Dear Fellow Parents: Feelings Are Not Facts

Parenting is a challenge unlike any other we will ever face. The task of raising a child (or multiple children) from infancy to productive adulthood — with all its ever-changing complexities and day-to-day nuances — can be daunting. Despite these challenges, we press on. Because we love our kids like crazy — and they are worth it. But disturbing trends in modern society add truckloads of undue pressure to this already stressful task. And this pressure comes most often…from other parents.


Let me start with a fairly ironclad opinion: Most parents love their kids and want the best for them. Now I’ll follow that up with an indisputable fact: Every parent screws up at one time or another (most of us on a regular basis). If you are or ever were a parent, I know you’d agree. So why are modern parents seemingly so giddy to point out the shortfalls in other parents and pile undue shame on them?

It’s for the kids.

I recently came across a Facebook post from a friend of mine asking for tips on how to report a parent who was riding in the car with a one year-old on her lap.  Many people chimed in about calling non-emergency numbers and taking down the license plate number and the car’s make and model.  Now, I admittedly have a knee-jerk aversion to reporting this sort of minor infraction to the police, but I understand that car seats are the law and that this is technically a violation.

I was going to keep my opinions to myself and continue scrolling through the other stories in my feed, until I saw one comment that got me particularly riled up.  Someone suggested that Child Protective Services should be contacted.

Yep, Child Protective Services.  The government agency whose job it is to potentially remove children from their homes when they are in danger from their parents.  Is it really necessary to open up a CPS record on a family for holding their child on their lap in the car?  To me, that’s like using a cruise missile to destroy an anthill.  That’s not something that parents should have to face. So I spoke up:


And the response:


A few key phrases that jump out to me:

“Also, it doesn’t matter the intent.”

Intent doesn’t matter?  Whether or not you’re an honorable, loving parent doesn’t matter?  If someone sees something they don’t like, they get to sic CPS on you?  Just like that?  Why does everyone seem to be okay with this?

“It’s to protect children.”

Ouch.  The fatal blow.  End of story.  Game over.  The trump card of all trump cards has been placed on the table.  The lines of moral high ground have been drawn in the sand, and people like me are on the other side of that line.  This person would call CPS because “protect the children”.  Intent doesn’t matter.  Context doesn’t matter.  Benefit of the doubt doesn’t matter.  If it could be something, then it must be something.  In fact, it is mandatory for this person to report it.

Why are we making parenthood even more challenging by threatening to get the government involved in innocuous situations based on a feeling?  If there is evidence of child abuse, report it to CPS — by all means.  But just because you get “the feels” about something this small doesn’t mean you get to assume that the parents might not be fit to raise their own children.

This “everyone is a suspect” approach to parenting is not good.  It’s not good because every one of us could be reported at one time or another, especially when people get to make an accusation against you without proof or context. We all have stories of something we have done that, without the proper context, could look like a red flag to someone else. Even the mandatory reporter has stories, I guarantee it.  Do we all deserve CPS records?

What do you think?  Should parents be given the benefit of the doubt more often, or should CPS involvement become the new go-to response to anything that could be?

Be understanding.  People have bad days, and a snapshot of someone’s life does not give you a very complete picture of who they are.  Don’t make judgements on snapshots and sound bytes.  Be discerning. Sometimes you will need to speak up, sometimes you will need to push back.  But most of the time you will need to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Don’t let feelings rule you because feelings are not facts.

  • Clare Johnson

    Just stumbled onto your blog and your dead on with this post. Calling CPS is a gross overreaction to the situation described. I applaud you for calling the person out on that, but you can’t win in that situation. The car seat nazis aren’t to be messed with. In fact in our society today you should start fearing that someone will call CPS on you because you are disagreeing with them. Your disagreement must mean you drive down the road with your child on your lap all the time. Which of course it laughable, but is where we are today. Judge first and don’t bother stopping to think about what type of consequences might be in store do that parent and child.

    • Michael Gray

      Thanks for dropping by, Clare! You’re right about the tendency toward overreaction. Seems to happen in all arenas today. You might also like my post about spanking. Oh my. Some pretty strong reactions in that comment section. There are people who cannot (refuse to?) distinguish between a swat on the butt and full-blown child abuse.

      Thanks for reading!