"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!" - King Lear, act 1, scene 4
At first I thought I'd accidentally clicked on a link to The Onion, that snarkily clever satire website that so elegantly skewers the news of the day. After all, the headline read, "'Bad mothering' lawsuit dismissed; adult children sued mom over birthday cards and college care packages." But, no, after double checking I realized I was reading the Chicago Tribune.
In 2009, Steven A. Miner II and Kathryn Miner, now 23 and 20, filed a lawsuit against their mother, Kimberly Garrity.
Garrity had divorced her children's father when the kids were ages 7 and 4. The father, a lawyer, was awarded full custody of the boy. Both parents shared custody of their daughter. The children's primary residence during their growing up years was their father's $1.5 million mansion. It's significant to note that he was one of three lawyers representing the siblings in their lawsuit against their mother.
So what did they allege in this costly litigation that eventually stacked up into a foot-high file? Oh dear me, where do I start?
Well, let's see. In 1995, when the son was 7, she threatened to call the police if he didn't buckle his seat belt.
She once failed to take her daughter to a car show.
She balked at buying pricey formal wear for the daughter's homecoming dance and then, horror of horrors, called her daughter at midnight on the night of the dance to tell her it was time to come home. Oh my goodness, I can certainly see why those kids were suing for in excess of $50,000 for "emotional distress."
The son was traumatized after receiving a birthday card that didn't contain either cash or a check. She also neglected to send him care packages while he was in college.
The list of equally minor annoyances goes on and on.
I'm completely unfamiliar with the Illinois justice system, but I'm horrified to read that this frivolous case dragged on for two years. Where's Judge Judy when we need her?
Finally, an Illinois appeals court dismissed it last month, finding that none of the mother's conduct was "extreme or outrageous." To rule in favor of her children, the court found, "could potentially open the floodgates to subject family child rearing to ... excessive judicial scrutiny and interference."
Unfortunately, the court did not assess financial sanctions against the children for filing this ridiculous suit. They did not censure the attorney father for facilitating the litigation. The poor mom has to pay her own legal fees in defending herself against these absurd accusations. If their ultimate goal was to ruin her financially, they've probably succeeded.
It would be easy to spend a couple of thousand words railing against these spiteful, spoiled children of privilege. They've certainly sealed their fates. Odds are, for the rest of their lives, they'll have to deal with conversations that begin, "Hey, aren't you the ones who ..."
If anyone's looking for a psychology research paper topic, there's one here for you. How did these two young people become so horribly damaged? What happened?
This didn't come from missing car shows or early curfews. I suspect it's the result of years of bickering and backbiting between the parents.
I see examples of it all the time. There's the newly divorced mom bitterly expounding on her ex's faults and misdeeds, usually within earshot of the kids.
There's the single father griping about what he considers extravagant child support obligations while holding a child by the hand.
These little sponges are soaking it all up and then what? All that hatred, anger and betrayal festers, shading the child's view of both parents and, ultimately, themselves.
My advice to single parents is simple. Just shut up. This isn't stuff your children need to hear. I don't care if it is true. It the long run, no good will come of it and it just makes you look petty and vindictive. Take the high road; there's far less traffic.
I wonder if there's any hope for a reconciliation between the Miner kids and their mom. Garrity's attorney wrote that "she does still love" her children but found that they wanted "the benefits afforded by a family relationship, but none of the restraints."
It doesn't sound promising. But then, maybe Honoré de Balzac was onto something when he wrote, "The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness."
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.