A test of one’s stance on reproductive freedom

Someone at Reddit posted this link about a Angel Adams, a woman with fifteen children (by three different fathers, the article mentions, so the slut-shamers will have material to work with). Twelve of the children are still living with their mother, and the family has become homeless. Ms. Adams is unemployed and wants help at taxpayers’ expense. There’s actually a lot more to it, such as a landlord bringing eviction procedures and Ms. Adams failing to show up for two court dates, and that might make it easier to conclude Ms. Adams is simply irresponsible and that’s the root cause of her family’s troubles. But that’s a simplistic way to measure anyone’s life.

What most this case especially interesting to me is that no one is currently alleging the children’s needs aren’t being met (other than financially). Though the children were taken away from her two years ago on “allegations of neglect”, they were returned six months ago and Nick Cox of the Florida Department of Children and Families says the mother loves her kids and they love her and the department does not want to split the family. In most cases like this that get bandied about in the press, the kids don’t seem to be getting proper care, and that makes it easier to take whatever position will maybe get the kids’ needs met.

But let’s break this down: let’s say you’re a rich narcissist who only had kids because it enhanced your corporate image. You neglect your kids emotionally, causing them to develop intense psychological damage that might lead to them be predators or leeches in adulthood, but you pay for all their bodily needs and then some. So no social workers ever come visit, and we taxpayers are all okay with your right to raise these kids we’ll all actually be “paying for”, one way or another, when they’re grown.

But if you’re poor yet caring and raising kids who are psychologically healthy (as many, many poor families manage to do) despite struggling to take care of their bodily needs, we taxpayers get mighty pissy. Hypocritical of us, yes?

And, as always: where’s all the complaining about the fathers? The father of ten of these kids is in jail for selling cocaine. Talk about bad life choices and living at the taxpayers’ expense. But no, we just blame whatever’s visible and handy – in this case, and most others, the mother.

It’s entirely possible this woman hasn’t made all the best choices in her life. I certainly haven’t. No one ever does. Having fifteen kids may be my idea of unwise (even a very wealthy family could suddenly lose it all, and making ends meet with two kids would be a helluva lot easier than fifteen), but what if these kids grow up to be happy, healthy, productive members of society, as seems likely from what we know now? That would cancel out fifteen of the little sociopathic narcissists your rich neighbors’ nannies are raising right now.

I’m all for educating people on smart family planning and prioritizing kids’ emotional, social and cognitive needs above their parents’ when the two are irreconcilably conflicted. But when I think of the class issues that play into it – that any self-limitations we encourage will always fall heavier on those with less money – I’m not sure how to proceed. Some people can financially afford to have kids for the wrong reasons – to extend their own egos, to get love from the kids rather than to give it, to enhance public image, etc. That doesn’t make their choice to have kids any better than a poor person’s choice to have lots of kids. In fact, it makes it worse – there’s no way for kids to get through emotional neglect without incurring damage that might make them dysfunctional, but plenty of kids get through poverty to become happy, healthy, functioning adults.

What do you think about any and all aspects of this?

Comments

  1. Dez says

    How much of the family’s situation is chicken and egg? Like the father in prison for selling coke: how much of his revenue from illegal actions went toward the care of his family? I’m not advocating drug dealing to support children, but I do understand that that might have been a motivating factor.

  2. says

    Dez, this article here:

    http://www2.tbo.com/content/2010/may/07/case-mother-15-evokes-strong-emotions-public/news-metro/

    Suggests that he WAS supporting the family before going to jail, and once he’s out they plan on marrying and not needing government support. Whether the drug dealing was part of that or a separate activity is not clear from the article.

    It’s an interesting article, though. For example, it delves deeper than “She’s not doing herself any favors with that attitude” and explores her distrust of authorities which is understandable and provides a reason why she wouldn’t be meekly cooperative.

    Apparently, she and her kids never needed or even knew much about govt assistance until their circumstances changed a couple of years ago. She’s clearly not just a “welfare mother” pumping out babies for a bigger check (if that person even exists). She’s an individual who chose to have lots of kids she could support at the time, but then her circumstances changed, and suddenly she finds her family relying on the kindness of the government, and discovering that comes with lots of strings attached re: how they should live. That much of this story could happen soon to lots of “nice” middle class families, if employment benefits run out before the job market bounces back.

  3. says

    It hints as something I am very conflicted about. As a teacher and an educator, I know (believe) that access to education is perhaps one of the most important things in a child’s life (along with nurture, care, etc.). And I so often see parents neglecting their kid’s education (just as I see how our system betrays these needs from lower socioeconomic classes). Which often leads me to wish for a “driver’s license for parents”, i.e. a tighter control on how kids are brought up.

    But then I remember that the state would be responsible for such control, and would likely fuck that up, as well, plus the need to take kids away from their parents when they mess up, which is also laden with problems and dangers, and so I realize that the ideal solution is nowhere to be found – or is it?

  4. Dom Camus says

    You make good points about how this woman and her family are being judged unfairly.

    I would have felt more comfortable reading the argument had you not chosen to make your point via stereotyping and criticism of wealthy families. Whilst it is certainly valid to argue that class prejudice plays a role in media coverage of cases like this, throwing mud back doesn’t seem like it achieves anything good.

  5. sbg says

    Don Camus, I’m not entirely sure what you mean. You mean the hypothetical rich family scenario Jenn set up? I thought it was clear Jenn wasn’t saying that is how all wealthy families operate, but it was to demonstrate how two cases might be viewed differently based solely on income level, and that in the hypothetical outlaid the family situation actually more problematic is the one no one would bat an eyelash at – the one with financial stability.

