Respect My Rights!

Some of you may realise what triggered this post, but it’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while.  So although it was triggered, it’s not pointed at anything in particular but more food for thought.  It’s good something gave me the push to put it out there.

 We are sometimes told we should respect others’ decisions.  I don’t think it takes long to realise that this is wrong.  Respect is about esteem and admiration and there are some decisions that should not be admired, such as the decision to have that third piece of cake.  Then there are some decisions some will admire and others won’t, which is why we have controversial issues.

 A trickier one is when we are told we should respect other’s rights.  And of course we should.  So long as they actually have that right in the first place.  The appeal to tolerance is almost guaranteed to shut people up, because being intolerant is such a terrible thing in our society, the modern heretic.  But before proving our tolerance we need to question why they want to silence us.  Sometimes it is just because they’re tired of the argument, and then it’s probably a good idea to let it rest.  Sometimes it’s a shorthand way of saying “I don’t care what you say, you’re not going to change my mind so respect my rights.”  And in a face to face conversation it’s probably a good idea to shut up, because no-one likes talking to a wall.  But the internet is a special case, a conversation in a darkened room.  You never know who is listening, and who might still be willing to change their mind.  So sometimes it might be worth it to keep going.  In that case, it is important to work out if people really do have the right they are asking you to respect.

 In ”Crimes Against Logic” Jamie Whyte points out that rights are defined by duties.  In other words, if you have a right, others have a duty to uphold that right.  If you have a right to life, others have a duty not to kill you, and the laws will punish them if they breach that duty.  If there are no duties, then there is no right. 

The right I’m going to talk about here is the right to parent as I see fit.  The duty that would seem to go with this is that everyone else has to support your parenting decisions.  But hang on a minute, what about those unrespectable decisions?  What about the controversial ones?  What about the rights of the child?  Ah.  The right to parent as you see fit runs into the right of the child to the opportunity to reach their full potential.

 Now it seems to be pretty obvious that a parent should be making decisions that respect their child’s rights.  But do they?  For the vast majority of us for the vast majority of the time I’m sure they do.  But we all know examples of when they don’t.  And in those cases, whose right does the law uphold?  The child’s.  So in reality, in our society, we do NOT have a right to parent as we see fit.  We have a duty to uphold our child’s right to the opportunity to reach their full potential.

 So we come back to those controversial issues.  I mean aren’t I just playing with words here?  This is Australia, we don’t take kids away unless it’s really bad, so isn’t this just rambling?  And don’t parents make those controversial decisions because they know the situation better than you do and believe they are fulfilling their duty?  Well, yes.  To a certain extent I am.  But I think there are two very important consequences of looking at things this way.

 The first is psychological.  Rights are personal.  They are about property.  They are mine.  In fact one of the definitions of rights is “a claim to property.”  Is that how you perceive your children?  I’m not making a way out of left-field argument here, there are people who treat children as property, and if they have the right to parent as they see fit, then they have that right.  Stepping back from the extreme, people become defensive and even combative when they feel their rights have been breached.  In a discussion about ‘those issues’ it means they will shut down and stop listening because they are barricaded in, prepared to defend their rights.  This is where the appeal to tolerance comes in – I’m feeling threatened and I want to end this.  You’d better be careful, because you’re stepping on MY RIGHTS. 

 No-one feels that way about their duties.  It’s not as common for people to get possessive about them (leaving aside status issues), because generally we perceive them as work and are happy if someone helps us with them.  And they make us careful – we can be cavalier about our own things, but we are much more careful about things we do for others.  While rights tend to be static (you always have the same right to life), our responsibilities change over time.  So if we truly want to have an open exchange of ideas, it’s much more likely to happen in the realm of duty and responsibility.  If we want to improve our own and support others to improve their parenting, that’s where it’s going to happen.  Notice that nowhere am I saying that I’m right and people should agree with my solutions to the controversial issues.  What I’m talking about is listening to other positions and being prepared to accept the possibility that the others have a point, and that goes for me as much as anyone else.  Of course, that assumes people’s minds are open and they want to improve how they fulfil their duties.

