Sorry parents like the balloon dad: Should kids pay price?

One of the first times I can recall hearing “sorry” used to mean “worthless” or “lame” in a public setting was at a meeting of the state’s former education reform commission. In a discussion about rampant truancy in some counties, then Gov. Roy Barnes talked about the challenges of “sorry parents” who don’t get their kids to school on time or at all.

Richard Heene may have made his young son an accomplice in a hoax. Do kids end up paying the price for sorry parents?

Richard Heene may have made his young son Falcon an accomplice in a hoax. Do kids end up paying the price for sorry parents? (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The pungent Southern phrase stuck with me and, unfortunately, comes in handy all too often. For example, the parents of balloon boy seem pretty sorry to me, especially as evidence mounts that they made their young son an accomplice in their bid for reality TV fame.

But what can schools do about sorry parents?

And should children pay the price for their parents’ failings and inadequacies?

A friend of mine is an attorney who volunteered in a project working with chronic truants. The real problem, she said, wasn’t the 9-year-old girl who missed far too much school, but the mother who let the child stay up until midnight or later and who didn’t bother to rouse her in the morning. The whole household slept until 10.

I interviewed a dad in the spring who was heartsick that his daughter could not do field day because he was late with after-school care fees. He and his wife, a teacher, had both lost their jobs and were paying utility and house bills first and the school-based after-care program was low on their list of outstanding debts.

The school said the daughter could not participate in field day until the bill was paid. The father thought the penalties should fall on him, not his child. “Let them go after me,” he said. “I’m the one with the obligation.”

But he did manage to come up with the money at the last minute so his daughter would not miss all the field day fun.

I assume the schools have found they get results with debt collection when the child is going to be the one to suffer the consequences. And schools have their own outstanding bills to pay, including the after-care staff in this instance.

But should kids pay for the sins of sorry parents?

42 comments Add your comment


October 21st, 2009
2:10 am

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October 21st, 2009
6:28 am

Interesting topic! I’m sure many of us are seeing situations where schools are becoming especially strict with respect to school lunches (sandwich and juice if account is in arrears), field trips (everyone must pay to rent the bus), and other activities where funding is required. On one hand, you empathize with the children of ’sorry’ parents because they did not ask to come in a situation like that. On the other hand, who should pick up the financial burden of these expenses. There are many kind citizens that don’t want to see the child suffer because of their parents but given the financial challenges many are facing now, they are unable to assist as they may have been in years past.

IMO, in some cases we created a sense of ‘entitlement’ that the community is unable to continue.


October 21st, 2009
8:16 am



October 21st, 2009
8:19 am

These are two separate topics. A parent suffering financial hardship is not “sorry”. There is a huge difference between not being able to afford something and being a lousy parent who does not get their child to school.

S's Mom

October 21st, 2009
8:28 am

Getting children to school is one thing, giving them a home life that allows them to learn and absorb what they are learning is the real key. Most parents won’t step in and be parents, they would rather not deal with it or just don’t care. Plop them down in front of the TV, Computer, video games etc. and your done. Drive thru somewhere for dinner or have a frozen pizza and chips for dinner, who cares. The kids with parents who know what hard work raising kids is and what it takes, generally have the kids that are doing much better in life and it’s not all about money either. You can do a lot with a little, it’s the time that counts the most.

I know some “sorry” parents and wish I could help, but just can’t bring myself to do it. They are so used to someone picking up the pieces for them and making things work right that I’m over it. No one helps me and I don’t expect them to. I just do what I can to get by and if that means packing my meals for work, including snacks, and not going out to dinner or drinks with friends, so be it. At least I know my bills are paid and I’m home with my family spending time with them. Time and attention is the best gift you could give a child and honestly, what more does a kid want than that?


October 21st, 2009
8:51 am

SA you are so right. Some financial problems of the parents are not of their own making. I too have to pick and choose which bill to pay each month. I know that my money problems are of my own making. We have to make choices.

Yeah butt...

October 21st, 2009
9:02 am

I agree with you Meme I have to steal from Peter to pay Paul each month and that is my problem. It is because of the decisions I have made in my life not my kids and they should not be punished for my shortcommings. Example – the school lunch situation I may not have the money to send with my child that morning or maybe even forgot but when they go through the lunch line do you turn them away. They are kids. If my neighbors child came and asked for food I wouldn’t turn he or she away. Kids are innocent and didn’t ask to come. It is not fair for us to blame the child when again it is our own fault we are in the situation we are in.

