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Susan Estrich
5 Feb 2016
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Parents Behaving Badly


As it turns out, it was no secret that Richard and Mayumi Heene were very bad parents. Their associates knew it. Television producers witnessed it. Their willingness to put their children in danger to get attention was nothing new. They chased storms with their children. They used them to become "stars" of reality television. They taught them an ugly and offensive rap song about not being "pussies," which they posted on YouTube.

In the wake of their horrifying hoax, all kinds of stories are coming out about these bad parents. Former associates describe the father in the worst possible terms. They made it onto ³Wife Swap² — twice, no less, back by popular demand the second time — precisely because they provided such a striking contrast to the other family, with its stable and normal parents who would not teach their children to swear, or tolerate it if they did, who wouldn't film them defecating by the side of the road or covered in feces, as the Heenes did, who didn't go looking for danger with three young children along.

It's easy to blame the media for giving too much attention to their hoax. But what else could they do? A balloon flying thousands of feet above the ground with a 6-year-old boy inside, traveling 50 miles before it landed, is one of those stories that will always capture attention. Law enforcement has to take such a report seriously. So, frankly, do the media. Long before the days of 24-hour cable news, we were riveted by similar tales — the girl in the well is the one I remember best.

Like everyone else, I held my breath waiting for that balloon to land. But I also thought, even then, who leaves a balloon in the backyard with a 6-year-old playing unsupervised? What were these people doing? Turns out, they were trying to get a reality show and using their kids to do it.

So wrong.

The problem with procreation is that you don't need a license to do it. You don't need to pass any character test, prove your fitness, establish your maturity. If the Heenes had applied to adopt a child, they'd have been bounced in a New York minute. No agency in the country would entrust someone else's baby to these people. But no one could stop them from having their own.

The law has long struggled with the question of when to take children from their biological parents. A whole body of law has developed protecting parental rights against state intervention and establishing high standards for children to be removed from their parents' home, particularly if such removal is permanent.

No one who knows anything about the foster care system would pretend for one minute that it is a panacea. There are good foster parents and good foster homes, but there are almost certainly just as many bad ones. Kids who are taken from their parents often spend the rest of their lives missing them. A former student of mine, Andrew Bridge, wrote a haunting memoir last year about his life in foster care, always longing for his mentally ill mother to take him back. Hope was her name; ³Hope's Boy² was the name of his book.

Still. There have to be limits, and those limits have to be enforced. Reality television blurs the line between children and child actors, between pretend parents and real ones. Bad parenting is not entertainment. It's abuse, even if it gets ratings.

Richard Heene is likely to be charged for his role in the hoax, which is a crime against the people of Colorado. I have not yet heard of anyone who needed the help of law enforcement while they were busy chasing an empty balloon, but that is always the danger with false alarms.

But his greater crime, and his wife's, was the one they committed against their own children. They should be punished, and their children protected

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



2 Comments | Post Comment
These kids were raised with fun and excitement in there lives. There is nothing wrong with instilling in children as sense of excitement, individualism and self worth.
Airing a rap that is probably a fake, and may even have been made by a member, is a lame excuse
to judge.
The key is to follow one rule "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You".
Fear of life, the loathing and judgment of others has no place in TRUE Christian life.
You should leave ALL judgment to the real creator not the ones on this page.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Sandi
Wed Oct 21, 2009 6:43 AM
Take their kids away? For this? That is a worrisome desire. You know, if I could make a blanket statement about liberals -- they never seem to worry about putting the government in this awful position. They never worry about power abuses, and they never worry about how the kids will deal with it (evidently despite a close friends memiors). Putting some bureaucrat between parents and children is a terrible, terrible thing. Yes, sometimes we must give the government powers. But, we should err on the side of less intrusion, not more.
Comment: #2
Posted by: scott365
Wed Oct 21, 2009 8:42 AM
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