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Protecting Our Kids from Us

Did police and Child Protective Services overstep their boundaries by sending a SWAT team to snatch a 13-year-old girl from a Detroit mother after she refused to give her daughter an anti-psychotic drug?

Where were those same police and child protectors when a suicidal young mother drove her minivan and three children into the Hudson River?

Two unfortunate moms who made big news last week unwittingly demonstrated how the government just can't win when it comes to interfering in the rights of parents. Public workers are either portrayed as fascists (as they were in the Detroit debacle) or Missing in Action (as they were in the sad New York drowning case).

Both are extreme examples, but extreme seems to be the way we're raising kids these days. Ever since Sarah "Let Them Eat Cookies" Palin called Pennsylvania a "Nanny State Run Amok" last year for proposing new guidelines that would limit the amount of sweets in classroom parties and reduce the number of holiday and birthday celebrations, we've been on the defense when it comes to signs of government intrusion in our family lives.

There's plenty to be defensive about. First, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors tried to prohibit fast-food restaurants from giving away toys in Happy Meals. Then a Chicago public school banned parents from packing their own kids' lunches, claiming their cafeteria food was more nutritious. Then public schools around the country started banishing chocolate milk from their lunch trays.

But for every story about outsourcing parenting, there's also a tragic tale of people who didn't get their parenting rights taken away quick enough. Shouldn't public officials have intervened in the home life of the two vegans in France whose 11-month-old baby daughter died from vitamin deficiency? And what about Jorge and Carmen Barahona, the two Miami foster parents who now face the death penalty in the murder of their adopted daughter, 10-year-old Nubia? Nobody can argue the government shouldn't have snatched their parental rights away before that little girl was allegedly beaten to death and stuffed in a plastic bag following numerous signs of abuse.

When should "government" step in? And when should it leave us parents the hell alone to raise our kids as we see fit? Seems like every mom should have the right to pack her kid's lunch, right? But what if that mom puts deepf-fried chicken nuggets, fries and soda in that lunch box every day? I personally don't want to share the burden of that kid's health insurance bills when he grows up to be a fat guy with high blood pressure and diabetes.

Do parents know best? Often, but not always.