How does ‘system’ decide where parental responsibility begins?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 14, 2001

There was time when I would have vehemently told you that parents are definitely responsible for their children’s behavior. And that their behavior was a direct reflection of their upbringing.

Then I had children.

Now like many of you, there are certain times when I lay claim to their behavior and then there are the times when I don’t even want to claim them.

Once when my oldest was about four years old we were at a birthday party for one of her friends. At some point she and another child began fussing over who knows what. The other mother and I both rushed over to settle the problem and make the children play nicely. I remember telling Holly to say she was sorry to the other child. Imagine my surprise when she stuck out her bottom lip and shook her head no.

I turned her around to me and told he to &uot;be sweet and say your are sorry.&uot; Again I got the poked out lip and a negative shake of the head.

This time I spoke in sharper tone of voice, after all this was getting embarrassing, and told her &uot;Holly Elizabeth, say you are sorry, right now.’

Suddenly, there was the sweet little face of my precious, well behaved child. The pouty look was gone. And with wide, angelic eyes and a lovely smile she looked up at me and said &uot;if you want me to tell a lie, I’m sorry.&uot;

Naturally the other mother tried to unsuccessfully to smother her laughter as I made our apologies and quick exit.

Later that day I recounted the story to one of my best friends. An older mother she had been a great resource for me and had often shared valuable pearls of wisdom with me.

I was dumfounded when she asked me why I apologized to the other mother and left the party. After all, she gently reminded me, all my daughter had done was tell the truth, she wasn’t sorry and she wasn’t going to give a false apology. She pointed out that perhaps I should have asked Holly to say she was sorry for the arguing and left it at that.

The question for myself and others is why did I feel it was my fault the way she behaved? And at what age are children accountable for their own behavior?

The issue came up this week for myself and other parents as we listened to the arguments that perhaps the parents of children should be held legally responsible for the actions of their children

After a judge sentenced a 14 year old to life in prison for murder there were many who voiced their opinion that the mother of the accused should be held accountable in some way. The same thing has been said after each school shooting.

You can point to some juvenile offenders and say that it is because they grew up in an environment of drugs and abuse. But you can also find many juvenile offenders that have grown up in loving family units and have been taught the difference in right and wrong. There are also some who would say that regardless of how a child is raised at some point they have to become accountable for their own actions.

Who decides if parents have done their best to raise their children and who will decide what rules of conduct we will judge them by?

Unfortunately I don’t have an answer for this dilemma any more than the courts do. And like the incident with Holly many years ago, I feel compelled to apologize for this inability. Now that I have three children I see how completely different each of them is.

And if my husband and I have to adjust our parenting to each of those children’s differences how can we expect less from our court systems?

My grandmother used to say &uot;even a dog can have puppies.&uot; Perhaps when all of our society views the bearing and raising of children as a serious responsibility and not a right we will make progress on this issue.

Christina Hall is the food editor for The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 442-9101 or by e-mail at christina.hall@natchezdemocrat.com