I hate to defend Britney Spears

But if she were a man she'd be parent of the year.

I hate to defend Britney Spears, I really do, and not because she's a bad mother — I have no idea what kind of mother she is outside of what is forced on me through the news — but because she's so pilloried in the press these days, I'm loath to attract the hatchet my way.

But here is the thing that bugs the motherly crap out of me about Britney Spears: She's 26, and not only does she financially support her children and their father, she arguably financially supports his children from a previous relationship as well, plus the children in the households of any number (hundreds, probably) of administrative and creative people whose incomes are directly derived from her work. Most fathers would be heralded for that. Yet Britney is vilified because she, among other things, performed (very badly) at the MTV Music Video Awards last September while her ex-husband stayed home with their sons and threw them a double birthday party.

Never mind that it wasn't even Britney's sons' birthdays that night.

Never mind that, a few days later, when it actually was her kids' birthdays, Britney could have been home giving them pony rides and lactating all over them with motherly love for all we know. Never mind that it's totally customary for divorced parents to each hold their own birthday celebrations for their children during their own separate custodial periods. Never mind that.

OK, Christ. I do mind that. Because why should one parent be derided for working to provide for her kids, while her jobless ex who earned less than $8,000 last year is practically proclaimed a saint for simply opening up a packet of party hats on a day that falls somewhere within the week of their kids' actual birthdays?

I mind that. I really do. Just like I mind a recent article reporting that a judge, in a private proceeding, cited Britney's "drug- and alcohol-infused lifestyle," and then three paragraphs later it states in this same article that this same judge had ordered the transcripts from the proceedings sealed. My question is, how the hell does this reporter know what the hell the judge actually said if the proceedings were private and the transcripts were sealed?

And what exactly did Britney do to lose custody of her kids? She had a fender bender while trying to park? Were the fenders made of babies? She lacked a California driver's license? Since when does the state listed on your driver's license determine your abilities as a parent? I don't have a California driver's license. I drive in California with my Georgia license all the time. I don't think that makes me a bad mother any more than it makes another mother bad for driving there with a Louisiana one, as Britney did.

Hit and run? The other car was parked, its driver not there and its fender not bent. At a quick glance, there appeared to be no damage. Britney's choice to leave without putting a note on the windshield is not one I would have made personally if I were in her shoes, but that choice only relates to my conscientiousness as a person, not to my abilities as a mother.

Now if Britney were driving drunk, say, or on drugs, then that would be a valid point, but she's never been convicted or even accused of that by the police. She has, though, been accused of "habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol" — but that accusation was made by her ex-husband, not by an actual police officer or narcotics investigator or any other outside authority that I can tell, and the fact that a family law judge ordered Britney to undergo drug testing doesn't mean she's a drug addict, it just means she's been accused of being one by her ex-husband. And the fact that she missed a testing appointment doesn't necessarily make her a bad mother, either, just a busy one. And lastly, "controlled substances" just means prescription medication.

And Britney partied, so what? She shared custody of her children with their divorced father; why should her behavior during K-Fed's custodial period matter at all unless it's illegal? She's young and rich with money that she earned, her kids are cared for in homes that she provides them, she agreed to share custody of them with her ex as well as pay him child support so he could afford to be with them as much as she was — Lord, if she were a man she'd be parent of the year.

Like I said, I hate to defend Britney Spears, but in the end I'm not defending her in particular. I'm defending any parent in general who worked to support their children while their children's other parent chose not to and then that parent, the working one, went on to face derision afterward — along with an insanely arbitrary and uneven set of standards — during a custody fight. Britney's behavior isn't a blueprint for future parents, but her experience in the court system is now a blueprint for future custody cases, a future in which a parent can lose their kids not for being a bad parent but for being a bad bureaucrat.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (www.hollisgillespie.com).

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