It’s time for parents to say “no”! And for the state to back off!
Parents get to say “no” a lot. Usually they’re telling their kids they can’t have this, or to stop doing that. They can do it because of the years of experience, the sleepless nights calming their kids to sleep, the long hours worked to provide, the time and personal ambitions sacrificed to put their kids needs before their own, and the labour of birth (your moral authority). They can do it because “their house their rules”, and because ultimately parents are legally responsible for their children (your formal authority). Among all that the parent has the confidence to behave reasonably, but firmly, to know what is in the child’s best interests – not only out of logic and intellect, but out of love.
Where parents are less vociferous, or speak with less authority, is where they find themselves challenged by the machinery of the state. When the state challenges parent’s moral and formal authority, many parents are not so confident of their status, or their ‘rightness’. This lack of confidence is something the state makes no hesitation about exploiting to undermine both the moral and formal authority of the parent, but also family autonomy and independence from the state.
It’s Like An Abusive Relationship With The Government
Because most parents are reasonable people, they tend to approach the world, and other people, with the expectation that those others will be reasonable in return. It takes a while – sometimes a confusing while – for some to finally accept that the other party is not being reasonable, and has no intention of ever being reasonable.
Like victims in an abusive relationship, in which nice people keep trying to see the good in others even when what the other is doing is plainly not good, parents keep hoping the behaviour of the state, of the school system, will change and become reasonable. “If I could just explain how I felt more clearly,” they think, “then they would understand and agree with my point of view”.
Also like victims in an abusive relationship, if they think the state system is going to change how it operates in the face of such unassuming reasonableness, they are going to keep getting abused by a partner who has a completely self-centred agenda.
Eroding Family Autonomy
Recent months have seen family after family be awarded fines, or taken to court, over the parental decision to take their family on a holiday during term time. We are not talking repeat truants here. Nor are we talking feckless and neglectful parents who don’t care whether their kids get an education or not. We are talking about ordinary, reasonable, parents like you or me.
Without any mandate from the voter, and without any real evidence to support it, our government decided that parents should no longer be allowed to make certain decisions for their families. Like a controlling abusive partner in a relationship, refusing to engage in any meaningful or reasonable way, the government unilaterally imposed an expectation on schools that had the effect of manipulating school leaders into doing the government’s dirty work – to challenge and undermine parental authority and family autonomy.
Under the guise of ‘improving standards’, but without a shred of evidence to back it up, the state implies poor parenting of those who dare to act as families always have – which is to make decisions about their children’s upbringing without asking the state or school for permission or approval.
In reality it’s not even as if these parental decisions lead to abuse or neglect, in fact the exact opposite is true for so many cases in which parents have been fined or taken to court. How can a perfectly reasonable decision for an autonomous family to take – to embark on a thrilling, stimulating, learning experience like a trip abroad, or to meet extended family they have never seen from another country or culture, or to bond as a family, be wrong and not in the child’s best interests. We are not talking FGM here – we are talking family reunions, family time, and cultural experiences.
That the government dares to reach into our family life in this way is an outrage. We ought to be making far more noise than we are. I think, like someone in an abusive relationship we’re either gobsmacked or just getting used to how things are. Stockholm syndrome is setting in. But of course this is the slight-of-hand, the misdirection of the abusive partner’s modus operandi. Over and over again the abuser blames the victim who then questions themselves first. We ask “Is it something I am doing wrong?” Eventually we blame ourselves for the abuse, or we blame others for bringing it on themselves – they must deserve it.
Typical of such abusive relationships while we are blaming ourselves or other victims we of course are failing to recognise the abuser – in this case government interference in family life.
What Can We Do?
By picking on families one at a time eventually they will wear us down. We have to get back to first principles. We have to remember that the family, not the state, is the fundamental unit of society. We have to claim back family autonomy. We have to feel, behave and respond with the same outrage as though every single family dragged to court was ourselves being dragged to court, because an attack on their freedom is an attack on your freedom.
We need to become more vocal and visible. This move by the government is only one infringement of our rights. If the state gets away with this attack on family autonomy the next steps will be more insidious, like assigning each child a social worker from birth (Scotland style) because the state does not trust you to be a good parent, or having children monitor parents politically incorrect views (Michelle Obama style).
This is not about holidays, this is about state infringement of private family life. This is a test of how abject and subjugated we are willing to be. A test of how little we value family autonomy from state interference.
We must not let it pass, just as a victim starting out in an abusive relationship cannot let the first ‘playful’ slap pass. It will lead to other abuses and more government interference.
We must get up and actually reach the point where we are beyond acting as though what the government is imposing is in any sense reasonable. It is not. Just because we are reasonable people, we can no longer assume the government is also reasonable. The government is not reasonable.
When it all boils down it is nothing to do with staggering holidays around the year, it is nothing to do with spending quality time, or even expanding our child’s experiences – these are all our attempts at treating the government as though it will behave reasonably. It will not. So we need to get to the core of the principle that is at stake. At the core of this whole debate is one simple principle – autonomy of the family. That means parents decide what is good for their children within reasonable limits, NOT the state. We pay our taxes, it is high time we remembered that THEY work for US. Not the other way around.
Parents Have A Say – It’s Easy To Be Heard
Talking in online forums and sharing the news articles are important steps to keeping what the government is doing in memory and in the light, but on their own it won’t be enough.
I worry we substitute that more effective ‘say’ with blowing off steam online and then taking no real action of consequence.
As parents we are reasonable people. We’re not going to behave in wild and inappropriate ways that damage our cause and our reputations – such actions only serve to strengthen the government’s hand. So, I propose a letter writing campaign, Amnesty International style, to Nicky Morgan and all of our MPs on behalf of every family taken to court so far.
- Find out who your MP is.
- Write them a letter or send them an email
- Send a copy to Justine Greening MP too
If you’re not sure what to write copy and paste bits from this article if you want, but whatever you do, DO write to them.
The government’s overreach into our family lives is outrageous, but if we tolerate it, will only be one of many further infringements.
It’s time for parents to say “no”!