Tuesday 31 March 2020

It’s time to make children a priority again

This article first appeared in Malta Today

There is a period of time when parents who are raising young children are caught up in a whirlwind of frenzied activity – when there are not enough hours in a day, and the list of things to do is never-ending. Life is just one perpetual rush of school timetables, obligations and parental duties. The possibility of forgetting things is always there, and all parents have stories of last-minute panic when a costume for the school play was not bought in time, or of taking the kids to school in their uniform instead of their PE kit by mistake. Or even of forgetting who is supposed to collect them from some after-school activity.

When there is a broken home, and the children are being scuttled back and forth between two households, the margin of error increases. It takes a lot of co-operation and determination for the divorced parents to avoid disrupting their children’s lives even further by deciding who is going to do what when, and who is responsible for what. Without that co-operation and an element of goodwill, where the conscious decision is made for the children’s needs to come first, their lives will descend into further chaos.

Of course, genuine mistakes can happen and I can empathise with many scenarios, but only up to a point. Life events over which you have no control, for example, are understandable, but conscious choices, particularly those which affect the lives of others who are under your care, wear out my compassion threshold pretty quickly. Quibbling over whose turn it is to take the kids when one or both parties have plans to go out is one of those instances which leave me cold. What is more important, your social life or your children?

A case in point was the story of the father who left his six-year-old asleep in the car while he went drinking in a bar on Christmas Eve. The child woke up, didn’t see her Dad so got out of the car and started looking for him. And that was how police officers found her, in tears, walking along the road by herself. The Police began a search for the father who was eventually found at a nearby bar (he had not even realised the child had wandered off). Oh, and by the way, this was not in the afternoon but at 4.30am in the morning. There is probably no worse feeling for a child than to think they have been abandoned by their parents and that is the situation this little girl woke up to on Christmas morning.

According to TVM, “Agenzija Appogg has been contacted to establish where the girl is domiciled. It resulted…that the parents are going through a separation, with the father living in Zejtun and the mother in Hamrun.”

Reading through comments about this case, there were those who gave similar examples of parental negligence, and they were not always cases where the parents are separated. Some simply want to go out and socialise, irrespective of their responsibilities. In other comments, some were jumping to the defence of those who are irresponsible, and telling us “not to be judgmental”. Inevitably you will always get those who admonish you to “hear both sides of the story”, or “you don’t know why the person behaved that way” or “maybe they were going through something in their life.”

But, here’s a news flash – we are ALL going through something in our lives, one way or the other. The problem with this all-encompassing, all-forgiving attitude which absolves everything is that, if you twist yourself into a pretzel enough you will soon be making excuses and justifying even the most appalling behaviour.

We are lucky to still live in a country where people do not kidnap children because this episode could have had more serious repercussions. And this father is also lucky that our child protection services are not as harsh as they are in some other countries. In the States, for example, this incident would have probably seen the father being denied further custody. As it turned out, it was reported that after Appogg looked into the case, the girl was given back into his care.

Understandably, this resulted in an incredulous reaction of sheer disbelief by many members of the public, and rightly so. No matter what the personal problems may be between this couple, if one or both of the parents are unable to put their child first, then there need to be some consequences.

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