Re-Post: Rights of a Child

This post was originally published August 2011. It was part of my reaction to Michael Farris’ creating a “parent’s rights” amendment and proposing to amend our constitution. It was a big realization for me that the parent is not sacred, that they do not always know what is best for their child, and sometimes they need help. It helped me to take a step toward freedom from the weight of my parents expectations of me, and also help me be less afraid of acknowledging my own shortcomings as a parent, and be less afraid to get help and learn more.

image_gallerySeveral months ago, my mom was spouting off against the government and Child Protective Services in a phone conversation, saying that they should never have a right to “break up families.” I pointed out that while some families need to be separated, most of the time the family is just helped and educated, not split up. I recalled a certain time in our family when I feel that Child Protective Services would have been helpful. She acknowledged that there had been a problem, but maintained that she would have listened to a church member or neighbor if they had confronted her. I reminded her that we were not attending church at that time of our life, and that I had begged her to make the abuse stop the day it was happening and she had not listened to me. She replied that the reason she did not listen to me was because I was only a child of 10, if an adult had intervened, she would have done something. I gave up on the discussion at that point, but 2 weeks later my mom sent me some information from “the parents rights amendment”. She’s sent stuff like this to me before, but it brought out the frustration anew. Why are these parents so afraid of government recognizing that children have rights?

Because deep down, they know that they are doing something wrong.

I grew up in a family that does not believe that children have rights. Children are the property of their parents, heart mind body and soul. They basically have the same rights as slaves used to in the south. These conservative homeschooling parents control every aspect of their child’s life. They decide what their children are allowed to be interested in, how they will spend their time, what clothes they must wear, if and what they will be educated in, and whether or not they will be given health care. Some in the patriarchy home school movement, do not believe that they should educate their daughters beyond the 8th grade, because they will be stay-at-home moms someday, and therefore have no reason to be educated.

I used to believe it all. I was terrified of the government as a child. My parents told us that if people saw us outside during school hours, we would get taken away and put in foster homes where they would make us go to school. I remember crawling underneath the windows in the front of the house, because I was afraid someone outside would see me and call the police. One time a family friend knocked at the door during school hours, and my sister ran to open it. I heard the commotion from the other end of the house and ran in the kitchen screaming “don’t open the door!!” and when I rounded the corner and realized that the door was already open and there were no policemen waiting to take us away, I shrank away in embarrassment.

I remember being outside and hearing the screams of a sister being “spanked” for what seemed like an eternity, and besides that usual sick feeling in my stomach for what she was going through, my main worry was that since the window was open, someone might hear and call the police.

One time when I was babysitting my siblings, a chair got knocked over and broke the dining room window. I freaked out and yelled at all thebroken-old-window kids that now someone would see the broken window and think that dad was a drunk who beat us, and they would call the police.

When I actually read the UN convention for The Rights of the Child a year ago, I cried. There were people who actually believed that children are fully human? That they have the same rights to health, happiness and opportunity that adults have? I read in print for the first time the rights I want my children to have, including the rights I never had as a child.

People may argue that the UN rights of the child is redundant. We know that kids need to be protected, that’s obvious, right? But the USA can still use improvement. I found out later that a neighbor had heard my sister screaming that day, but they didn’t call the police, they thought it was funnyThere are still people today who can see a broken bleeding child, and accept the parents’ explanation that they were a brat and “deserved it”.

I still have a hard time even today, understanding the concept that children don’t deserve to be hit and mistreated. I saw it with unseeing eyes every day in my home growing up. When my sister recently shared a childhood memory of “discipline” that became abuse, I was physically shaking thinking about what had happened to her. I had a vague memories jumbling around in my head. Is it possible that my sister had tried to confide in me when I was a teenager, and I’d done nothing to help her? I don’t know. Regardless of whether I knew what had happened that particular time or not, I know what my response would have been. “You shouldn’t have been rebellious, you should have been obedient, you should have done what you were told and then this never would have happened to you.” I would have said those things, because I truly believed that children deserved to be treated badly. I believed that we had no rights. I told myself that I was the problem, I was the bad one, and so were my siblings.

