Nadya Suleman has 14 children: octuplets, born in January, and six older children, ranging in age from seven-year-old Elijah to two-year-old twins Caleb and Calyssa. Ms. Suleman lives in a three-bedroom house that belongs to her mother, but is under foreclosure proceedings. She has not held a paying job since 1999.
Our laws and our social customs say that children are their parents' business, unless and until something happens to put them in immediate personal danger. Even then, the law sets a very high standard for interfering with a parent's authority, and we read of children dying from abuse or neglect with depressing regularity.
Once the government does get involved in family business, it still proceeds on the assumption that the ties of blood trump all others, and the government makes every effort to keep families intact when possible. This is rooted in common law, but is also a sort of atonement for earlier times when the law did not respect all families (slaves, immigrants, Native Americans, the poor) equally.
But it's 2009, and how many families do you know that match the mid-20th century ideal? Maybe half the families I know do: One mom, one dad, biological children. But at least half the families I know don't, and quite a few of those families have at least one adopted child.
Without getting into my own life story, I believe in adoption. Yes, the ties of blood are powerful; there's something mysterious that we recognize in the people who are related to us, an understanding and a hardwired connection beyond words or time. But this understanding and this connection are not sufficient to raise a child to adulthood, and are not as important as the daily commitment that every parent, biological or adoptive, makes to see to their children's basic needs.
Nadia Suleman is not in a position to meet those needs. She might not have been even before the octuplets were born, but she definitely isn't now.
In a perfect world, a loving family would be able to adopt all 14 children, but it's hard to imagine who might have the resources to do that. But certainly California social services should be interviewing potential adoptive families for the octuplets. Not foster families, which are temporary by definition, but permanent homes.
Ms. Suleman could visit, maybe, although I have mixed feelings about open adoption for small children. Certainly the children ought to know each other as siblings. But it should be clear that those babies aren't going home to that three-bedroom house.
My heart breaks for the six older children, who are all too young to understand what's going on around them. Ms. Suleman's mother seems to have been working very hard to help raise them, and anyone would be overwhelmed. (I'm one of six myself, and remember seeing my mother collapse in tears one night at the dinner table, when I was about five, because one of us had spilled our milk again.) Being overwhelmed is part of parenthood, and if Ms. Suleman hadn't called her own sanity into question by having these octuplets, I'd say it was none of the government's business how she chose to raise her children.
But now that it seems she needs some long-term mental health care of her own, maybe it's time to find another home for those kids as well.
Anyone got any ideas? Be kind; we all know Ms. Suleman is crazy, and it isn't the kids' fault.