlash was horrid and I still feel very grubby about it

  • I agree with you Rachael, we too went on a Mark Warner holiday and yes like you, left our child with a patrolling nanny. Bad parenting perhaps but having lived in Germany for a number of years we had a period of time when British children were being “shopped for” – thankfully the abductions were averted but it seems to be an ongoing problem in Europe. I wish the media had helped the McCanns more instead of blaming them for one lapse of judgement as I doubt there is not one parent in this country who has not left their child alone at some point in time. I think the McCanns have been so so brave and I think of them every day and just hope that Madeline can be found.

    • Muddling Along

      Their dignity in the face of mud slinging and accusations has been incredible – as has the way they have stayed together and not let this horrid thing destroy their family – I do hope if Madeleine comes back she realises just how brave and dignified her parents have been – not sure I’d have been able to do the same (and I do wonder if it is that quiet dignity that the press didn’t like – its not very exciting to write about)

  • Emily O

    Good post. I think the McCanns came in for so much stick because they really went overboard on the media coverage and almost made themselves targets in doing so. That said, if my little girl was taken from me maybe I’d do the same? None of us know how we would react if this happened to us. I think the media have been very unfair with the way they’ve attacked them. I also think the media is more sympathetic to them these days having realised they’ve paid the ultimate price for just a moment’s slip-up. All of take our eyes off our cihldren occasionally and 99% of the time it’s okay. Occasionally it isn’t and I’ve no idea how the McCanns get through each day.

    • Muddling Along

      It does feel as if the media are trying to slightly change their perception – but they were almost feral in the way they turned on them

      I think they did exactly what any other parent would do and to try everything and anything to get their child back and yes, if you can get publicity you’d do it – I do wonder if they were turned on because they never did the weeping and wailing that seemed almost necessary post the public hysteria of Diana’s funeral?

  • Mrs Sun

    I’m sorry but in my heart they were partly to blame for Madeleine’s disappearance. I can honestly hold my hand on my heart and say I would never leave my children in an apartment room at home let alone a foreign country and head off for a meal.
    When I went abroad with my family as a child they didn’t let me go to the toilet alone let alone leave me and my brother sleep in our room.
    My worst fear is losing one of my children in any manner and I’m going to do my very best to stop that happening which means taking them with us for a meal.

    • Muddling Along

      But would you let them sleep in your house whilst you were in the garden on a summer evening? Or let them sleep upstairs in a locked hotel room whilst you had dinner downstairs? How is that different?

      Every parent fears losing their child but surely most of us take calculated risks, e.g. nipping into the bedroom to grab towels whilst the children are in the bath, turning away to answer the phone whilst they’re in the garden?

      I would have done what they did – they were in a family friendly resort and checking regularly (far more regularly than I suspect I would have) – they had thought through how to minimise any risks and a freak accident happened

      You can blame them but I don’t think I do

  • chris

    Thank you for writing this, it is one of the sanest things I have read about the whole terrible affair. It is unbelievable that the McCanns have had to suffer demonisation by the press on top of everything else.

    • Muddling Along

      I cannot imagine how they have come through this – being told that they were suspects in the disappearance of their daughter and then having everyone conject on how they could have done it, beyond awful when they were already suffering because their daughter had disappeared

  • Whilst the newspapers and media “demonising” the McCanns is too much, I agree with Mrs Sun.

    I would never ever leave my children on their own, and I think if the same had happened in Britain, where a couple went to a bar or restaurant across the road from their home and something happened to the child, they would probably have been arrested for child abandonment. Yes, they were “within view” of the apartment, and yes they were checking every twenty minutes, but obviously they weren’t watching enough to stop whoever took Maddie that night.

    Sorry, just my opinion!

    But, obviously they have suffered for this lapse in judgement, and continue to.

    Overall, the person I feel most sorry for is Maddie- God only knows what fate has befallen her.

