Have you stopped beating your children?

It’s incredibly offensive to be accused of child abuse after nineteen years as a parent with not one trip to the emergency room.  We’ve been parents now for a total of 82 child years, and we have three broken bones (this makes four) and four stitches.  Total.  We have bikes and trampolines and skateboards and ripstiks and skates and our kids play basketball and do all the stuff kids do.  They almost never get hurt.  We’re not the most careful of parents; we’re just very lucky and/or very blessed, whichever you like.

But the one thing you can’t say about our parenting is that we abuse our children.  We make them work, and do not believe in the Nintendo DS, so THEY think they’re abused, but by no possible adult definition of abuse are we committing any.

Bad news for us, then, when Gabriel’s injury happened to be consistent with having been abused.  The break, as I noted here, is not a typical one for that bone.  The break ran along the bone diagonally, not across, as would be consistent with a blow.  This break is more like what you get when you put torque on it, as in when you grab and twist, rather than strike.  Striking is what you’d expect from normal play.  The femur is a very strong bone.  It supports a lot of weight and is quite hard to fracture.  Gabriel, being 2, has fairly soft bones at this point, but even still this would have to have been something unusually violent to cause the break.

The Primary Children’s Hospital sees as much abuse as any medical facility in the world, I would think, and they are fairly attuned to it.  By “attuned”, I believe I mean, “they see every injury as potentially an abusive situation”.  And on its face, I don’t have any quibble with that.  I’m no more in favor of child abuse than anyone else.  On the other hand, being the father of eight children, and being the oldest of seven, I’ve seen my share of spanking, whacking, tossing, and forcibly restraining done by parents to their children.  I’ve done some.  Like many other things, how you do them is far more important than what you’re doing.

Three different nurses/doctors were involved on our abuse investigation at Primary.  The first one was apparently (I’m translating for my wife, who was the one on site) just asking questions about what happened.  As I previously mentioned, we don’t know.  This is not, perhaps, the most defensible position to be in.  It is perfectly possible to construct a negligence charge, or worse, out of what we know about the injury, because we just don’t know anything.  We weren’t, strictly speaking, there at the time.  I personally was in another city 40 miles away.  Jeanette was one room away, not looking at the incident, which she couldn’t have seen from where she was anyhow.

Note to those that aren’t parents: it is not only impossible to watch your children every second of the day, it is wildly undesirable, for you and for them.  Modern society seems to believe that an adult’s personal hedonistic fulfillment is the purpose of life, and simultaneously that every child has the right to expect constant, round-the-clock vigilance over his well-being.  The only way these two things are compatible is if there are no children at all, or if your aim is Brave New World.  Having had my share of discussions with possibly well-meaning but certainly ignorant non-parents on this subject, I can tell you that I think both of those outcomes are fervently desired by large chunks of the population.

Therefore, being a parent, I am under constant suspicion of wrongdoing.  All parents are.  We are unlicensed childcare providers.  We serve food from uninspected and unlicensed kitchens.  We drive our children around in unsafe vehicles, and again, we have no special training in child transport.  Seriously, think about it.  We are bus drivers with no CDL.  We are restaurateurs with no licensing or education.  We provide day care in overcrowded and unsafe environments that would never pass any state inspection.  If we were constantly watching OTHER people’s children in this manner, we’d be in jail.

It is a good thing that Jeanette was the one that was at Primary instead of me, because by 3 or 4 am “pleasant” was no longer an available emotional state for me.  I’d have been hauled off in handcuffs for challenging the doctor to a duel.  She asked all the usual questions about what happened, then said she’d need to do a full body scan.  She prodded and poked everywhere on Gabriel she could get her fingers, which by this point (by ANY point – Gabriel does not like to be poked) he really appreciated, as you can imagine.  Nobody found anything, because there was nothing to find.  He has a couple of bruises.  That’s about it.  Can I swear that he’s never broken anything before, and we didn’t think it was a big deal?  No.  I can’t.  I seriously doubt it, because we do pay very close attention to our children’s physical health, but I couldn’t swear to it.  Kids get hurt.  I WANT them to get hurt.  It’s part of being a real person.  If they spend all their time playing only games where no physical injury is possible, we kick them out and tell them to go ride bikes or jump on the trampoline.

