Sunday, July 1, 2018

Parental Rights and Decisions

There are moral, ethical, societal and political forces at work in how parents parent. While it would seem to be the most basic tenant of society that parents make the decisions for their child's health, well-being and education, there has been a dramatic shift in this belief over the last few decades. 

I have been a strong and vocal advocate for parental rights, long before the Justina Pelletier or Charlie Gard cases. It is the belief that loving, caring parents will always have the best interests of their child at the forefront of every decision. In the absence of abuse or neglect, parents should be allowed to direct their children's lives. 

This right is eroding. 

Many parents do not know that when a child enters a public school, they become temporary wards of the state and parental rights are, in some instanceswaived. Often, decisions are made by teachers and administrators, such as allowing children to leave school, for a "protest/walk-out," without permission from the parents. While, the same children would be considered truant if the parents kept them out for the same type of event. In many states, parents are not allowed to decide to keep their child home for any reason other than illness or doctor/dentist appointment, and pre-approved educational trips. Parents are not allowed to excuse their children. Heaven forbid grandpa is on his death bed during state testing. If you keep your child out, you will find yourself in court with your child's custody in peril. Your child gets panic attacks when in a testing situation? Too bad. Suck it up buttercup. This is a major reason for the rise in homeschooling.

My cousin called me one day frantic because her medically fragile child had evidently missed too many days of school, while IN THE HOSPITAL. She had provided the school with documentation of every visit and doctor notes. She had just received a court subpeona for truancy. They were threatening to take away her child, declare her an unfit mother. This same mother sat by his bedside for days and weeks on end. The bedside of the child that wasn't supposed to live until 3 and was now in his teens, against all odds. After all they had been through, to have the school step in and bring the court into it, was just too much for her. She believes the school did this because their small town budget was being eaten up providing accommodations for her son. They just didn't want him there anymore.

So, what brought me to thinking about this issue of parental rights this weekend, was that within a 10 minute drive, I, ME of all people, questioned parenting decisions twice. As I thought about it that evening, I felt like such a hypocrite. I wondered why I would have the audacity to question parents, obviously caring and involved parents, about their choices. 

1. The first instance was a dad cleaning up yard debris with his 2 and 4 year old next to a busy street. The children were only a couple of feet away from the curb, and he was putting stuff in a bag while they brought him more. One trip, a push, and I could see a child falling into traffic. 

2. A family was riding bikes on the sidewalk next to a very busy street right before a highway interchange. The sidewalk was right up next to the street, no safety zone. The kids looked to be about 6 and 8. Dad was in front, kids, then mom. All were wearing helmets. There was a large park one block down with massive bike trails they could have been on. They were not heading that direction. There were subdivision on every corner they could have been riding through. The littlest didn't seem that steady and I feared for him. 

Neither of these are parenting decisions I would have made. But, they are spending time with their children, and they are RIGHT THERE. When did it become okay for us to make these judgements? When did we become the kid police, such as the children taken away by the police after the neighbor called on them playing unsupervised in THEIR OWN BACKYARD

I have to trust, that these parents love their children, know their children, and have worked their way up to these activities to the point that the parents are comfortable with these situations. 

It is absolutely NOT MY PLACE to impose my own parenting choice upon others, unless the parents are clearly incompetent.

In talking with my clients at a birthday party yesterday, we debated/discussed this at length. We were reminded that many parents, and even care givers, would probably be appalled at some of the things the boys get up to. I believe in supervised risky play. We work our way up to things. I know these children. I know exactly what each one is capable of performing. I let them.  

It is easy to judge quickly and from a distance. We have to trust our fellow parents that they've got this.

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