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Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 1999 / 20 Teves, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Grandparents' rights impinge on family autonomy --
BRACE YOURSELF. In a rare turn suggesting the possibility of a latent bipolar personality, I find myself agreeing with the usually silly American Civil Liberties Union.

Rather than defending the "rights," say, of pregnant girls to be cheerleaders or the "rights" of children to dress like prostitutes, the ACLU apparently took some Viagra and is standing up for - brace yourself again - parents' rights. Specifically, the right of parents to determine the company their kids keep..

At first glance, anyone with a kernel of common sense might wonder why the ACLU has to take a position on such a clear issue. Haven't parents always had a say when it comes to their precious darlings' associates? .

Certainly my father never hesitated to voice his opinion about my choice of companions. During my teen years, I spent weeks in "time out" plotting my future literary revenge when the old man blocked my "right" to consort with certain individuals who left me breathless and him gasping. As a college student home one weekend with a boyfriend and my four dogs, my dad greeted us at the front door. Taking in my entourage, he said: "Well, I see you brought home all your dogs.".

Insensitive? Unquestionably. Right? Absolutely. All the guy needed was a bark..

My father was exercising his parental right and duty to inform my nascent discriminatory powers, to teach me to separate the chaff from the wheat in that great weed-choked garden known as humanity. In my tribe that's what parents are supposed to do. .

No more. Parents now must defend their choices in court if other people decide they want to see the children. No matter that Mom and Dad have decided it's in their child's best interests not to spend time with them. These other people have the "right" to challenge that decision by virtue of what? .

Think hard on this one. How could anyone have the "right" to take your children from you and spend hours or days with them against your will? How could any court permit such a travesty against the sacred duty of parents to protect their children?.

The answer is obvious: By virtue of nothing, by no right. Yet these people can and do, and they're the last people one would expect to cause harm to children and their families..

They're called grandparents. .

Ah well, that's different, you say. Not really..

The burgeoning "grandparents' rights" movement, characterized by "grandparent visitation" lawsuits against uncooperative parents, is fast becoming the El Nino of the American family. Every new lawsuit challenging, and sometimes overriding, parental preference is another battering wave eroding the undergirdings of family autonomy..

Some cases that have wound up in court in recent years have been over such insipid questions as what movies children should watch. Sacrificing family autonomy to courts and legislative bodies over such pedestrian squabbles is absurd..

Some parents may be wrong to deny grandparents access to their grandchildren. They may regret their decision some day. But parents ultimately are responsible for their children; their child-rearing decisions - absent abuse, of course - must be respected and protected. So says the ACLU, which fact causes me enormous concern for my future as a columnist. I count on the ACLU to be ridiculous..

All 50 states now have some grandparent visitation law on the books. Many only permit challenges to parental authority in cases of divorce or the death of a parent. Still others allow challenges to intact families. .

It's a sad situation for all, difficult to fathom for most of us. But fundamentally, we're talking about a personal disagreement among adults that only they should resolve. Practically speaking, no child ordered to see grandparents against his parents' will is going to have a happy experience. That fact alone cancels out any "best interest of the child" argument favoring grandparents..

Finally, we've got to stop this absurd dash to court every time we're unable to resolve a family conflict. To do otherwise is eventually to hand over to government the rearing of our children. Grandparents truly concerned about their grandchildren might keep that in mind as they examine why their own kids don't want them around.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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