Monday, September 1, 2008

Unfair and totally legal...

Sometimes I just don't understand people's thought process. Something inside their brain just doesn't work the way mine does. And yet, though they make a mistake that causes my stomach to turn into knots, there is nothing I can do about it, because in the eyes of the law, it's not illegal. Just maybe unethical or stupid. And it's not fair. I have been trying to look at his from the other person's point of view, but I just can't do it!

Imagine you are babysitting a child whom you know well and whose parents you know well. Maybe you are even best friends with the parents and they ask you to watch their child a few times a year. And this time, the parents are gone for the weekend and you are watching their child for two, maybe three days. While the parents are gone, you decide that the child should have his/her ears pierced. You think they look great and can't wait to show the parents how gorgeous their child looks with these holes in his/her ears.

Now, this is hard for me to imagine myself doing because I wouldn't do something to a child that is not my own, no matter how much I love the child or how much I think I am like family to that child. Altering a child's appearance is a decision that should be left to the parents. Let me rephrase that...Altering a child's appearance is a decision that should be left to the person/people responsible for raising that child.

In child custody laws, there are two kinds: physical custody, and legal custody. Physical custody refers to who the child lives with the majority of the time. Sometimes physical custody is split 50-50 when the parents live close to one another. Other times, physical custody means the child lives with one parents for most of the year, and visits with the other a few times due to distance or other reasons. Legal custody means the child legally still "belongs" (for lack of a better term) to a parent, or both. If while in the presence of one parent the child becomes injured, if the parent has legal custody (though not necessarily physical custody), that parent can make a decision for the child to get the medical help they need. Legal custody allows the parent to make decisions for the child; decisions the child would not necessarily be able to make for themselves.

So, in theory, a parent could have legal custody but not physical custody and still decide whether to pierce a child's ears, get them a tattoo, cut their hair, get rid of their glasses and give them contacts, whatever, all because they still legally have that right.

Something like this happened to a friend close to me. She has full physical custody of their daughter, her ex-husband has visitation a few times a year, and they both still have legal custody over their child. My friend raises her daughter by herself; her ex lives far enough away that he doesn't help. He's supposed to pay child support, but he hasn't in a long time, and my friend is not in a financial position to try to take him to court over it. She makes all the day-to-day decisions for her daughter. She pays for school, lessons, food, clothes, housing, extra fun activities her daughter enjoys, has to make sure her daughter does her homework, completes her chores; all the joys of being a parent. My friend does this all on her own. Yet, this summer, while her daughter was on vacation with her ex and his family, my friend's ex decides to get the daughter's hair cut. Short. Very short. No calls to the mom to make sure it's alright, just up and does it.

Legally, he's within his right. My friend can't sue him for it. But ethically, it's just not fair. What gives him the right to avoid taking any responsibility for his child, yet make an appearance-altering decision for her. I know that hair grows back, but still! That's not something you do for someone who in all other terms is a stranger to you. At least not without consulting the other parent. What's next? Nose piercings and "I Love Dad" tattoo's?

Unfair. At least it seems that way to me. Am I wrong?

My fearless child, friends and I on Tower of Terror at DCA

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