National Post

Saturday, January 11, 2003

It takes two to make kids go right

Christie Blatchford
National Post Saturday, January 11, 2003

It is no bloody accident that so much of my level-headed mail these days hails from Alberta.

There is something about that province -- I think it is a function of being closer to nature, or perhaps that in January, the sun occasionally still shines, but it may be nothing more than the place being packed with folks who have escaped either British Columbia or central Canada and who made pacts with God that if He only helped them out of those joints, they would thereafter speak the truth -- that just breeds kick-ass common sense.

Turns out, even the judges out there are filled with smarts and the ability to voice them plainly: Someone had better put an end to this nonsense, or Lord knows how it may spread.

I refer, of course, to Provincial Court Judge Al Chrumka, who last week made headlines -- sadly even on his home turf, proof that even this bastion of common sense is not immune to the doctrine of thou-shalt-not-cast-aspersions-on-another's-lifestyle -- for remarks he made while sentencing a 25-year-old single mother for leaving her two infant sons in a car on a hot day such that the local constabulary had to smash a window to rescue them.

She had been charged under Alberta's Child Welfare Act with causing a child to need protective services, and after she apologized for having left the boys in the car, she went on to whinge: "Nobody gives you a manual and says this is what you're going to do with your kids."

She was followed, apparently, by the kids' father, who proceeded to list some beefs of his own about the batty woman with whom he shares custody, and Judge Chrumka lost his patience (though never his mind), and said that parents have a responsibility to children that may mean if "we have to suffer as parents because we don't like each other any more, then we still have to stay together for the benefit of the children."

Predictably, he was promptly denounced as a lunatic moralist (though interestingly, not apparently by the mother's lawyer, who clearly must be Alberta-born or influenced) by advocates for women and women's shelters and praised as a saint by what is irritatingly now called the "pro-family" lobby, whose views were duly presented in local and national news reports in the interests of allegedly balanced reporting.

It seems to me that Judge Chrumka is just a reasonably astute fellow who saw before him two bickering, profoundly self-absorbed adults obsessed with the state of their own bums to the detriment of their children and said so, and that he neither delivered a lecture nor shat on divorced parents everywhere, but said what is self-evident to anyone with half a wit, which excludes, say, at the very least, the boys' mother, New Democratic Party leadership hopeful Bill Blaikie (who would surely say of Judge Chrumka, and probably has by now at some NDP meeting nobody covered, that he spends every waking minute planning to torture the divorced), every federal Liberal Cabinet minister, David Ahenakew (those damn Jews are at it again! Somehow! He knows! He was in Germany once!) and the Toronto Star editorial board (surely marital profiling at work).

Lord thundering Jesus, this is not rocket science. I don't give a hoot how many wise, sociological studies claim to prove the contrary, children do best with two parents. They also do just fine when divorcing parents behave like adults and put the best interests of their children if not first, you know, in the top 10 somewhere.

But family courts across the land are filled with the raw evidence that there are a great many squabbling couples who, like the mother in this case, feel aggrieved when they are reminded of their obligations to their kids and actually do need a manual to tell them that it's not wise to bake the young 'uns in the car at 450 for 30 minutes from time to time. And the criminal courts are simultaneously offering their own sad proof that there are grave consequences for children in the modern family, where the kiddies have to keep straight a plethora of informal sleeping arrangements and off whose tongues roll such delightful phrases as "my mother's babyfather" and "my stepmother's ex" and "my father's girlfriend's step-grandfather." I see the wretched products of this stew in the course of my job every day: They're most often the ones in the prisoner's box.

Of course, not all couples should stay together for the sake of their children. Of course, people should not remain in hideous or abusive relationships. But not every divorcing couple lived in such torment: A goodly number just found a newer model of spouse, couldn't keep the old fly zipped or the legs crossed, grew bored or worse in the modern lexicon, outgrew the other.

My late parents were probably a decent example of the old school. I never found the courage to directly ask either one of them about it, but my sneaking suspicion is that at least at some points, my mother's alcoholism was such that my father must surely have wanted to leave. That he didn't, I'm as sure as I can be, was because of me: I was the only child still living at home, my much older brother having already struck out on his own, and in those days, custody invariably went to the mother, which would have meant I would have been left in her uneven care.

And in the end, it was better for me, certainly also for my mother, and I'd venture to say even for my father, who did love her, and me, and who had the satisfaction of knowing that he had put the best interests of his family ahead of his own, as indeed he pretty much always did, which is one of the reasons we all loved him so dearly.

Christie Blatchford can be contacted at cblatchford@nationalpost.com

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