You may have heard about the Stanley family by now, as their story continues to gain more publicity. What is being reported is that the authorities investigated their home after an anonymous caller told them that the children were running in the snow barefoot. The children were then taken into custody upon the discovery of a 'dangerous' mineral supplement in the home, one that the father claimed he used as a water purifier.
I do not know this family personally. I've never met them and know very little about them, only what has been written about this incident. I also don't know if there is more to this story than what we have read, and there very well could be. I feel it's important for me to mention that because it's frustrating when people jump all over a news story and make decisions about it based on the very little information that the media supplies. Tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, so to speak.
That being said, I also know this is not the first time I have heard of a family being ripped apart based on someone else's poor judgment. This story comes on the heels of yet another story about parents who are under investigation for allowing their two children to walk HALF A BLOCK alone to a playground. And these two stories come on the heels of numerous other incidents of parents being accused of neglect because they left their kids alone in a car for two minutes while they ran into a gas station or had the audacity to disagree with their pediatrician. Considering over 3 million children are 'checked up on' by CPS annually, it's no wonder these stories are so common. DHS and CPS appear to wield an awful lot of power. All it takes is a phone call from a nosy neighbor. Maybe one day the authorities will show up on your doorstep.
Is there anything in your parenting someone else might disagree with? Have you ever done, said, or allowed anything that would be deemed questionable by the cranky lady down the street, or even your own friends? I don't doubt the way I run my household is a little different from the way you run yours, but I bet you love your kids. I bet they love you. Chances are we're both doing what we feel is best for our individual families.
But when it comes to these types of investigations, where the lines are drawn appear to be so discretionary, based on the whims of whomever is involved in the case. Who do you think deserves to be investigated? Or even deserves to have their practices outlawed? Deserves to have their children taken away?
Families in a polygamist community? A family who practices alternative medicine? A family whose parents spank their children?
There have been plenty of times when I have felt sorry for other kids and the way they were being raised, but I also recognized that they weren't my children. When it comes to issues of personal liberty and parental rights, you are not the authority on my family, just as I am not the authority on yours. At least, that's the way it should be. But as the state receives more and more power and more and more funding to place itself in the middle of our daily lives, it can't come as any surprise that this continues to happen. And it won't stop, not as long as we continue to wage war on each other's ideologies.
Ours has become a culture of self-righteous finger wagging. All I have to do to see that is read through a few threads on a parenting website. How dare you mutilate your child with circumcision! Breastfeeding your 3-year-old is abuse! You should never feed your child McDonald's! Spanking is the same as hitting!
That's precisely where this gets uncomfortable. Should your standards be applied to all people? Of all backgrounds and religions and cultures? Which perceptions should we allow to dominate as we apply arbitrary rules to how people live their lives?
Because that's what human beings do best – decide they're right, and then decide that everyone else should live accordingly. That's why we're now under the thumb of so many laws and why children are getting ripped away from loving homes. But I'm here to say that your parenting choices should remain precisely that – your choices.
It's horrifying to hear of tragic cases of abuse and neglect. There are some cases of severe harm, sexual trauma, and death that I've heard about that stick out in my mind and sicken me to my core. But one has to wonder if these cases would be fewer if less time and money were spent on investigating ordinary people just trying to live their lives and more attention was given to real problems.
So to the nosy neighbors who like to make reports, I'd like to ask you to consider these things: Consider striking up a conversation with the family instead of reaching for the phone. Consider that you are about to step on the constitutional rights of those parents AND CHILDREN in that household. Consider that the strange family next door just might be good people who simply do things a little differently than you do.
Consider that you're taking away help from a child who actually needs it.