I simply make the best of it and hide the rest from them – they are too young to have my worries.


October 21st, 2009
9:04 am

Agree with SA. How is the dad with financial problems sorry? Bad example. Now, a parent who celebrates the birth of their second gradnchild by their 15 year old daughter is sorry. Or the parents who let their kids drink at their house- sorry. Parents who want to be friends instead of parents- sorry. Parents who do not think that schools still issue progress reports and have a fit when they find out their child is failing even though they can check grades online – sorry. Parents who let their daughters dress like sluts and let their sons hang their pants down to their ankles- sorry. The list goes on……

Amy Soeldner

October 21st, 2009
9:05 am

You also cannot wait under a child is in his/her early teens to start parenting. If parents don’t value an education then it isn’t a big deal for their children to skip school or not go altogether. Children are raising themselves these days and that is a recipe for disaster. unfortunately the police and taxpayers will be handling the fallout from sorry parents. If you don’t want to raise them, don’t have them!


October 21st, 2009
9:18 am

The dad with the financial problems is sorry because both parents are out of work but have their daughter in a paid after-care program. If you can’t pay for it, then keep her at home. Duh. You wouldn’t expect the pool to give her swim lessons for free, the movie theater to let her in for free, or a babysitter to watch her for free, just because they’re “low on your list.” Shame on him!


October 21st, 2009
9:26 am

Ernest is right – people feel entitled to things they can’t afford. Whatever happened to living within your means? If you can’t afford after-school care, the child should be at home. If both parents are at home anyway, why is that a problem? Job-hunt during school hours and actually spend some time with the child in the afternoon.


October 21st, 2009
9:28 am

I interpreted the “Dad” story to mean that these were fees that were incurred earlier, before they lost their jobs, and never paid. Of course, I could be wrong…..


October 21st, 2009
9:30 am

I know a kid, a good kid, who is 16 and basically lives alone. His mother is chronically ill and spends as much time in the hospital as out. She leaves him there by himself. When she is home, she treats him as her nurse and caretaker. He gets on a Marta bus at 6AM every morning to travel to his school. He works a job after school and arrives, by Marta, late in the evening. He keeps up with his school work and receives good grades. He is basically on is own in this world, yet he takes care of his business. This has been going on for close to three years. I help him however I can.

When you think that you have a grasp on how bad it is out there, you meet someone who shows you that its much worse than you thought.

Most people don’t get it. They look at their own lives and wonder why others struggle when they have suceeded. But they don’t truly understand what other people have.

Another child I knew was born to a man who was killed by the police and his mother was a drug addicted prostitute. He was born with alcohol fetal syndrome. He struggled to make it. By 15, he had dropped out of school. By 18, he was dead.


October 21st, 2009
9:31 am

Friends are God’s way of apologizing for your family.

DeKalb Conservative

October 21st, 2009
9:44 am

The theme I am seeing here is that ’sorry’ doesn’t necessarily involve money. Case in point, it doesn’t cost any money to wake you kids up and ensure they are on their way to school at a proper time.

I can make a point that all financial burdens involve past decisions, but I won’t go down that path, plus many other have already made that point.

What is the real challenge is this is the valid argument that children don’t get to pick their parents. While this is true, we also know that children themselves need to take a certain degree of responsibility and stake in their future, especially ones that want to free themselves from the potential of becoming ’sorry parents.’

Therefore, I can make a case that the student that is habitually tardy is on the path to being a ’sorry parent’ later in life because of the lack of importance that student has for education, despite spending so much time in a classroom. Like an addict, that student needs to make a decision to either take a stake in education, or risk failure.


October 21st, 2009
9:45 am

Why is there such an emphasis on sorry parents today? There have always been sorry parents who did not send their children to school. This is not new.

In my home town in the 70s there was the one family where they just did not send their kids to school. The truant officer would go to their house to no avail. In a way I was glad when those kids did not show because they were disruptive. There will always be bad parents. However that does not mean that all bad parents have bad kids. Some come to school and do their work. I just wish that sometimes we would spend the energy on the kids who come to school and want to learn.

Maureen, that was kind of a low blow on the father. There is a difference between being a bad parent and having economic hardship.