 But that’s ok, because the second consequence of redefining this right is to protect children.  Because while rights are personal, we all have the duty.  If you have a right to life it is the entire society that has the duty to fulfil that.  If children have the right to the opportunity to reach their full potential then it isn’t just the parents who have a duty, it is all of us.  We all have the duty to look out for children.  To protect children.  To support and nurture them.  And perhaps if we stop thinking about parents’ rights and start thinking about our collective duties, we might start to take action, even if it’s only speaking up to be counted.

 So if your mind isn’t open and you don’t want to improve how you fulfil your duties, you can use the appeal to tolerance as a signal to shut me up.  And I may choose to stop if the venue isn’t right, I may choose to stop if it would be downright rude, I may choose to stop if I don’t think anyone (including you) is listening.  But not because I’m being tolerant, because please understand,

YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO PARENT AS YOU SEE FIT,

so I don’t have to respect it.  But I have a duty to look out for your children, and as far as I can, I will.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kathy on June 12, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Great post Deb. I think respect for the ‘rights’ of parents gives us an easy out – we can have an internal dialogue about how a parent is not doing a great job or how we would do better in their situation – but if it is their right to parent as they see fit, then I don’t have to get up off my bum and do something to help them.

    One logical consequence of your argument that the relevant rights rest with the child is that we as a community and individuals have a responsibility to provide more support to families so that all children can reach their full potential – wouldn’t that be a wonderful outcome?

    Woo!

    Reply

  2. Oh, beautifully put.

    I agree entirely. I don’t believe parents have rights at all – they have responsibilities. And parents have a particular responsibility to their own children which is not shared by other people; to that extent, a parent’s choices regarding their own child/ren trumps the opinions of another. This is not, in my view, because a parent has “rights”, but because others don’t have a greater responsibility to intervene unless a parent is breaching their duty of care – has abrogated their own responsibility.

    I get very antsy when parents couch their decisions in terms of “their right” to parent, rather than “their child’s right” to appropriate parenting. It seems to me that their focus is wrong: which doesn’t lend itself to making the best or most appropriate decisions.

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  3. I agree cAt, and I do think parents should have the deciding vote – normally. That’s the big problem – how do we decide when they have breached their duty of care? The recent homeopathy case is extreme and we can all agree they got it wrong – their baby died! But when does it become a problem? What about if you give homeopathic remedies instead of painkillers? What about vaccine refusers? There is a whole spectrum of different parenting decisions, and the only responses our society seems to have are free reign, anything goes, or we’ll take the children off you. There has to be something in between, some way of supporting parents, and until we start realising children are all our responsibilities we won’t start looking for other options.

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  4. Like Kathy said!

    Reply

  5. Posted by plahski on June 13, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Such a big issue right now… I just think that child advocacy and protection is everybody’s responsibility but I think that what’s on and what’s not can become really fuzzy – it’s by no means black and white even though some things (like outright abuse) are clearly an issue but other things aren’t so clear. Especially when it comes to our individual perceptions of neglect. Neglect is a slippery subject – My grandmother would say I am neglecting my daughter because she hasn’t been baptized… to me personally that isn’t even a blip on the radar for neglect. But it is such an open term if you think about it.

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  6. Dash wonderful post, I agree completely with everything you have said.
    Reading about parents that with hold Painkillers, reminds me of a post I read on a forum (not ABA) about a mother who was trying to find alternatives medication for her child, for after a Cleft lip repair. She didn’t want to use regular painkillers, her reasoning was, because of side effects of painkillers and her not wanting to support pharmaceutical company’s.
    I felt sick, worrying about that poor child, when I commented everyone jumped on me and it was all about her rights, (it was a Natural parenting forum). This still upsets me today, we had no choice but to give our child Pain stop, I cant imagine, the pain this poor child experienced. No parent should have that right, to withhold painkillers

    Reply

  7. I hadn’t even thought of that, Cathy. I was using painkillers as a mild example, thinking of using it instead of paracetamol or teething gel. But of course you’re right – sometimes pain is much more serious than that.

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  8. Deb thanks for this post. Funnily enough, it’s something that I too have been mulling over and was planning on posting about too. Snap! There are many issues that really concern me in our society today where the right of an adult to certain things absolutely trumps children’s rights hands down….I’m referring mainly to the myriad of issues surrounding reproductive technology here, where it seems that the unborn child, or foetus is really noones concern. I may post about this one later but it’s more than a bit emotive….which shouldn’t scare me away but I’m just not sure that I’m up to it!

    Reply

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