Monday, July 07, 2008

But--But Children Are Just Smaller Adults, Aren't They?

Occasionally, I comment on liberal blogs when the subject of family comes up. Specifically, when the subject of parent-child relationships comes up. These discussions are frequently started after some heinous situation where a parent is either abusive to a child or neglectful to the child. Then, the liberals scream about how awful the parents are and that the children have rights, you know.

Almost invariably, someone will ask why parents have so much control over their children and that the state should step in. The recent FLDS raid in Texas is a good jumping off point for these discussions, because the commenters are almost uniformly anti-religion and the FLDS church is sufficiently patriarchal to get their blood boiling. Of course, the state authorities were wrong and heavy-handed in the FLDS case, but that's beside the point, isn't it? When you point out that parents are in charge of children because they have a more vested interest in their children's outcomes than any stranger, you will get lectured about what a "patriarchal" viewpoint that is.

It's always amusing when 30-somethings without kids want to lecture those of us with kids about the "rights" our children enjoy or should enjoy. After all, we parents--particularly those with teenagers--have known for years what the rights of our children are: to be fed, clothed and sheltered and to be raised with enough discipline and love to become fully-functioning and independent adults. Different parents approach these goals with different strategies, but most children reach adulthood with some ability to make it on their own and not spend their entire paychecks at the therapist's office. But in a society which, on the one hand, wants to treat 12-year-olds as mature enough to make their own decisions and, on the other, as 20-year-old children still needing parental monetary resources to make it through college, it is often difficult to figure out what is appropriate and what is not.

Couple the everyday stress of raising children with a vindictive and destructive ex and you will get a recipe for disaster. Take the plight of this poor man.

A divorced, custodial Quebec father cuts off the Internet privileges of his 12-year-old daughter for accessing forbidden Web sites. Daughter uses friend's computer to post indecent pictures of herself on the Web. As punishment, father grounds her from a school excursion.

Daughter and mother conspire with a sympathetic lawyer. Daughter sues father. A Superior Court judge rules father's punishment is too harsh. Father rethinks his custodianship.

Public recoil from the court's appropriation of what most Canadians recognize as a private family dispute was swift and intense. As the Post's Saturday editorial noted: "The courts have no business -- none -- in such routine family matters. This ruling is so profoundly intrusive we can only hope the Quebec appeals court strikes it down, and quickly."

Well, it may and it may not. Thanks to the Charter of Rights, our judiciary has come to assume that all personal behaviours are legally examinable, with alternate behaviours liable to enforcement at the court's pleasure, and so -- under the guise of the child's "right" to a peer social ritual -- an appeals court validation is not unthinkable.

There's a lot of talk in divorce court about the "best interest of the child," which, as a child ages, is really just a buzz phrase in lieu of "whatever the child wants." By the time a child reaches middle school, he, regardless of the parents' marital status, has learned how to manipulate his parents. He knows which parent is more lenient, which one is most likely to say "yes," which is usually willing to bend to the child's whims. Throw divorce into this mix--where allowing the child to do some forbidden thing is just another way of sticking it to your ex--and you have a surefire mess on your hands.

Granted, there are instances where parents are well and truly abusive. If your 15-year-old weighs 50 pounds because food is withheld as punishment, that's abuse. Or if your 14-year-old has a broken arm that didn't happen on the football field. But most of what passes for abuse these days isn't abuse in any normal sense of the word. I've seen a raised eyebrow be described as "mental abuse." Since when is it not allowed for a parent to look skeptically at one's offspring when said progeny had done something questionable at best and over the line at worst?

As the author points out, the problem started with the "atomization" of society.
By coincidence, just as I was doing a slow burn over that story's implications, I happened to be reading a chapter called "Restoring the Pro-Family State" in a newly-published book, Oh, Oh, Canada! A Voice from the Conservative Resistance. The author, William Gairdner, gave eloquent voice to my indignation.

When the family is perceived to be the core unit of society, as it used to be, he notes, its value to society, including the judiciary, is greater than the sum of its parts. But today, Gairdner says, "[W]e all now take it as an article of faith that the parts are all there is." The end result of this belief is the "atomization" of society -- and in particular the breakdown of the "molecule" of the traditional family -- through judgment after judgment that, like the one above, "weaken[s] the grip of the family…by dissolving [its] unique values and prestige…"

Put another way, when parents no longer have the rights and duties to determine what is in the best interest of the family, chaos and social breakdown ensue. Which is where we are today.