Teacher, Too

October 21st, 2009
9:46 am

I caught the after-school care slip also. If both parents are unemployed, why are they keeping the child in after-school care? One or both could be home when the child gets off the bus.

lets call a spade a spade

October 21st, 2009
9:57 am

Wether its financial or just spending time with your kid, if you can’t do both you are sorry. Why does a certain demographic in society feel that the rest of us owe them something? now i know some of you are going to try to say that I’m interjecting race into this thread (which would also be valid) but I’m talking about young parents. Nobody owes you or your kids anything! Step up to the plate and handle your business!!!


October 21st, 2009
9:57 am

FOr older kids sure…. Dekalb Conservative. But what about kids in elementary school who rely on their parents to get them to school? The kid can beg his or her parents to get them to school until they are blue in the face. That still may not move the sorry parent. I am all about personal responsibility but geesh………….


October 21st, 2009
10:08 am

According to the athiests, God did not create the children, the parents did it all biologically. Thus, they belong to their parents, not to God, and the parents owe them nothing. Meanwhile, kids owe their life to their parents.

Good parents will take care of their children, but bad parents will keep the kids at home, and use them as free labor or sex toys until they are old enough to run away from home.

Old School

October 21st, 2009
10:10 am

It is quite possible that the unemployed parents live in a “transitional” neighborhood where there are few if any safe places to play or kids to play with. While they could take turns staying at home to look after the daughter while the other is out looking for work, many after school programs have enrichment programs and tutoring opportunities that greatly benefit the children. Being up front with those in charge about a true inability to pay might result in an “easy payment plan” that would allow the child to participate and the parents to reimburse the program. I just don’t get any sense of entitlement expectations from those particular parents because they did manage to find the money. Surely the school could look at a parent’s history of financial responsibilities and make some allowances if this is a new problem.

Our daughters’ school had a compassionate fund that discretely helped some students whose special circumstances would prevent them from participating in educational trips and programs. I still donate to that fund because I know the teachers are very wise in their decisions to help or not.


October 21st, 2009
10:12 am

My problem is that sex is more about recreation than procreation (stick with me for a second now)! People nowadays have kids by accident with no real thought about starting a family and as a result many don’t have the proper skills to be parents and certainly aren’t mentally prepared to become the foundation for a young life. I have very strong feelings about “sorry parents” who allow their kids to eat, do, watch, etc. in whatever they chose because the parent doesn’t want to work at being a parent. The parent doesn’t accept that starting a family (that’s what we do when we have kids no matter our age – so teen parents are included). When we don’t take seriously the act that creates families then we weaken the strength of that family when it forms. Sorry parents come from all backgrounds and socio-economic groups. In my opinion, people don’t take the entire job of parenting seriously enough from the very start and their behavior or lack of effort snowballs into many more problems down the road.


October 21st, 2009
10:17 am

I don’t think the problem is necessarily young parents. I am a young parent, and I manage to pay my bills, get my child to school on time, take care of my child and spend time with him and everything else. All while working and going to graduate school. And chances are, my kid is smarter, happier, and more well adjusted than yours. IMO, people who make broad, sweeping generalizations just can’t handle being right – because they will always be proven wrong. I am also not merely an exception to your so-called rule; I know plenty of young parents who do the same. Now, if you mean to say TEEN parents, that’s different. But since we’re talking about, for example, a 9-year-old girl, I doubt her parent is a teenager or even all that young.

As for the topic at hand, I think it obviously depends on the situation. I see nothing wrong with giving a kid a sandwich and juice if their lunch account is in arrears – at least they’re eating. But a young child can not be held responsible for getting themselves to school on time. I’m not sure how to punish the parent in that situation, but it’s absolutely ridiculous to punish the child for it. The child is already missing school and probably behind academically; school punishments generally involve taking the child out of the classroom which would just exacerbate the situation. Educating children is the school’s purpose, though, and feeding them is a necessity. I see no problem withholding anything outside of that.


October 21st, 2009
10:46 am

ASP is a function offered by PUBLIC schools, tax-funded schools. ASP should be free to any kid who wants or needs it. Next thing you know, schools will be charging kids to check books out of the library….


October 21st, 2009
10:49 am

Why is a parent(s) considered “sorry or inadequte” if they loss their jobs and can not pay for after school programs, especially if it was not their fault. Or maybe I am misunderstanding the topic.


