I am concerned by all the irresponsible, selfish and stupid parents of the world. The ones that upon reading this would be moved to comment along the lines of “you’re not a parent, so you don’t know anything” – because that is how arrogant and self-righteous the sort of parents I am thinking of are.
Being a parent does not make you immune from criticism, it does not make you an expert in rearing children and it does not make you medically qualified, intelligent or well informed. It may, however, make some people more selfish, overly-defensive and irrational. Not only do some parents think that society owes them for having children (I for one didn’t ask them to have unprotected sex), but they also seem to think that their ‘little darlings’ are beyond reproach and any trouble that they get into is somebody else’s fault.
Let’s look at that parental blind spot to start with (since this is the one that impacts upon my life every day at work). Some parents seem unable to recognise (or unwilling to respond to) their offspring behaving in an antisocial or irresponsible manner. Rather than challenge the child on its behaviour they either ignore it or defend it (at times aggressively). Why do they do this? My guess is that the parent is aware that the behaviour of their ‘little darling’ is a reflection of their parenting skills, so when the child’s behaviour is challenged, that is taken as a personal assault on the parent’s abilities – sometimes eliciting an inappropriately defensive response.
An example of poor parenting made clear by misplacing blame is witnessed in this recent report about a mother who has convinced herself (or has been convinced) that her 13 year old daughter fell pregnant whilst on holiday due to sperm in a swimming pool. Clearly this is a case of extreme biological ignorance covering up regular parental ignorance, compounded by cultural ignorance in the form of urban myth. With a small amount of research/thought it should be clear to the parent that something has been going on; something worrying, like unprotected sexual experimentation; or something very worrying, like ongoing sexual abuse or an isolated incident of rape. Of course, the more cynical among us might suspect that the mother in this case is fully aware that her daughter was sexually active whilst on holiday and is simply trying to get a large cash settlement by suing the hotel, rather than pursuing some hapless teenage holiday romantic or a manipulative paedophile – it wouldn’t be the first time a mother used their child in a money-making scam. Cynicism aside, by misplacing blame she is missing something that needs to be addressed appropriately.
This leads neatly on to my next grudge – irresponsible parenting based on ‘delusions of knowledge’. This is a real corker, where parents sabotage their child’s wellbeing because they honestly think that they know what is best for their child simply because they are the parent. A few examples immediately spring to my mind, starting with those where the parents were directly responsible and moving on to where parental choices were simply bad:
- The death (2nd degree murder) of Madeline Neuman, an 11 year old girl who died from undiagnosed diabetes, whose parents decided that their faith was better than a trained medical professional. Her father even said at the trial “If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God“ – I disagree, if you don’t go to the doctor you are putting your ill-founded beliefs before your child’s welfare.
- The death (manslaughter) of Gloria Thomas, a nine month old baby girl who died from infection as a result of malnutition and untreated eczema. I say untreated, but her father is a homeopath and he ‘treated’ her with some magic water. Needless to say it didn’t work.
- The death of Noah Maxin, an 11 year old boy who died of leukaemia after his chemotherapy was stopped early by his parents and replaced with alternative therapies – despite Family Services going as far as the courts in an effort to ensure the best course of care.
- The death (2nd degree murder) of Linda Epping, an 8 year old who died from a cancer that was operable, but her parents decided to use a chiropractor rather than have Linda undergo surgery. The chiropractor was imprisoned – but it should be remembered that the parents made the choice.
- The death of Jett Travolta, a 16 year old boy who died of a seizure. His parents may have been influenced into taking him off anti-seizure drug Depakote as a result of advice from medical doctors within the Church of Scientology, if anyone can believe such a thing of that organisation.
There are many more examples of parental beliefs being detrimental to children, particularly when the Jeovah Witnesses are taken into account. Of course there are also wider implications entailed in parental decisions about their offspring’s healthcare when the matter of communicable diseases arises. In this instance there are repercussions throughout society if decisions are made based on ‘parental intuition’. These can vary from complacency about sexually transmitted illnesses (pdf) to anti-vaccination campaigning, which has some historical precedence, but which demonstrably decreases herd-immunity and is largely based on misinformation, bombast and outright lies. Despite the weaknesses of their arguments, the anti-vax movement is very effective at picking up people by appealing to their ‘parental intuition’ – no doubt assisted by high-profile spokespeople like Jenny McCarthy (a celebrity famous for her extensive training in medicine and epidemiology?). This anti-vax movement is of concern because it directly contributes to the spread of preventable diseases – after all, we know that children are less hygienic in their habits than adults and act as vectors of disease.
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Of course, the parents involved in these examples do at least believe that they are behaving with the best interests of their children in mind. They are not the kind of parents who would deliberately murder their own child for their beliefs, as happened to Vandana Niwas a 5 year old girl who was beheaded in a magic ritual in order to grant her father some sons – a ploy that is unlikely to work since he is now in police custody and his chances of breeding again are severely curtailed. This chilling story highlights another thing that I find disturbing (beyond infanticide) – the sense of entitlement to children that many people seem to have, regardless of their suitability as parents or the practicalities of their situation. No wonder the world has become overpopulated when so many people view their inalienable legacy to be determined by the product of their loins. That’s another blog though…