One of the basic tenets of the Let Grow movement is that parents must be allowed to be "imperfect" -- because there's no such thing as perfection.
Someone else's idea of what is overprotective or under-supervised shouldn't matter one whit, unless a parent shows blatant disregard for a child's safety and welfare. In other words, I might let my 6-year-old walk five blocks to school and you might not let your 11-year-old ride her bike beyond the corner. We obviously have different ideas, different kids, different priorities and different neighborhoods. No one knows exactly what age a kid should start doing X or stop doing Y, so it should be up to any reasonable parent.
And yet, if a family ends up in court, the pretense is that the judge (or sometimes jury) somehow can objectively divine "the best interests of the child."
In this short, fascinating piece in The Chronicle of Social Change, Vivek Sankaran, director of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic at the University Michigan Law School, argues that this is a slippery way to determine if parents should be disciplined or have their kids put into foster care. "Let’s acknowledge that child welfare cases are really about who gets to decide what they think is best for a child," he writes.
...[W]e all know that the “best interest of the child” is not an objective standard. All of us disagree – all the time – about what we think is best for a child. What time should they go to bed? Should they co-sleep with us? How should they be disciplined? Should they be raised in a “free-range” parenting style? Or is helicoptering around them best? Gather a group of parents, chat for a few minutes, and you’ll quickly realize how much we disagree about what is good for children.
The "good for the kids" issue, in fact, is fraught to the point of crazed. Need convincing? I'll bet my bottom binky you don't. you don't. But if somehow you do, check out the comments on almost any parenting website (or Facebook group!). Check out the stories of Debra Harrell, or Danielle Meitiv, or Holly Curry -- all moms who determined that their particular kids could be unsupervised in their particular neighborhoods for a certain amount of time. And yet, they all had to fight government authorities who second-guessed them without presenting evidence that their kids were in any actual, serious, statistically likely danger.
It's absolutely fine that we disagree (politely) about parenting choices. It's absolutely not fine that we can have our families disrupted or destroyed simply because someone in power thinks, "I wouldn't raise my kids that way." And so, Sankaran writes:
Do I really want someone to second-guess my decision to allow my children to watch America Ninja Warrior this morning? Or to eat pizza for a week straight? Or to not shower for a few days?
Absolutely not. These are my calls as a parent. The constitutional jurisprudence makes clear that the state doesn’t get to interfere in these decisions until they prove me to be unfit. It is a doctrine that all of us benefit from. Every day.
So let’s stop pitting parental rights against some false sense of an objective best interest standard. Let’s recognize that the law requires us to allow parents to make these decisions until they are proven to be incapable of doing so. As tempting as it may be, until this happens, we can’t – and shouldn’t – use the force of law to impose our subjective opinions on what is best for children on families.
On behalf of all the imperfect parents out there (i.e., all of us): Amen. - L.S.
Yummy photo from Unsplash by Alan Hardman.