October 21st, 2009
10:51 am

I agree with the fact that a better example could have been used instead of the dad who lost his job. There are PLENTY of examples of sorry parents, such as the parents who keep their kids out of school until after Labor Day because they don’t have new school clothes, or the ones who drink or smoke weed with their kids. Financial hardships happen, and no kid should have to suffer because their parents are having a bad time. Field Day is a day of fun and playing–since when do kids have to pay to play outside? You can’t pick your parents, so if they are sorry it really isn’t the kid’s fault. They are just behaving in a way that is consistent with the “sorry-ness” they are being taught at home.

Teacher, Too

October 21st, 2009
10:53 am

No, I don’t think so. After school daycare is a self-supporting program that is not funded by tax dollars. Now, ASP tutorial program that offers remediation and/or tutoring services is tax-supported at Title One schools. (Based on what was discussed in my meeting this morning)


October 21st, 2009
10:54 am

If there are no consequences for actions, those actions will never change. Someone has to suffer consequences. Unfortunately sometimes it is a child who had nothing to do with the actions. We have four children. Because of that, sometimes my children miss out on things that if we only had one child we could afford. That’s just the way it is. Regarding the man whose child almost couldn’t participate in field day due to unpaid after school care that his child had already received, did you ask if he has cable or satellite TV service, or a cell phone? Heck, the child probably has a cell phone. And when there was a consequence, he found the money to pay. I wouldn’t really consider him a sorry parent, though. Just one who thinks he should be able to get things for free. As someone else said, many times, sorry has nothing to do with money. It has to do with not placing importance on your children and their education..

what's right for kids???

October 21st, 2009
11:25 am

ASP is offered as a SERVICE to parents who are unable to pick their children up from school when school is released… for a minimal amount of money to the parent. It is not fully funded by taxes, but some of it is, and that is why it is so inexpensive. There are other after school programs that are private and cost a lot of money. Try being behind with one of them.

Schools owe your child a quality education~NOT lunch, NOT after school activities, NOT clothes, NOT parenting. Pretty soon someone is going to think that schools have an obligation to be open weekends for the parents who work on Saturdays and Sundays. Schools are NOT your babysitter!

what's right for kids???

October 21st, 2009
11:44 am

You ARE a sorry parent if you leave your kid in after school programs while you sit at home jobless, expecting someone else to babysit. Job hunt during school time; network for the eight hours your kid is in school. Then pick him up and spend some time with him. If you have a job interview that goes past 3pm, put him in the APS for that day. Be responsible for your children.

mystery poster

October 21st, 2009
12:03 pm

Lee H1
Your logic is flawed. If atheists’ children belong to them, not god, then THE PARENTS, not god, are responsible for their well being.

Are you saying that all atheists use their children as sex toys? What is wrong with you?

Gwinnett HS Teacher

October 21st, 2009
12:10 pm

It’s funny how when push came to shove, the father somehow managed to find some money so that his child could participate in the field day activities! I think that more parents need to have their hineys held to the fire – you’d be amazed how resourceful folks can be when they are forced to take responsibility. I am not trying to be mean, but, if I can’t afford it, guess what – I don’t do it!

V for Vendetta

October 21st, 2009
12:13 pm

Let me get this straight:

Some of you are arguing that it is wrong to consider a parent “sorry” who has lost his job but still sends his children to an afterschool daycare program? Give me a break.

Successful people arrange their lives according to values. They seek value in their lives and they look for interactions that exchange value for value. They understand accountability, responsibility, and the perserverence required to obtain that which they value.

That having been said, I can safely say, as a parent, that my highest value is my family–namely my children. I would do anything for them. I work hard to help them develop the primary faculty they will need to be successful in life–i.e., their reasoning minds. This can only be done through education. I work hard to ensure that they are nourished and healthy, ready to face the challenges of the day. I work hard to pay for a home and clothes.

If I, for whatever reason, were not able to afford the things my children required in order to succeed, I would get a second job (and a third, and a fourth . . .). If I had lost my job, I would search tirelessly for a new one, or I would work an assortment of odd jobs in an attempt to make as much money as possible in the short term. I would limit expenditures to the essential, cut all personal expenditures from my budget, and live as basically as I could. I would do this because my children are my highest value.

