Something Unpopular

Kids come up with the strangest games. When I was really tiny, I remember playing a game called “Truant Officer” with my older brothers. Someone would yell “TRUANT OFFICER” and we would all have to hide.

That’s it. That was the game.

We used to play it a lot on car trips. Somebody would spot a car edging up in the passing lane, decide it was probably a truant officer and sound the alert, and we would all have to hide until the car had safely passed by.

A truant officer, my older brothers explained, was somebody who found little homeschool children like us and made them go to public school. And maybe took them away from their parents. We knew it was just a game. But there was always that little tang of fear to keep the game interesting.

I hadn’t thought about that game in years until the other day I overheard someone joking about Child Protective Services—you know, one of the many, “don’t let CPS know you let your kids do that fun and slightly dangerous activity!” things.

And I thought, hmmm.


What are we really teaching our kids about our government? And for those of us who don’t have kids yet, what attitudes toward government and authority do we have that might need reevaluating?

Don’t get me wrong. My parents never sat me down and said, “Ok, Jane, here’s an important fact of life: be afraid of people in government! The government is out to destroy homeschoolers and Christians and everything you are.”

And yet some amount of that vibe was always present in my family, my church, our social communities.

I’m pretty sure that’s not a value I want to pass along to my kids.

Most importantly because it isn’t true. To be honest, I really haven’t spent a lot of time as an adult thinking about CPS. And I probably wouldn’t know anything about it now—except that one of my best friends went into social work and now works with an agency who comes alongside families with open CPS cases, helping them work their situations out so they can (hopefully) keep their kids. It’s heartbreaking, frustrating, thankless work, and I am constantly baiting her for stories because I find it all intensely impressive and interesting.

I’ve also learned something.

CPS isn’t the bad guy. Most of the time, parents get to keep their kids. Over the last year or so, here’s a random sampling of the parents who didn’t get to keep their kids: the one where the single mom repeatedly failed her many drug tests; the one where the kid went to the ER 3 times (in about a month) for broken bones with sketchy stories; the one where the parents got in repeated knife fights in front of their toddler.

Of course, we all have our favorite CPS horror story too, the one where the innocent parents are put in prison while the terrified child is shipped off to foster care. Unfortunately, that’s happened before too (although in the above stories, all of the kids went to grandparents or other relatives). CPS is run by humans, and humans make mistakes—sometimes with terrible consequences. But my point is this: can you really say you know the full story if the only story you know is that one doozy?

Trust me, I get that CPS or the government or whatever agency you don’t like has problems. The world isn’t black or white, and sometimes parents are in a hurry and don’t have time for a full treatise on the gray nature of human endeavors when your kid asks what foster care is or who Mickey Mouse is or why you have whatever TV rules you have in your house.

I get it. I do.

But for every ten times you say “Mickey Mouse is a fun cartoon character” (or “Mickey Mouse is the god of American consumerism,” or whatever you typically say), do you ever back the truck up to explain that there are two sides to most coins?

And when you reference CPS in front of your kids, do they understand that CPS exists to help keep them safe? We all make snide comments about the government’s latest bungles, but do you ever make a point of telling your kids about the laws designed to protect their rights and safety?

It’s not about raising kids to blindly fear or blindly follow. Neither extreme is healthy. Probably most of the time we don’t mean to be teaching our kids anything in particular—we’re just expressing anxiety or fear or anger at some perceived threat to our parenting philosophy or faith practices or whatever.

I guess I’m just saying sometimes you don’t know what you learned until you’re nearly thirty, reflecting on a weird game you played as a kid and realizing you picked up a lot of odd ideas about government and authority and people in uniforms that probably hasn’t been hugely helpful.

And deciding you don’t want to pass it on to the next generation.


6 thoughts on “Something Unpopular

  1. I think the issue here is that CPS is not some big monolithic entity. It is made up of real, individual people. And some of those people love children with their whole hearts, and work tirelessly to serve and protect children and to advocate for their families. And some of those people are thugs who don’t care. And then you have everything in between. That’s how you get both hero stories and horror stories. It’s like this with every group of people: CPS case workers, and police officers, public school teachers, doctors, farmers, post office workers, and dentists. I hope I can help my children learn to relate to people as individuals and not make assumptions based on the categories that everyone finds themselves in.

    • For sure. That would be ideal. I think the problem is that some amount of categoriness is just impossible to avoid, especially with little people. Awareness is a good thing.

  2. I, for one, always had a deep-seated respect for police officers and felt good when I saw them, thinking they would “keep me safe.” I never really saw a “truant officer.” Do they actually exist? I’ve sat in the court room to support an Hispanic couple who had their child taken away after an accident on a occasion when I was convinced the couple was totally innocent and misunderstood because of their racial background. It broke my heart and shook up my faith in CPS, but I also love your young friend and think the world of her, so—like both you and Andrea—I know there are champions, and well-meaning workers who make mistakes, and angry, ugly people who can’t see straight to make wise decisions and misuse power. It seems like the best we can do is to teach our children to respect authority, and then teach them to live with integrity and godlliness whether or not they are mistreated (yes, even by authorities) for doing so. And, if they know Christ, to teach them about forgiveness…how to forgive even those who hurt us. It’s a challenge!! I still get offended and angry, but I think only the Holy Spirit can teach us when to fight and when to pray.

  3. Wow. Jumping up and down on my tender, bruised buttons with this one. But, you’re right. I mostly don’t say much at this point. But I want to get to the point where I can smile and explain the job of a police officer or a social worker positively. I am just shooting for a neutral description and no spontaneous sobbing at this point. I don’t want to hold grudges or pass a warped perspective to my kids because of one bizarre experience I had or one nutty but true story that happened to a friend of mine…life is bizarre but there are so two sides to the coin. Keep telling me.

    • Aw, Carlie, no jumping on bruised bits intended. I think anybody who knows your situation knows you’re living proof that crappy things can happen to good parents. Your kids will be set for life if they learn to see people as openly and hopefully as you generally do.

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