Parents are allowed wide discretion on whether or not to bring their child to the doctor or to use homeopathic remedies instead of standard medicine. When my baby brother was a year old, he got pneumonia and was very very sick for over a month. I remember being scared at the amount of weight he was losing, and redoubled my prayers for him since my parents did not take the baby to the Doctor. (2014 note: Even three years before this post was written when a different brother got badly burned in an accident, I respected my parents right to attempt to care for him themselves rather then get him emergency care. Because I still believed that parents ultimately had the right to decide whether or not to get medical care for their child.)  Sometimes the denial of medical care can result in permanent disfigurement, or even death. What if this 11 year old girl with un-diagnosed diabetes in Wisconsin had known that she had a right to medical care? Maybe she could have gone for help as her health declined, instead of relying on the prayer of her Pentecostal family as she died. Maybe someone in her family could have called 911 sooner, if they only had known what help was available, and what rights children have. But no, they trusted in the family and their interpretation of God, and the girl died. Her story is not the only one.

The United States is the only western country in the world which still allows corporal punishment in the public schools of 20 states. And unlike countries that put limits on age and amount of physical punishment allowed, parents in America are allowed to physically punish their child with a belt, paddle, (or other implements) however they feel like as long as there is no permanent disfigurement or death.

We have a long way to go in recognizing the rights of a child.

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  • John Lev

    You know, I didn’t grow up in a religious house like that but I can certainly relate. Growing up, my father was certainly abusive. I remember standing there as a child quaking in fear every time I would see that belt come off his waist. Oh, and only God himself (if he even exists) could help us if he thought we were lying about something. The help never came.

    One particular instance when he thought my brother and I were lying about something that neither of us could honestly remember, he whipped us without mercy. At the time, I was about maybe 9-11 yrs old. My brother is three yrs younger. So after however long he whipped us, and I mean running back-n-forth swinging his belt giving little consideration as to where it landed, I finally told him I did it. Just let my brother go because I didn’t want to see him suffer anymore. Big mistake. He reasoned that since I was willing to take the punishment, my brother must have lied so he ordered me out and proceeded to lay into him without mercy. It was the most horrible feeling I ever felt to stand there with the neighbor kids and hear my brother screaming as though my dad was eviscerating him in the house.

    My mom finally divorced him after he wouldn’t promise to lay a hand in harm on her anymore. She told him she wanted a divorce right after he slapped her for something. His reply was that he couldn’t do that because when she was going to be unreasonable, he was going to correct her. They divorced and I couldn’t have been happier for her and my brother. At that time I was enlisted in the Navy and stationed on a ship in Japan when I got that news.

    He then found and married my stepmom 3 months later. No really…3 months after the divorce. I was one of his groomsmen at my moms request. At that time, I was more than willing to have nothing to do with him but she pushed us to have a relationship with him. So I went to the wedding.

    The stepmom is a deeply fundamentalist christian but one of the nicest people I know. Their marriage was rocky from the start. Although he never physically abused her, he was very emotionally abusive and I saw it take it’s toll on her. She displays all the classic signs. When I would tell her about how he treated us and our mother, she claimed I was making all of that up or didn’t remember correctly. There’s 2 sides to every story she would say. They fought alot and he would brow beat her into submission. Nothing was ever his fault in his mind. After 19 yrs, he decided he just want some peace from her nagging and divorced her. About 6 months after that, he came down with pancreatic cancer and passed away. Stepmom still loves him. However, since the divorce, she seems much happier.

    When I finally stood up to my dad as a teen, we ended up in a fist fight. He ended up in the hospital not because of anything I did but rather he was very out of shape and the stress almost caused him to have a heart attack. When he came home, it was not a fun time in our house as tensions ran high. But he never laid a hand on me again.

    After the divorce, my mom got involved with a bachelor in our neighborhood. A wonderful person who treated my mom great. He told me one time that his father and him were sitting on the porch watching my dad beat my brother (young child at the time) for something. His dad got up and said: Damn it! I don’t even beat a dog that bad! I’m calling the police. Mom’s BF said he stopped him because it was none of their business. He stopped his dad from calling the police because you just didn’t do that back then (late 70’s). After he and my mom became a couple and she told him what all went on behind the doors, he informed me that was one of his biggest regrets. He apologized to me but explained that people didn’t involve themselves in others business back then. He said if he had it to do over, he’d call the police himself.

    My father always did believe in the bible but he wasn’t into big when we were growing up. As he got older though, long after the divorce and we moved out, he got more and more religious. If he had been as religious when we were growing up as he was when he died, I HATE to think how things would’ve turned out for us.

    I’m truly sorry for what you and your siblings went through.

  • That_Susan

    Anything that would be illegal to do to an adult, absolutely needs to be illegal to do to a child. I’m so sorry about all that you and other children have gone through!