So I wonder: Why are all the people who are so quick to want, to take, to get something at the expense of the rest of us not doing the same? Why do they have cell phones? Why do they have cable? Why do they have luxury cars on lease and $100 shoes? Why do they get a Free and Reduced Lunch when I can buy bread, peanut butter, and jelly from Kroger for less than $5 a week? You don’t have a RIGHT to cable. You don’t have the RIGHT to a DVD player or a cell phone. You don’t have the RIGHT to yummy food. You don’t have the RIGHt to food, period. These are all things which must be EARNED.

Why do they get everything I have to work so hard for?

Many of you are right: We’ve created this culture of entitlement, and the unfortunate result is the suffering of the children caught in the middle. We can end this cycle, but it won’t be pretty. It would take millions in private charitable donations, kids being removed from depraved situations, and thousands of moochers going hungry in the streets. But it CAN change.

Someone just has to have the balls to do it.

Shananeeeeee Fananeeeeeeee

October 21st, 2009
1:38 pm

Those balloon peole are not suitable parents. What kind of parent involves there children in a hoax? The kind of parents that coach their 10 year old son to say he saw the 6 year old get into the balloon, the kind of parents that hide their 6 year old for a hoax in the attic. The kind of mother who calls 911, wastes their time, and does a great acting job pretending to be worried about her kid. The kind of father who pulls a stunt like this that closes a busy airport and wastes the millitary’s valuable time and taxpayer money. These people are a disgrace and have no buisness raising children.


October 21st, 2009
2:09 pm

Guess the parent who came up with money so his child could participate in field day came from school where my daughter teaches. She told me about this last year. I have actually helped to pay for some lunches of students that I knew had parents that lost their jobs. I can’t afford to do that anymore.

mystery poster

October 21st, 2009
2:18 pm

If you can’t afford to pay for lunch for your child, here are two options:

1. Apply for free or reduced lunch.
2. Make a PBJ. Better yet, teach your child to do it.

DeKalb Conservative

October 21st, 2009
2:42 pm

Has anyone ever noticed how ’sorry parents’ seem to be blessed with amazing fertility abilities? It seems too often the ‘more sorry’ a parent is the more likely they are to be as fertile as a rabbit.

high school teacher

October 21st, 2009
2:43 pm

“Pretty soon someone is going to think that schools have an obligation to be open weekends for the parents who work on Saturdays and Sundays. Schools are NOT your babysitter!”

You wanna tell that to the president of the United States?


October 21st, 2009
4:06 pm

DeKalb Schools have now alledgedly instituted a policy that cafeteria workers cannot give children who forget their lunches a cheese sandwich. They can give them nothing. I hope that this is just a rumor gone wild but I don’t think it is.

jim d

October 21st, 2009
4:16 pm

What happened to “innocent until proven quilty”?

should we not wait for all of the evidence before labeling these folks sorry parents?


October 21st, 2009
4:42 pm

Parents are our best allies in educating children and should be full partners with schools in the process. Most parents understand this relationship and have taught their children to value education. They support the children further buy helping to nurture good habits for learning.

There are times when we have to work with parents who simply do not want any responsibility for educating their children, teaching them right from wrong, or establishing good moral values. A strong work ethic is one of the best gifts a parent can instill in a child because this trait gives the child the ability to seek out ways to succeed in life.

Parents who do not teach these things to their children will cause the children to pay a price-sometimes a very steep price. Sending children off to live life without good skills, a proper education, and solid character traits dooms the child to certain failure.


October 21st, 2009
7:15 pm

Kids ALWAYS pay the price in one way for another for sorry parents. Unfortunately, so do the other kids, other parents, and taxpayers. And sorryness is multi-generational. Kids of sorry parents beget more sorry kids, sometimes while they are still sorry kids.

And the other kids pay the price because their needs are not addressed. And their parents pay the price through higher taxes for “social services.”


Unfortunately, our school system does not believe in doing this. So we have tens of thousands of dollars in library books, aftercare fees, school picture money, etc, that goes uncollected. Last year our county finally–after losing over 100T dollars on unpaid school lunches–discontinued allowing students to charge over 5 days. Now they get a PBJ, and, remarkably, virtually NO ONE has a problem paying for their lunches now! We teachers had been saying this for years, but it had been deemed “too cruel” to make the child “suffer” for their parents’ unwillingness to pay. And yes, I say unwillingness because our school does everything it can do to beg parents to apply for free lunch! We have over 70% Federal lunch program kids now. Just fill out the danged papers! Or let the parents come in and scrub toilets to repay the money! Amazing how “consequences” work!