They were talking about full-body x-rays and turning him over to see his back.  Jeanette flatly refused this.  The child has a broken femur, BREATHING is a chore for him because of the pain he’s in, and you want to turn him over on his back?  Which one of us is the abuser here?  Thankfully, I was in bed 35 miles away.  Jeanette is much more restrained in her response to this sort of thing.

After the first nurse left, Jeanette texted my sister “that nurse has just gone to call DCFS”.  She clearly did not believe a word Jeanette said.  By the time we got the third doctor, a Dr. Campbell, apparently they had pretty much given up the abuse idea.  Dr. Campbell not only contradicted what the first two nurses had said repeatedly, which was that this injury was very rare, but herself constructed a plausible way for it to have happened.  Maybe the staff is trained in investigative technique, so that they send in a stream of people to ask identical questions, hoping for contradictory responses.  Maybe they intentionally disbelieve everything you tell them, hoping for a giveaway reaction.  If so, they’re very good.

A word to the wise, then, for you parents in similar circumstances.  You are going to be suspected.  You are the enemy.  The child is of paramount importance (this is self-evidently stupid, but it’s the default position for our society), and you are only a caretaker that can be removed at whim.  Do not treat this lightly.  The system can and will take your children from you with little provocation.  When you go to the hospital, and you will, at some point, have to go, understand that you’re going to have to go in armored and vigilant.  Tell the truth, but volunteer no speculation.  Insist on being treated fairly and with respect (except for this one part of the experience, I doubt you’ll have any trouble with that).  If a particular investigative line threatens the health of your child, as when the nurse wanted to roll Gabriel over to look at his back, refuse politely and don’t back down.

If you are an abuser, God help you.  You’re going to get caught.  Get help before that happens.

For us, we passed through the gauntlet and survived.  This time.

12 Responses to “Have you stopped beating your children?”

  • I knew before you made it to the hospital that you’d be asked those questions and when you’re lovely wife texted me I told her that they were not calling DCFS but that they had to ask those questions. And the fact of the matter is that they do.

    You weren’t beating your kids and they concluded as much, but I’ve seen kids who were and I’m here to tell you that I’d a lot rather that they asked, even if that means asking you who I know are not beating your kids or even that they asked me if/when I have to bring my kids in, than that they don’t because the next time I see a 9 month old with cigarette burns I’m going to start handing out beatings and those parents are first on my list.

    • chrisjones says:

      I expected them as well. I’m not even proposing that they not ask them, if you read the post carefully. I’m capable of being offended even when I’m expecting the offense.

      All I want to do with this post is forewarn and forearm. Parents are going to have to go through this, and they ought to know that this is what they’re going to face. I do think the level of suspicion is a little excessive, but the counter-argument to that is that the offence is so severe that a high level of suspicion is warranted. It’s tough to refute that contention.

  • LJ says:

    Alice has a good point, that it is better to be asked then not asked at all. Thanks for the updates,I will be praying for you and your family.

    • chrisjones says:

      IS it better? The next time I have a child with an injury, I can tell you I’ll think twice about going to the hospital, and not just because of the cost. What if Gabriel breaks his arm in the next six months? That’s two injuries fairly close together. Isn’t that suspicious? Does that level of suspicion make it less likely that children will get the treatment they need, because their parents are afraid the child will be confiscated?

      I’m not saying to not ask the questions. I’m not even saying that the whole “bad cop” routine isn’t necessary or warranted. I just want to make sure we’re thinking about the downsides involved. Because there definitely are some, regardless of what we do.

  • Lisa Bushman says:

    The suspicion, questioning, and (yes) treating us like the assumed enemy really added considerable stress to our ER visit when our 2nd baby had blue spells (which turned out to be from reflux, sleep apnea, and some systemic immaturity). This was a large factor in NOT taking the same child in a few years later when she smacked her cheekbone on a banister, resulting in a large bruise. She seemed fine within minutes, and we didn’t think there was anything they could do for her bruise anyway, so we didn’t make the trip into the ER. Someone saw the bruise later and CPS showed up on our doorstep to interrogate us and our (very young) kids out of our presence. Thankfully they could see that our children were healthy and well-cared for, and we didn’t hear from them again. But it was a VERY stressful situation once again, creating some anxieties in our firstborn that required some follow-up on our part to ameliorate. There must be a better way.

