Good. These guys are fighting battles so the rest of us can have hope for raising kids who might occasionally be out of our sight for more than five minutes at a time.
Matthew Dowd, a partner at Wiley Rein LLP, will represent the Meitivs free of charge, according to this statement on Danielle Meitiv’s Facebook wall:
“Matthew Dowd, a partner with Wiley Rein, states: “The Meitivs are rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions of Maryland CPS and Montgomery County Police. We must ask ourselves how we reached the point where a parent’s biggest fear is that government officials will literally seize our children off the streets as they walk in our neighborhoods. The Meitivs intend to fully vindicate their rights as parents and their children’s rights, and to prevent this from happening to their children again. The CPS investigations and actions here are premised on a fundamental misapplication of the law and are contrary to the constitutional rights of these parents to raise their children as they see best.”
The actions of Maryland CPS and Montgomery County Police violate the fundamental rights parents have in raising their children. In Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 75 (2000), the Court explained that “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” This fundamental, constitutional right of parents cannot be infringed simply because certain governmental employees disagree with a parent’s reasoned decision on how to raise his or her children.
The Meitivs are troubled by the county’s discretionary use of power to subject this happy, healthy and independent family to invasive, frightening and unnecessary government oversight, when there are other pressing challenges for county families in need.”
Megan McArdle, my blogging spirit animal, has a great piece about the drastic parenting shift that has left “free range” kids an outlier instead of the norm, as they used to be. The whole thing is worth a read. Here are three of the ones I find most interesting:
3. Mothers working. In suburbs and small towns, stay-at-home moms formed “eyes on the street,” so that even if your kid was roaming the neighborhood, there was a gentle adult eye periodically sweeping across their activity. But I don’t think we can lean on this too much, because kids in cities also had a lot more independence back then, and the Broadway of my youth was not exactly a sweet, sheltered world where nothing much could go wrong.
There’s another reason I think this matters, however. More mothers are paying others to take care of their children. It’s easy to impose severe limits on the mobility of your children when you are not personally expected to provide 24-hour supervision. When I was a kid, there were a lot of mothers at home who believed that being home with kids was important but did not actually personally enjoy playing with 4-year-olds. Those parents would have rebelled at being told that they should never let their kids out of hearing range. Those mothers are now at work, paying someone else to enjoy playing with their 4-year-old or at least convincingly fake it.
4. Collective-action problems. When it comes to safety, overprotective parents are in effect taking out a sort of regret insurance. Every community has what you might call “generally accepted child-rearing practices,” the parenting equivalent of “generally accepted accounting principles.” These principles define what is good parenting and provide a sort of mental safe harbor in the event of an accident. If you do those things and your kid gets hurt — well, you’ll still wish that you’d asked them to stay home and help bake cookies, or lingered a little longer at the drugstore, or something so that they weren’t around when the Bad Thing happened. But if you break them and your kid gets hurt, you — and a lot of other people — will feel that it happened because you were a bad parent. So you follow the GACP.
Over time, these rules get set by the most risk-averse parent in your social group, because if anything happens, you’ll wish you had acted like them. This does not mean that the kids are actually safer: Parents in most places “shelter” their kids from risk by strapping them into cars and driving them to supervised activities, which is more dangerous than almost anything those kids could have gotten up to at home…
6. Mobile phones. All these strangers calling 911 to report a 6-year-old who has been left in a car outside a store for a few minutes are probably doing so because it’s easy. If that person had to dig for a piece of paper and a pen to write the license plate down, then take time out of their day to find a pay phone, dial the police and stand around talking to the 911 operator, most would probably think “You know, I bet his mom is going to come out of the store in a minute, and I really need to get home to start dinner.” Now you can just take a picture of the license plate and call from the comfort of your car. It would be surprising if we lowered the price of being an officious busybody and didn’t get a lot more of it.
The cell phone one rings true (har). It’s a sort of slacktivism for looking out for other people’s kids. I once got into an argument with my radio co-hosts about this during a morning show I used to host. A young baby had been found in car alone outside a Wal-Mart, and someone had immediately called the cops. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but a parent quickly returned and no harm came to the child. I said if I’d observed such a thing, I might have waited 15 minutes or so to see if the parents returned to the car before bringing the state down on their heads, as long as the infant looked unharmed.
For all I know, that could have been the only place this baby had fallen asleep for more than 5 minutes that day, and a sleep-deprived mom needed to grab something and decided everything would be fine for a second or two. And, she’d be right. The child would in all likelihood be fine for a few minutes securely strapped into a parked car. I don’t know if I’d do the same to my kid, but I’d at least like to give the parents the benefit of the doubt and a chance to show back up before bringing in the cops. Turning every 15-minute interval in a busy parent’s life into a potentially criminal act seems counterproductive to me. But that takes a few more minutes of my time than anonymously calling the incident in to the police. For all the “it takes a village” talk, most people just substitute state for village (which if you’re Hillary, was always the point, but I digress). Maybe I’m crazy, but I feel like my using 15 minutes of my life to assess a situation and maybe help someone out is usually going to be more helpful to humanity than my using three minutes of my life to call the cops on a fellow parent, unless the situation is quite obviously dire.