Mom Loses Custody Over 'Permissive' Hands-Off Parenting Style

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

behavior, child custody, discipline

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sassy... sassykat122

I doubt its the video games or being their 'friend' that did it but the missing school, bad grades, and leaving them unsupervised when she naps. This is the thing when parents get divorced and can't agree on custody. When you leave it to the courts you may not like their decision.

nonmember avatar lilah

What makes me SO uncomfortable is when kids are raised into hooligans because that was the parent's STYLE. A whole generation of low lives are inflicted on the rest of us because the parent is entitled to exercise creative parenting. Too much freedom equals chaos which I'm sure is what the lives of these kids are like. They will thank their dad when they are older for putting them on the right track before it was too late.

nonmember avatar blh

Lol leaving them unsupervised while she nsps?? Uh sorry a 14 year old is old enough to stay home alone they don't need their mom around them constantly. I babysat other kids at 14. There's something wrong with those kids if they can't handle being alone for a few hours worth their mom in the other room.

nonmember avatar Victoria

What is so wrong with her leaving the boys alone while she takes a nap... They are 11 and 14. When I was 14 I was babysitting my 3 year old cousin a couple times a week after school.

Felip... FelipesMom

It doesn't sound like the kids were taken away because their mother was permissive. It sounds like they were taken away because she was crazy. The judge did not actually say much about video game time limits or bedtimes - but he did talk about education, which I take to mean the tardiness and not getting their HW done. 


Many people would consider me a permissive parent, and I do support allowing children to govern themselves much more than most kids get the opportunity to these days, but I would never take them to school late or fail to help them get their HW done at least most of the time and then expect to use my parenting style as an excuse for that.


Anyway, it sounds like parenting style is only one difference between these two parents. The mother sounds crazy, and the father sounds intelligent and thoughtful and intentional. That's what matters most - not parenting style.

aajm-... aajm-momma

At what point/age do children have to take responsibility of there own actions? I dont think she was neglectful to the point of losing her kids. At 11 I was setting my own alarm and getting my self up for school if I stayed up late the night before and was tired oh well something I needed to learn from. My mom napped when I was 14 and I was home alone omg I lived. When did we become a society that feels the need to coddle and bubble our children to the point of them no longer needing to take responsibility for their actions and doing. Thank god this isn't where I live because I believe in parenting and boundries but also allowing my 13 and 12 working out their consequences of their actions

nekoy... nekoyukidoll

I agree with the judges ruling.  Kids need structure and a parent, not a friend.  I saw it with my ex -neice and another family; the parents didn't give a rat's behind and both the kids were self-entitled brats that did whatever the heck they wants to.  so sad.

Julie Petrenko

I consider myself a "free range" parent, but this is not that, this is being a lazy parent. 


My kids get looser boundries because they are doing what they are suppose to be doing.  They've earned them.  If they started not doing their homework, being late or not going to school, those boundries would be tightened. 

laris... larissalarie

It's not like she lost them to foster care because her parenting was found to be harmful, THEN I could see trying to involve social services to work with her before removing them like the author suggests. They're going to their other biological parent. Nobody would think anything of a father who's parenting was found to be falling the kids losing custody to their mother, why think differently because it was a mother losing custody to the father?

sassy... sassykat122

All of you freaking about the nap thing saying they were old enough, its doubtful it started the day the oldest turned 14. Parenting habits start early and it's not the only thing the judge pointed out. The woman was being a neglectful parent and possibly a little crazy. Sorry ladies, mom isn't always the best option.

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