Dateline: New York, New England
By: Jeff Zeth
From: The Honor Network
Priority News Exchange Program News Item (PNEP)
The title of Hillary Clinton’s book “It Takes a Village” is taken from an African folk saying, the point of which is that raising a child is the responsibility of the whole community. While I agree with the sentiment in its widest sense, in New York State, where Senator Clinton now makes her home, the phrase has taken on a new, sinister meaning.
New York’s high court today is scheduled to settle the issue of whether grandparents are entitled to visitation rights.
The New York Sun reports today on the case of a Suffolk County man, a professor at Touro Law School and father of a 13-year-old boy, who is trying to raise his child free of the interference of the boy’s maternal grandmother. She apparently helped in child rearing when the boy was younger, but the relationship between father and grandmother deteriorated sometime after the death of the boy’s mother. Now they’ve got bitter disagreements about basic childrearing and education decisions, Ritalin, and other issues that are ordinarily the province of fit, responsible parents. Keep in mind that no one is challenging the father’s ability to parent his child. He is not charged with being abusive, neglectful, or otherwise being unfit, and custody is not at issue. What is at stake, for this father, is his ability to raise his child according to his values. New York’s family courts, though, have for several years been issuing grandparent visitation orders, and the debate has caused a lot of national controversy, generating six opinions — all of them different — handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court over the past six years.
I have to say right here that I am biased over this issue. My daughter’s maternal grandmother is an overinvolved busybody who, because of living arrangements, sees her more often than I do. I still have a strong memory of her attempts to crowd me away from the bedside during my daughter’s crucial aftercare following surgery. Granted, it was a stressful, heartwrenching time for all of us, but this person’s meddling and intrusiveness reached such a pitch that I had to intervene with hospital staff just to get a little time with my own daughter. I can’t imagine what type of drama could have unfolded if Grandma Nosy had had legal rights in the matter.
New York’s family courts are already telling parents how much they should pay in child support and what enforcement measures will be taken if they don’t pay. They are dictating to parents what type of work they are to engage in, where they can live, how often they can see their own children, and making other decisions normally reserved for parents. They are doing this because mothers are increasingly unable to compromise or to resolve issues on their own in a fair way. Accusing fathers falsely of child abuse or domestic violence puts them on the defensive right away, making them use resources to fight specious allegations instead of helping them move towards an equitable, amicable settlement.
New York State family court judges would do well to read a book by poet and men’s movement pioneer Robert Bly called “The Sibling Society”. In a culture where children are not allowed to be fully children and adults never fully grow up, the distinction between parents, children, and (at this point) grandparents becomes painfully unclear. The society of the half-adult, where everyone is a sibling on equal footing, leads to such absurdities as “sibling rivalry” between an 80-year-old grandmother and a father that can only be resolved by a judge who, in the absence of any other authority, becomes the only parent available. How terribly, terribly sad and destructive for everyone involved — especially the child.
Eliot Spitzer, the state’s new governor, is on the wrong side of this issue. As attorney general he defended the constitutionality of the state law allowing grandparent visitation orders, and as an advocate of more and bigger government, he will likely oppose any efforts at reform. So it’s hard to say how the courts will try to navigate the mess they’ve created, but for now it seems pretty safe to say that the direction of the trend will probably not be towards more parental autonomy. It’s another sign of the deterioration of the state, which, as reported in another New York Sun article late last year, is losing population at an alarming clip.
It may take a village to raise a child, but at this rate the village is going to need its own legal team — and its own village idiot.