Family Matters

Should Mothers Be Sued for Bad Parenting?

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When my young daughters get mad and call me “Mean Mommy” for withholding gum or making them clean up their toys, it makes me laugh. But I can’t imagine that Kimberly Garrity is seeing the humor in the lawsuit her adult children filed against her on the grounds that she was a bad mother.

Garrity’s children, Steven Miner II, 23, and Kathryn Miner, 20, originally filed their suit against her two years ago, asking for more than $50,000 for emotional distress suffered during childhood due to Garrity’s alleged parental offenses, infractions such as sending her son a birthday card sans check, not dispatching care packages to him in college and insisting on a midnight curfew for her daughter during her high school’s homecoming.

Last week, an Illinois appeals court tossed out the suit, ruling that it did not consider Garrity’s behavior “extreme or outrageous,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The court mused that a ruling in favor of the children “could potentially open the floodgates to subject family child rearing to … excessive judicial scrutiny and interference.”

But who’s the real victim in this situation? For sure, the mother is to be pitied. The lawsuit was undoubtedly completely humiliating and unjustified. But the children, who grew up in a $1.5 million home in a posh Chicago suburb, should be even more embarrassed.

“I guess the lesson to be learned here is not to spoil your fabulously rich kids rotten, because they’ll just grow up and sue for not spoiling them rotten enough,” blogged Staci Zaretsky on Above the Law. “Kids these days.”

And on the faculty blog of Marquette University Law School, Lisa Mazzie wondered:

Where is it written that a parent must always include money in birthday cards? Or send packages to her child in college? Or deny her child what the child wants but does not need? Many would say what Garrity did was responsible mothering, not “outside the realm of good mothering” and certainly not mothering intended to cause emotional distress.

And one must wonder whether “good mothering” differs from “good fathering.” Might there be a separate standard for fathers? Why not refer to what Garrity did as simply “parenting”?

It’s unclear why the suit originated: could Garrity’s children really have believed that their mother’s behavior warranted monetary damages? Or were they simply pawns in litigation prompted by their father, Steven A. Miner, who served as their attorney and may be holding a grudge for being served divorce papers by Garrity in 1995?

According to the Tribune:

In court papers, Garrity’s attorney Shelley Smith said the “litany of childish complaints and ingratitude” in the lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt by Garrity’s ex-husband to “seek the ultimate revenge” of having her children accuse her of “being an inadequate mother.”

“It would be laughable that these children of privilege would sue their mother for emotional distress, if the consequences were not so deadly serious” for Garrity, Smith wrote. “There is no insurance for this claim, so (Garrity) must pay her legal fees, while (the children) have their father for free.”

In general, courts don’t look kindly upon relatives suing each other. There’s a forum for sanctioning truly bad parenting, and that’s generally through various social services agencies. In instances of abuse, officials must get involved to safeguard children’s well-being.

But that doesn’t seem to be what unfolded in this situation. In the case of the Miner children, there doesn’t seem to have been abuse or even neglect. Maybe just an overdue reality check for an oddly entitled brother-sister duo.

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.