Thursday, March 05, 2009

I do not know what should happen to Nadya Suleman's children.

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.


Tom Ehrenfeld said...

This is not a comment about you--but personally I refuse to take a position on Nadya Suleman's children. This is the type of story that I simply wish I didn't know about--all the attendant media attention and debate has done far more damage to this issue, by celebratizing her and cheapening the debate about this issue (your intelligent post to the exception of course), to the point where I adamantly refuse to engage beyond the meta-issue. This to me is akin to the "tragedy" of Jennifer Hudson's family. Well, yeah. But why should I know about this? So, um, a worthy topic, I guess, in the abstract. But to have to attach it to this woman renders the essence of the debate spoiled, in my opinion.

Jennifer Lechner said...

A thoughtful post. As a proponent of adoption myself, I favor that as an outcome for these kids. However, it seems unlikely that Ms. Suleman will voluntarily agree to give up the children and the state would have to file to terminate her parental rights. Quite understandably, terminating one's parental rights can take some time. What happens to those kids while the TPR proceedings are ongoing? They go to foster care or perhaps stay with the grandmother. Prospective adoptive parents could wait months or more likely, years before the children are cleared for adoption. It is such a sad case where it doesn't appear that the mother EVER considered the best interests of her children.

Karen Olson said...

I've heard both sides on this: people who think she's a total whack job and those who say no one should tell anyone how many kids they should have.

But that said, I think she was incredibly irresponsible to carry eight babies when she already had six little ones at home. I do think there should be some sort of repercussions for stupidity like this, because the state of California, which is suffering bankruptcy, is supporting those children and the children will not get the attention they need. Irregardless of what the mother says in her TV interviews, which she wants a lot of money for.

I'm afraid that shows like Jon & Kate Plus 8 have been detrimental to our society. People watch it and think they can be supported by a TV audience. We actually have watched the show, but as time's gone on, it's clear that this is no longer a struggling family but one that's moved into a million dollar home and is exploiting those kids. What happens when the gravy train stops? When the kids get too old to be cute? When the kids rebel?

Sorry about the long post, but this frosts my cookies. And I won't even get into the fact that I'm an adoptive mom. Because that just opens more issues for me.

AnswerGirl said...

Tom, they say hard cases make bad law, and this is why. Society doesn't and shouldn't take notice of a pretty broad spectrum of questionable behavior, but sometimes things get so out of control that the collective must intervene. Ms. Suleman could not do what she's done and is doing without the complicity of broader social policies (including transfer payments).

I don't see it as at all the same kind of situation as the murder of Jennifer Hudson's family, which is truly a personal tragedy.

Larry said...

Thanks for expressing so eloquently the frustration and helplessness many feel on this subject.

Anonymous said...

What about the clinic that helped this woman have 8 babies in the first place? They should be made responsible for their actions. Aren't they under investigation already?

Anonymous said...

Sorry--forgot to sign

Laura Benedict said...

The doctor who assisted this woman acted unethically, and the woman herself seems unbalanced, to say the least. But she is only exploiting a system that's ripe for exploitation. People do this all the time--she just did it in a big, unfortunate, public way. I don't think the state can or should intervene until it's proven that she's legally unfit. I only hope she's managed to con enough money out of the television people to pay for some help with those kids. I was disgusted when I heard her say that she'd be able to go back to school and then work (who would hire this woman?!) because she'd have help with the kids from volunteers. Her statement speaks volumes about her bizarre feelings of personal entitlement.

The good news is that these kids will never be completely off the radar, and, if they stay with her, will probably not suffer physical abuse or want for material sustenance. As to the the life-long unhappiness resulting from living with a mentally ill mother--that's another story.

I feel truly sad not just for the kids, but for the grandmother as well.