Parenting is not for the fainthearted. One description says that it is like wearing your heart outside of your body. From worries about Junior hitting developmental milestones, to adolescence, to bullies in the schoolyard, every day, around the world, parents are simply trying to guide their children into adulthood.
Instilling self-confidence and self-sufficiency into these young humans so that they will be able to live and work, possibly marry and procreate, and live productive lives is the goal of parents.
Since parenting began, it has been the job of parents to raise their children; to ensure their safety and well-being, and teach them how to become functioning members of society. That no longer seems to be the case. Increasingly, governments are stepping into the lives of families and limiting parents’ autonomy in bringing up their children.
From the recent case of Charlie Gard in Britain, whose parents were told they could not take their baby boy home to die, to Adrian Crook, a father of five in British Columbia, Canada, told that he cannot allow his children to even go to the park alone, government agencies seem to think they know how best to raise children.
There is, of course, a place for Child Protective Services. There are parents who neglect their children or are abusive to them. For that reason, CPS must be able to step in when required. But that is, and should be, a limited power.
We keep hearing that bubble-wrapping children is not in their best interests. Study after study shows that parents who hover over their children, never allowing them the freedom to explore the world or take any risks, eventually end up with kids who cannot seem to make the leap into adulthood, growing up anxious and afraid to take chances in their lives. Yet, when parents decide to give their children more responsibility they find higher powers contradicting them.
In the case of Adrian Crook, the father of five spent two years teaching his children how to use public transit. His ultimate goal? To teach his children to be self-sufficient, and to help give them the confidence to navigate through the world as they continue growing up.
Mr Crook rode with his children at first, gradually allowing them to ride the city bus alone, to and from school. Despite the fact that the children were well-behaved, considerate of their fellow passengers, and seemed to enjoy the freedom and responsibility their father allowed them, an anonymous phone call to the Ministry of Children and Family Development (the Canadian equivalent of America’s Child Protective Services) ended the children’s daily parent-less commute.
Taking things a step further, the Ministry determined that not only are Crook’s children not allowed take public transit without an adult, they are also not allowed to even cross the street to the corner store on their own – a trip that he says can be seen in its entirety from his living room window. Also denied to the Crook children is the chance to play alone in the park across the street – again, within sight of their father.
The Canadian case may just be a case of a government agency covering itself in case of legal action, but it leads to the question — who is really in charge of raising the kids?
And who knows what is best for them: the parents, who live with their children every day and love them, or a government more interested in the “expert” view of childrearing?
This summer, the case of Charlie Gard made headlines around the world, as his parents sought treatment for their son. Charlie, born with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the brain, muscles, and liver development, and typically fatal in infants, was at the center of a legal battle between his parents and Britain’s National Health Service. At issue was Charlie’s medical treatment.
Connie Yates and Chris Gard, like most parents dealing with a sick child, wanted to make sure every avenue had been explored in the hope of finding a cure for their son. The High Court in England ruled that they did not have that right. The case became a cause célèbre, with even the Pope and the president of the United States getting involved, offering aid and treatment options.
The Gards tried to have Charlie released from the hospital, to spend his final days at home. Denied that as well, Charlie’s parents gave up their legal fight. Charlie was moved to a hospice, removed from life support, and died the next day. How the end of Charlie’s life played out is not what his parents wanted, and yet their parental right to determine what was best for their child was over-ridden by the British government.
Being a parent is a difficult job. It is one in which every decision comes with its own set of worries. Second-guessing, and wondering if those choices are the right ones that will help or hinder your child’s future, is par for the course.
Every parent has his or her own ideas of the best way to bring up children. There are always family members, friends, neighbors, and sometimes complete strangers, willing to voice their opinions on said ideas. Having to fight for your right to parent your way, without government intrusion, is not something parents should have to do.
Barbara Lilley writes from Ottawa.