Sunday, February 28, 2010

When Do I Care?

I was watching Dr. Phil the other day... not the greatest programming but since we don't have cable or satellite I gotta go with what's on... and the guest was a surrogate mom who had taken back the twins she delivered for an adoptive couple. There were reasons why this situation was even able to happen at all... none of the adults involved were genetically linked to the babies, birth certificate legality, absence of surrogacy laws in their state, and so on. However, the reason the surrogate took back the infant twins (she gave the twins to the adoptive couple but then did not relinquish her parental rights in the court appearance) was because the adoptive mom had mental health issues that she did not disclose before the surrogacy was arranged. Once the surrogate found out, and that the mental health issues were not being managed by the adoptive mom, she felt it would be both unsafe and irresponsible to leave those children in the care of this woman. Even though she is not the physical mother of these children (donated egg and sperm), she saw herself as the advocate for these children who had no voice.


Of course, people spoke up on both sides of the argument. Dr. Phil was clearly on the side of the adoptive mother, speaking up in defense of people with all types of mental illness. He kept saying that there was no way for her (the surrogate) to know that the adoptive mother would mistreat the children or put them in any danger, and it wasn't her place to decide.

I am NOT going to weigh in on this situation, or even on surrogacy in general, because that's not the thing that kept me watching this particular Dr. Phil show. The argument I took issue with was "It's not your place". I totally disagree, and this is why: if those children had been later abused or mistreated or neglected, everyone would be scratching their heads and saying, "Didn't anyone know this could have happened? Why didn't someone do something earlier?"

I watch the news and constantly hear stories about people who act suspiciously, only found out to be a murderer or rapist or some other level of crazy AFTER they've been arrested. The neighbors always say, "Something wasn't right about him."

On some level, I think we'd all like to say that we would step in to a situation if we felt someone, especially a child, were in danger. But really? Would you? Would I? Would I put my reputation at risk by making an accusation based on nothing other than a hunch? Would I risk legal action to protect a child? What is my limit? Is it embarassment, or physical pain, or financial ruin, or slander?


Yesterday I saw some kids playing INSIDE a recycling bin (one of those big ones, one that's a dumpster) and I told them, hey you probably shouldn't be in there. you could get hurt. Then I drove away. I didn't tell the clerk inside the library, I didn't ask them where their parents were. I didn't get their names. I just kinda waved them off. I hope they didn't hurt themselves. It's not that I was unconcerned about them, but I had my kids with me, and I had to get home to babysit my neighbor's daughter, and these kids were old enough to get out by themselves, and there weren't any weirdos lurking in the visible area, and...

And, these are exactly the type of excuses that people give to avoid getting involved. Myself included. I'm not saying YOU would avoid doing the right thing, but I'm saying SOME people would. And, I'm saying that there are times I do it, which is just plain sad because I'm a mother, and a teacher, and my husband is a pastor. So, clearly, we like to look out for people and especially children. But our lives are busy and so are yours and so is everyone else's. And I think it's shameful that this has become my excuse to become complacent about knowing the people around me and what's going on with them. There is a lot of truth to the whole, "It takes a village to raise a child" theory. We can get to know the people in our lives (our neighborhood, our kids' schools, sports teams, scouts) without engaging in gossip about their business. We don't have to be our neighbor's best friend to know whether or not our children will be safe playing outside their house. And I think - sometimes - we need to quit acting like people are crossing the imaginary line in the sand about our privacy, simply because they want to get to know us better for their own safety's sake. After all, if we have nothing dangerous to hide, what is the big deal???

So, how 'bout you? Have you ever gotten involved in a situation in order to protect someone? Did you stay out of something, only to regret it later? Has your intervention made a difference? At what point do you make the decision to get involved or stay out of it?

10 comments:

Emily said...

I'm going to keep my mouth shut b/c I am wayyyy too opinionated ;) except to say I am with you on getting involved. And I think the reason people usually opt to not get involved is (what I view as a totally lame excuse) "I don't want to offend anyone..."

Anna See said...

Great post!! I have done both. Sometimes I don't want to offend, or I'm too lazy or both. Not good excuses!

GunDiva said...

I broke up a domestic dispute in a parking lot once, which I felt good about. 'Cause, really? You're going to beat your girlfriend in my presence? I don't think so.

It came back to bite me in the butt. Immediately after the police got there, the girlfriend changed her tune - never mind that she had been screaming for help and that I'd seen him punch her more than once - she *loved* him and couldn't stand to see him go to jail.

Grrr...

laura said...

Great post! There are so many sides to situations like the one you saw. What if the parents only saw you "reprimanding" the kids and then got aggressive with YOU? People react strangely to all kinds of things.
You also have to quickly think.. if I get involved now is it going to make it worse for them later? Punishment from parents, etc. There is hardly ever a right answer..

Jennifer said...

I did. My niece. I advocated for her. A protective order was issued. She eventually ended up living with us for a year. We were unable to get custody of her unfortunately. The outcome is that we don't see her as much as we used too, but I still think it was worth of it. Every bit of it. It is a part of me that I have to block off a little bit, but it was still worth it. Sometimes the hard thing is the right thing.

The Blonde Duck said...

Popped in from SITS to say hi!

The Professional Family Manager said...

I've stepped in a few times...each time was a life-threatening situation, though, so it made the decision easy--there wasn't any question about whether or not it was my business. Fortunately, though, the situation hasn't come up for me that frequently. Maybe it's because I don't get out all that much. :-)

Bridgett said...

Every year I taught school I called DFS at least once. Most of them went nowhere (or I was way way way late jumping on the bandwagon of that wreck of a family). But one year, I went a lot further. A lot. I almost lost my job and probably could have been sued if the parents had any sort of clue. It was a defining moment in my life.

But there have been other moments, usually involving strangers, where I don't say a word. Or, if it involves a mom going crazy all over her kids, I try diversionary tactics. I fear large men who might take it out on me or their kids, but another mom who might just be at the end of her rope that day? I can be chatty for a moment and try to diffuse.

On yet another hand, there's this family across the street...sigh. I've called the police anonymously.

Leiah said...

I tend to not keep my mouth shut when I probably should but will refrain from shouting from the soapbox this morning. I think we all want to think we would jump in and do what our moral compass tells us is the right thing to do but sadly in today's quick-to-sue society I believe it causes us to consider whether or not we want to risk it. Ok, so maybe there was a little soapbox involved.

Cybil said...

Stopping over from SITS - really like your blog! I remember one time seeing a little boy (about 3 yrs old) at the mall, and he was clearly without an adult. We watched him for some time to see if his parents came for him. My daughter, who was 5 at the time was with me. I was so worried that someone would snatch that little boy - we took him to one of the stores to get the security personnel involved. Then my daughter and I talked for a long time about what to do if she is ever separated from me when we are out shopping.