    • Muddling Along

      Child abandonment is usually in relation to leaving children for a long period of time – every 15 minutes doesn’t feel like that to me, if they hadn’t checked at all it would be an entirely different matter

      Would you not leave your child in the house whilst you went out to the garden? In summer we sit in our garden, probaby at least 50 yards from the house, with the girls asleep inside and I wouldn’t worry that they are at risk

      And in any case, a child is 20 times more likely to be struck by lightening than abducted by a stranger and I don’t make them hide under the table every time there’s a thunder storm!

  • Yes we all take calculated risks with our children, but going out for dinner leaving toddlers on their own really doesn’t come under the heading ‘calculated’.

    “But would you let them sleep in your house whilst you were in the garden on a summer evening? Or let them sleep upstairs in a locked hotel room whilst you had dinner downstairs? How is that different?”

    It’s different because it’s different to the child. In answer to your questions, I would say yes to number 1, no to number 2. It is completely different, and it shocks me that so many people are saying they’d happily leave their kids in the same situation. Clearly, the likelihood that a child will be abducted is miniscule, but there are many more important, more mundane things to think about if you want to leave them alone. The most likely occurrence for 2 & 3 year olds is that they’ll wake up. In familiar surroundings, i.e., their own bedrooms, this isn’t really a problem -especially if you’re just downstairs, or even in outside in the quiet garden, where you can easily hear them crying or shouting.

    To leave such young children alone in an unfamiliar room is very different. If they wake up they’ll be disconcerted, and even if you’re only 100m away, in a noisy bar with no clear view of the apartment (the kid’s room was on the far side of the apartment anyway), you’d have no way of knowing if they were OK. I’d be too worried that they’d wake and be upset, go wandering around and hurt themselves to leave children that age alone at night. The idea that they’d be abducted wouldn’t come in to it. If as you say, they really were checking on the kids every 15 mins, that kind of suggests they knew leaving them was unwise. If you’re hopping up and down from a meal that often, you may as well stay in because you can’t be enjoying it that much. Also, if you’re drinking, but how can you be sure you’re really checking that often?

    Since having kids, any holidays we’ve been on, we’ve either stayed in in the evenings or left them with a reliable babysitter. Given that there were several adults in the party, surely they could have taken it in turns to look after all the kids – it’d only mean one or two nights in each out of a fortnight.

  • I was about to leave a long stream of consciousness, but have just read Ruth’s above and she has said it all, almost;-).

    I too am in shock at the number of people who see nothing wrong with the McCann’s actions that night. I wouldn’t dream of leaving mine anywhere. Even if we are in the back garden, the front door is locked and we have the baby alarm with us (we bought a long range one for precisely this reason). Aside from the unthinkable happening, I would be too worried about them waking up unwell and or distressed and not be able to respond to them immediately.

    I would also add that I am certain that had Maddie’s parents been a teenage single mum on benefits rather than a couple of middle class doctors the remaining children would have been taken into care in the blink of an eye.

  • Ange

    I’m in agreement with Ruth, who has captured everything I would want to say on the subject. If we have been on holiday we have had our son with us at ALL times. Not least because of the unfamiliar surroundings but also for our peace of mind. Leaving him asleep in his own room at home isn’t really a comparable argument; different circumstances and not unfamiliar surroundings.
    I agree that the media treatment of the McCanns has been wholly disgraceful however in their hearts they must’ve known, as two educated older parents, what they were doing by leaving theirvkids, wasnt ideal. I hope Maddie is eventually found safe and sound so tjis mughtmare can end.
    I’m in agreement with Ruth, who has captured everything I would want to say on the subject. If we have been on holiday we have had our son with us at ALL times. Not least because of the unfamiliar surroundings but also for our peace of mind. Leaving him asleep in his own room at home isn’t really a comparable argument; different circumstances and not unfamiliar surroundings.
    I agree that the media treatment of the McCanns has been wholly disgraceful but


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