Despite what the most opinionated, outspoken people might have us think, I'm not sure it's actually possible to definitively prove one parenting style is superior to another. Attachment parenting vs free-range kids, co-sleeping vs crying it out, commercially packaged baby purées vs the thing where you chew up organic foods and gently spit them into your child's mouth … really, it all comes down to personal choice. Except, of course, when the legal system gets involved -- which is what recently happened with an overly "permissive" mom.
A High Court judge recently decided that a British mother had failed her children by letting them play video games for hours on end, not enforcing their bedtimes, and that ultimately she treated them more like a friend than a parent. The ruling: custody of her 11- and 14-year-old sons went to their father, who is much more in favor of "structure, boundaries and discipline."
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Judge Laura Harris accepted the father's accusations that the 41-year-old mom was prone to leaving the boys on their own for long periods of time while she talked on the phone, used her iPad, or napped. She also agreed with his claims that the children had no regular bedtimes and were often late for school or failed to do their homework.
I consider the mother's parenting has been permissive, and, although the court must be tolerant of different standards of parenting, I consider the permissive parenting in this case has caused the children harm. The mother … has, in my judgment, consistently failed to meet their educational needs and therefore risks compromising in particular [the older boy’s] educational prospects. It is likely that [the younger boy] would be in the same situation as he grew older. (…) I accept the father's evidence that she is more like a friend than a parent.
Judge Harris said the woman had an "almost pathological" hatred of the children's father, fueled by a belief he had cheated on her before their marriage ended. While the woman had been routinely accusing him of harassment, calling the police, and threatening injunctions, the judge believed that she'd done so in order to alienate the kids from their father.
That is not to say that she does not love her children, I have no doubt she does, although I find her love to have something of a possessive quality about it.
While the judge said she had real concerns about the mother's ability to be a role model, she was deeply impressed by the father's "dogged" determination:
He has, in my view, demonstrated far better insight into the needs of his teenage and pre-teenage boys, for example, around issues of guidance and boundaries, than the mother. Their parenting styles are very different.
He is much more in favour of structure, boundaries and discipline, and I can understand why the boys might baulk at that, given what I consider to have been the very permissive atmosphere in which they have lived at home. He is totally committed to his sons. He has given his proposals a great deal of thought, and I was impressed with the breadth of the proposals and their depth. I was impressed with how he said he would deal with difficulties, for example, if either of the boys ran away. His analysis of what he saw facing the boys if they stayed with their mother was insightful.
Oh man, this story makes me SO uncomfortable. I mean, if she truly left her kids on their own every single day while she stayed in bed, there's obviously a problem and I'm glad someone's looking out for the boys' welfare. On the other hand, a lot of this sounds like he-said/she-said, and it feels totally possible that the dad could have simply made the more convincing argument -- or that his views on parenting better aligned with the judge's.
In my opinion, some of the mother's choices that were described in the case -- if true -- go beyond permissive parenting and into neglect. But it also seems like overall, this was a judgement against a woman's parenting style. Permissive parents are described as nontraditional and lenient, who do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation. They usually very nurturing and loving towards their kids, and often seem more like a friend rather than a parent.
The results of overly permissive parenting are generally viewed to be negative, and god knows it's not how I would ever choose to raise MY kids (I'm more the authoritative type with some forays into authoritarian) (like if you argue with me about cleaning your damn room). Still, is permissive parenting so bad someone should lose their kids over it? Without, apparently, any chance to correct the behavior with the help of a social worker?
I don't know, but in this case, the judge has made the final decision. Dad's boundaries and discipline won out against Mom's hours of Xbox. Let's hope for the kids' sake this situation eventually improves to a point where both parents can be involved in a healthy manner.
What do you think of this case? Do you agree the mom should have lost custody of her children?
Image via Flickr/Ben Andreas Harding