Thursday, August 28, 2008

Good Parenting or Abandonment?

Parenting is tough, and some days we say and do things we later regret. But if a parent makes a foolish decision, such as leaving his eleven year old son for a few minutes to calm down and then returns, should he be arrested for child abandonment?

Star-Telegram journalist, David Lieber, is the parent potentially facing those charges for leaving his eleven year old son a few blocks away at a restaurant after an argument. He told the first part of his story in his WatchDog column on August 15.

As a parent, I understand — as do most parents — how our children can say and do things that cause us to react in an emotional way. In our household, we call it "pushing buttons." My 11-year-old son pushed mine pretty hard.

We went out to breakfast the other morning at a restaurant. As soon as he had finished eating, he demanded that we leave. But I wasn’t done. I asked him to please be patient. He refused. I told him, not asked him, to wait. Same response from him. This went on and on and on.

I sent him to another table. I tried to ignore him. But my buttons were pushed. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stormed out of the restaurant and told him to walk the few blocks home.

I got in the car and drove off.

I was gone for several minutes, long enough to calm down. I doubled back to the restaurant to pick him up. By then, two police cars and a small crowd were gathered outside. A caring patron had called the police. My son had given his statement. He explained what he had done. The officer asked if any blows were exchanged. None were.

The police officer gave me a stern lecture about being a responsible parent. He said that it doesn’t take more than a few minutes for something to happen to an unsupervised child. He said, "As a journalist, you know this."

My son apologized to me, and I apologized to him. The officer asked if we were OK to go home. Properly chastened, we were.

All seemed to end well and that should have been the end of the story. Except that on August 27, David Lieber, was arrested on "two probable cause warrants, one for child abandonment with intent to return and the other for child abandonment/endangering a child" Both are felonies. He was released on $4,000 bond while the district attorney determines whether to press charges.

So now making an eleven year old walk three blocks is a felony? I had to walk further than that to my local elementary school when I was six! What has happened to our society that a parent can't take a few minutes to calm down and a child can't be expected to walk home without fearing arrest? Lieber has also been suspended from his writing position at the Star-Telegraph until this case is resolved.

I'm glad the other patrons were concerned about the child, but was calling 911 really necessary? In the "good ol' days", the patrons would have scolded the boy and supported the dad. As my dad often says, "This isn't the same country where I grew up."

(HT: Rob Dreher at Crunchy Con)

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