I was going to move on this week and write a column about end-of-school-year dyspepsia, but your answers to last week’s post have been so voluminous and so passionate that I don’t feel ready to let that topic – the response to Madeleine McCann’s abduction – go just yet. You will note the phrasing: the topic here (as last week) is “the response to Madeleine McCann’s abduction,” not the abduction itself.

Madeleine McCann’s disappearance is an unspeakable tragedy. Her parents’ decision to leave her – and their two-year-old twins – alone in a ground floor apartment was stupid and irresponsible. I’m saying these things now – stating the obvious – because so many of you seemed to think I was remiss in not saying them last week. Yet last week I didn’t say them for a very specific reason: I think they really ought not to be said.

What, after all, can the purpose be to piling on to the McCanns’ self-recriminations and suffering? Is it to safeguard others – to send a warning and thereby protect other potential Madeleines from danger? It would be nice to believe so, but the degree of anger and emotion behind the comments of those who condemn them lead me to think otherwise. I think that here, as in the United Kingdom, where the public has for weeks now been locked in debate about what kind of judgment to pass upon the McCanns, something larger is going on.

In Britain, there is clearly a backlash afoot against the kind of hyper-present, anxious and involved parent behavior that University of Kent sociologist Frank Furedi has famously dubbed “paranoid parenting.” (For his latest thoughts on this in the light of the Madeleine McCann case, here’s something to read that will make me look Not So Bad After All.)

In the United States, I think, we’re pretty unanimous in the feeling that keeping children under (relatively) tight watch is a good – if unfortunate – thing. Like most of you, I would never leave young children in a house or apartment or hotel room or ground-floor vacation suite unattended. Indeed, I can’t leave my children in the backyard unattended; were it not for our outrageously barky dog, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable letting them out of my sight – even on our own tiny property – at all.

I don’t tell you this to prove my virtue as a parent. On the contrary, I know that excess parental anxiety is a poison. I grew up with a father who adjusted my Venetian blinds every single night, always finding a way – though they hadn’t moved an iota during the day – to better position them so that, as he put it, attempting to make his voice relaxedly neutral, and doing nothing to hide his terror, “You can look out, but no one can look in.” Not only was I never left alone in a ground-floor vacation suite – as were the McCann kids – we never, as a family, spent a night in a ground-floor hotel room (or any hotel room, for that matter) unless the doors and windows had been examined and were found to meet his exacting safety standards.

In every single photograph from my early childhood I look worried.

I agree with most of you that the McCanns should not have left their children unattended. But are they, for having made that decision, irresponsible, neglectful, abusive, selfish, “bad” parents? Not necessarily. To get behind that statement would be to imply that those of us who would never do such a thing are, by definition, “good” parents. That’s a judgment that isn’t earned quite so simply.

I do not agree, for a moment, with Frank Furedi, who recently told the Times of London’s Andrew Billen that Madeleine’s parents were right to have made the “well-balanced” and “legitimate” decision to go out alone because “they made a decision that they were going on holiday with the kids, they would have fun with them and would also have some adult time.” I think Furedi went rather nastily off the rails when he argued against Billen’s suggestion that “paranoid parenting” practices may actually lead to fewer children being abducted with the following:

You cannot hold to hostage every child, every parent, on the worst-case scenario. You are saying that saving one child from being kidnapped makes it worth creating this culture of suspicion and mistrust. We are currently sending out signals that adults are so untrustworthy that the police need to check them all out. That’s what every kid is learning, and that is a far bigger tragedy for the nation than if one child gets kidnapped. Because that’s just one child, but if the whole nation becomes dominated by this dysfunctional, disorienting culture it has all kinds of destructive consequences.

But I do know that there are many ways to harm children. There is harm that is caused by selfishness and bad judgment. There is harm that is caused by excessive, unrestrained anxiety. And, frankly, there is harm that is caused by being smug, self-satisfied, self-righteous and judgmental. How dreary – how potentially confidence-eroding – it can be to grow up as the child of a parent who is always right.

I think that there is one sad purpose being served by all the talk of the McCanns’s negligence: parental self-protection. Criticizing the McCanns is a distancing technique. It is a way to redirect the excruciating emotions elicited by the abduction of a three-year-old. It’s a way to put a thick layer of insulation between the McCanns’ unsafe world – where bad things happen – and our world, where they do not. In the end, this self-distancing is a form of magical thinking: by vocally being not-them, by declaring our otherness to the McCanns, we secure for our own children a better fate.

Our public incantations – I would never, They should never, Anyone who would ever should be arrested – don’t work, though. They just – and this was my point last week – add to the sum total of awfulness in our world.

I will not run from the criticism so many of you lobbed my way for having focused my treatment of the McCann tragedy through the prism of America’s attitudes toward working mothers. I threw the same criticism at myself – before, during and after writing the piece. I felt guilty about it. It seemed trivial, narcissistic. Why this irrelevant focus, I asked myself, when a little girl’s life was at stake?

I couldn’t – and still can’t – rationally answer that question. I just keep coming back to the raw feeling I had, standing in the supermarket checkout line and reading People magazine, of having been punched in the stomach. It was adding insult to injury. And it turned sadness and fear to rage.

Is that a valid topic for commentary? To answer that, just look at the breadth and depth of our conversation.