    • chrisjones says:

      Hell on wheels. So sorry to hear about that.

      I read somewhere – cannot remember where – that children who come from abusive households are not generally more psychologically traumatized than children removed from said households. That surprised me, wish I’d saved the article. Maybe Google can find it again.

      I’m seriously of two minds about this. I lack wisdom.

  • Jessie says:

    Chris – I am so very glad that your child is going to recover. When I read your FB post I feared the worst.

    As a nonparent but hopefully reasonable person, I totally get where you are coming from. You cannot watch them every second. And even if you do, they’ll still probably stick something up their nose or swallow something or fall or Lord only knows what. It’s called reality.

    I am glad that care providers are now being trained in recognizing signs of abuse – whether domestic, child, or elder abuse. Because in the privacy of that examining room… the victim may be able to reach out for help. Even though he/she never speaks.

    But I do also know that in this society, there is a growing tendency to put on judgypants, make very big assumptions, and there are people who revel in minding other people’s business. And such people should be firmly put in their place – and disciplined if they’re going overboard. The government’s job is to govern. Not control.

    It saddens me to see our nation’s children sitting around all day; flabby, pale and vacantly playing video games or surfing the net or tv. Yes, perhaps they are spared the skinned knees, bug bites and occasional broken bones. But I don’t think they are better off in the long run – just more entitled, spoiled and lazy. Kids need sunshine, dirt, a bit of work and structure, play, and lots of love.

    There is nothing quite as wonderful as seeing the look on a child’s face when they come inside after a long day of being outside. Even if they are bruised, skinned and covered in bug bites. The tired smile tells me they lived an entire lifetime in that one wonderful day. How extraordinary.

    I am thankful your family was spared from harassment.

  • Catherine says:

    For what it’s worth, I have taken my children to the ER more than once and I have never felt like the staff suspected me of abuse. They asked all the normal questions about how things happened and poked and prodded all over to make sure there wasn’t additional damage, but I never felt like it was in an effort to prove that my child was being abused. Just my experience.

  • Tod Hansmann says:

    OK, let ME be the one to say it, despite it not being a popular opinion. They shouldn’t ask those questions. They should ask reasonable questions. Just a broken bone, REGARDLESS OF HOW THE BREAK IS, is not reason to suspect, or dig deeper. A broken bone, several unrelated bruises, and/or a reaction from the child toward one or both parents, is reason to dig in. Note that I didn’t say accuse, or even take action. Just investigate quietly.

    I’m all for protecting kids. I’m not for over-protecting kids, and I’m not for being stupid about it. I’m not about to trust your average nurse to make judgement calls that Psychologists with PhD’s can get wrong on a regular basis, especially when that judgement carries with it serious action. If that means that Little Johnny has to deal with a dad that spanks him on occasion for the wrong reasons, but otherwise has a fine childhood, I think Johnny has more chance of being a well-adjusted adult than most of us anyway.

  • Jill Peterson says:

    Okay, I am woefully behind on your blog. I sat down to read a while ago and just kept reading – and I’m a pretty quick reader!

    Your passion for your family and your life is evident in all your writings – regardless of the topic. Keep writing – keep putting feeling to “paper” (someday are we going to have to explain “paper” to our kids, too???). It helps those with a more limited vocabulary understand what it is WE are feeling, and get a better feel for you, as well.

    Hope your play rehearsal went well! See you tomorrow!


  • Kendra Stone says:

    Chris, you are right to be concerned. They do not have the right to ask any of those questions.

    Parents beware; DCFS in Utah is particularly guilty of “witch hunting” parents. They don’t need a real reason to barge into your home and your life, or show up at your kid’s school and question them without your consent or presence. It would take hours to tell you all the bogus cases my mom has personally become involved in (trying to get justice for the parents). DCFS has their own set of rules and laws. You are guilty until proven innocent, and sometimes even when you can prove you are innocent, you are still guilty. If the hospital had called them, you would have a “record” and would be assigned a case-worker. They would insist on inspections and assessments. If they don’t particularly like you, they will find reasons to take ALL your children, not just the injured one. A word to the wise for parents; If DCFS shows up at your door, even if they have the cops with them, NEVER LET THEM IN unless they have a warrant. If they tell you they will be coming back with one, take your family and leave.

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