More on Parental Irresponsibility

Sue Shellenbarger writes a column for The Wall Street Journal that generally sends me up any available wall. The column is entitled “Home & Family,” and I keep up with it if only to counter its content.

She recently answered a reader’s question (4/30/08) that had to do with a divorced father wanting to take his 10 year old son to his native Australia for 10 days, but his ex-wife is fighting the plan. The father contends that life lessons of such a vacation trump school. He’s going to court for the right to take him, and asks Shellenbarger what she thinks.

First of all, there are laws which prohibit one parent from taking a child out of the country without the express permission of the other. The reason is obvious: child-stealing. Secondly, having divorced parents at war with each other over a child hurts the child as he or she feels divided loyalties and tremendous anxiety. Thirdly, taking a child out of school for a protracted trip teaches the child that education is less of a priority than personal desires for fun. This father could arrange a summer trip when no school is missed. My guess is that this is a major power play.

Shellenbarger not only doesn’t deal with any of these issues, but she focuses on the whim of the child: if he would be comfortable with the trip; if he would see it as an adventure….in other words, just considering what the kid wants. What?? Of course the kid wants to be out of school and hanging out with dingos and kangaroos!

“The ideal route would be for you and your ex-wife to set aside your personal feelings and focus on what he truly wants,” contributes a New Jersey Marriage and Family Therapist. “[It] depends on your son’s openness to the experience. Try to give him a free and honest choice, unfettered by feelings of loyalty to either of you or fear of letting you down.”

Is she kidding? How can a ten year old do that? And why put the burden on the child? Aren’t the parents supposed to want and do what is best for the child? This is more of the “if it feels good it is good” school of thought – an experiment whose failure doesn’t seem to curtail its perpetuation.