Daniel Hauser and the Limits of Private Parenting

Carla: Here in God’s Country, the story of Daniel Hauser has been leading the news for several weeks. If you have the misfortune of living somewhere other than Minnesota, you might still recognize that name as that of the 13-year-old boy with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that doctor’s say is 90 percent treatable with chemo and radiation treatments. Daniel and his mother have refused this treatment for what she is calling religious reasons. You can read more about the case, well, everywhere.

This sad story points to a deeper question, one that I think resonates with what we’re about here at the Mommy Revolution. To me, the case of Daniel Hauser begs the question of just how private parenting ought to be.

Caryn and I have talked a lot about how we want every mom to feel the freedom to parent in a way that makes sense to her, to be the kind of mom God made her to be rather than forcing herself to fit into some prescribed mold of motherhood. But the Hauser case represents what happens when we assume that freedom means no one gets to have any input into our lives.

I know that for you, Caryn, this story pushes your libertarian buttons and gets you nervous about government interference in family life. But to me, this is a case of child abuse and someone needs to step in. Daniel Hauser has a tumor in his chest that will suffocate him in a matter of weeks. His mother is willing to take a chance that her son will die a horrific death. I don’t think that’s a choice she gets to make, especially when her husband, her friends, even the guru of the type of natural healing she follows, are begging her to reconsider her decision.

(Side note: To me, it’s one thing for a family to decide that they want to forgo treatment for a child when they have tried and tried and it isn’t working, when the chances of recovery are almost non-existent, when the pain and suffering of the treatment will be far worse than the death that is imminent. There is a time to let go. But this boy is not in that place.)

I am a big believer in community, in the power of relationships to sustain us and heal us and help us be the people we were created to be. And I believe that community is essential to a healthy family life and a healthy personal life–the responses our posts on friendship speak to the deep need we have to feel connected. And yet when it comes to parenting, the cultural assumption is that it is an individual pursuit, that we can and should close the circle and do it alone.

I had a friend ask me once if I believed in that “whole ‘It takes a village’ crap.” Well, yeah! While I believe we have some say in who is in our village, I don’t think we get to pick and choose how we access that village. When the village speaks in a loud, unified voice, we need to listen. We might disagree, we might still choose to go another way, but we have to listen to those we trust and be willing to change our course. If I am doing something that all of my friends believe is harmful to my children, I pray they will tell me. And I pray I will hear them and have the strength to make a change.

Because raising children is not something we do for ourselves. We raise children to be part of the world, to be active, involved participants in the lives of other people. Daniel Hauser doesn’t belong to his mother. He belongs to a family, to a community, to God.

Caryn: So you have to end with the belonging to God, stuff… You are right, though, on many points here. I do believe that since God gave us our children we have the duty to protect them and nourish them and provide for them and love them and “heal” them where possible.

And I agree that this mom’s choice is nuts—and wrong. Totally. She is making the wrong choice. And will potentially allow her child to die a horrific death.

I’m actually okay with the state stepping in to protect this child. I guess I started getting nervous when they started talking about removing Daniel from his home. This is especially wrong if—as you say—the dad if pro-treatment. No sense taking a child away from his family (even if they are a bit off) during this horrible time.

That’s the line that starts worrying me about government intrustion because honestly, where will it end? Couldn’t someone argue that I’m molesting my 2-year-old because I still nurse him (like the weird psuedo-hippie mama I am)? I mean, what if I can’t wean him until his three (will you all PLEASE pray for him that this boy stops!!!)?

And I do worry about the rights of those who choose alternative meds—which is weird because I’m very PRO Western medicine. I get my kids flu shots. But I feel uneasy, say, about that HPV vaccine. What if refuse to do it—and my daughter contracts HPV at 15 and develops cervical cancer at 16? Will she be taken from me? Was that abuse?

I realize I may be going too far down the “slippery slope” thing here, but I get worried. Because sometimes the village is all wrong and only one person is right. Villages like Noahville and Ninevah come to mind.

I don’t know. I feel all wishy washy about this. But something just feels wrong.

Carla: The slippery slope is always a danger, in everything. But I’m not sure it’s helpful to limit or permit something because of what it might lead to. To me, we always run into problems when we try to put blanket policies or ideology around unique circumstances. That’s why law books are enormous and always changing–the law isn’t a blanket declaration that stands firm in all times and all places and in all circumstances. There are exceptions, nuances, situational adjustments.

And yes, the village can be wrong, but in general, group think tends to lead to better decisions–read this for more on that–than individual decision-making. Your nursing example is a good one. You made that decision based on what works for you, but you’ve also read about extended nursing, asked other moms about it, weighed the pros and cons. In other words, you’ve used the village to help you with your decision–not just to keep nursing but to nurse in the first place. Even if you were simply basing your decision on your own intuition, you’d be doing so because the village affirmed the rightness of you doing so.

Okay, this has turned into a philosophical discussion. So what do you think friends? What are the limits of private parenting? When do we step into each other’s lives? When do we dig in and push back at the village?

Update from Carla: I talked about this post on my friend Doug Pagitt’s radio show this morning. You can watch/listen here.

Update #2: This just in–Daniel will begin chemo.

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