  6. says

    The Other Patrick, I’m not sure what the solution is. That’s why I try to talk occasionally about things people might not realize constitute abuse or a failure to meet a child’s needs, such as teaching a child to think she is the center of the universe, or protecting her from every consequence of her actions. Parents may think they’re raising winners when they do that, but it’s actually very harmful. I figure some of the problem is simple ignorance, which we can lessen at a cultural level.

    If there’s a govt solution… I share your apprehensions at all the possibilities I can think of. Every one of them is a double-edged sword.

  7. Sam Grace says

    Thinking about what you’re saying, I’m struck by how torn you sound about this woman’s financial situation. On the one hand, you appear to hold the opinion that not having access to financial resources should not mean you don’t get to become a mother. On the other hand, however, you still feel like her choice was a bad choice, and one worth fixing via education.

    Although I would not personally want to have kids if I didn’t have both the time necessary for emotional involvement and the money necessary to provide sufficient stability, I don’t think that either of those things is necessary. I hear your interest in raising up the potential competence of low-income parents, and know that you’re trying to speak against the demonizing discourses around welfare queens (and anchor babies), but the point is not to demonstrate how rich people are doing it wrong, the point is that you think that being a full citizen with the right to protection from the state for the health of your family should not depend on one’s access to wealth.

    So. I have no problem with her having fifteen children by three different fathers. I don’t know if she’s a single mom or not, but regardless, that is really impressive. Every single one of those children deserves the protection and support of the state. And the challenges of being a mother to those children and facing the stigma that is written up on Reddit and even, to a much less intentional degree, here, seems like plenty enough challenge to me without arguing that her non-compliance with U.S. notions of moral motherhood means she doesn’t deserve the support of the state. In other words, more power to her.

    :-)

    • says

      Sam Grace, I’m not torn, I was just trying to present several ways of interpreting the situation to stimulate discussion. I personally think Ms. Adams is doing remarkably well with her difficult circumstances, and what’s happened to her family could happen to any number of families, particularly in this economy.

  8. Dom Camus says

    It was this passage I was referring to:

    “let’s say you’re a rich narcissist who only had kids because it enhanced your corporate image. You neglect your kids emotionally, causing them to develop intense psychological damage that might lead to them be predators or leeches in adulthood, but you pay for all their bodily needs and then some.”

    The point seems to be that a child of a rich family could just as easily grow up requiring society’s support. A valid argument, I agree.

    So how does characterising the hypothetical individual in the story as a “narcissist”, ascribing their motive to “image”, pinning down the child’s upbringing as involving “emotional neglect” and suggesting overindulgence with the phrase “and then some” help to support the point being made?

    It’s not that I felt Jenn was trying to generalise unfairly, it’s that the feeling I got from the passage was of a description of a villain whom the reader was supposed to recognise. (And certainly this stereotype is widely deployed in the sorts of left-wing circles I hang out in, even if it wasn’t Jenn’s intention to reinforce it.)

    • says

      Don Camus, the right wing circles are (unfairly) holding Ms. Adams up as a perfect example of the Welfare Mother who has babies just to get a bigger check, then neglects their needs and maybe even kicks them around when she’s frustrated because it’s all about her her her. Since that’s a picture of a mercilessly narcissistic person, I felt it necessary to paint an equally vivid picture of a rich person who has children for equally selfish reasons. I have never heard of my “villain” as an existing stereotype until you mentioned it just now. Most people in the US seem to think the rich, by definition, can do no wrong.

  9. says

    Jennifer (re: my comment): yeah, when I look at our school system and how some of its problems have been known since the 1970s without changing anything, I’m not sure I trust the government to keep up to date with good child psychology and education research. Maybe a “parental allowance” that can only be spent on books and seminars on parenting?

  10. Palaverer says

    Patrick, as much as I like that idea, the people who need it most would not make use of parenting books or seminars. The only person who has the right to tell them how to raise their kids is God and we’re all familiar with Yahweh’s stance on child-rearing. Lousy parents don’t like hearing that they’re wrong.

    Disclaimer: this is not a slam on religious or Christian parents, many of whom are good parents. This is referring to people who mistreat their children in the name of the Lord.

  11. SunlessNick says

    So how does characterising the hypothetical individual in the story as a “narcissist”, ascribing their motive to “image”, pinning down the child’s upbringing as involving “emotional neglect” and suggesting overindulgence with the phrase “and then some” help to support the point being made?

    Because the point was about how the meeting of emotional needs goes less remarked than the meeting of material ones, even though they may both create an impact on the family later. Families that are in a position to meet the latter without a problem but neglect the former are the ones that illustrate that – rich families that don’t emotionally neglect their kids don’t factor into the problem Jennifer was trying to highlight.

  12. scarlett says

    Re: The welfare queen myth. Do any of the critics against the so-called ‘welfare queen’ actually know what you get on welfare? ‘Cos it’s not much. In Australia, it’s about half what you would get working forty hours a week on minimum wage. (And since the minimum wage is worked out that, at forty hours, you can enjoy a minimum standard of living, that’s kind of scary in itself.) It’s not much more than basic unemployment. No way is having a kid – or many kids – to pick up parenting payments a viable alternative to just WORKING, or even picking up basic unemployment while you look for a job. Duh.

  13. Savannah says

    Although I would not personally want to have kids if I didn’t have both the time necessary for emotional involvement and the money necessary to provide sufficient stability, I don’t think that either of those things is necessary.

    Do you think it’s fine to raise children without the financial or emotional resources to give them comfortable, painless lives? Or is it just that you simply see no way to legally enforce “capability-only” parenthood, and thus it’s just an evil we have to accept? This is something I struggle with in my own ideologies. I would like to hope that most parents at least believe they can provide their children with comfortable lives. But does one have to give up that hope to support true reproductive freedom?

  14. says

    Do you think it’s fine to raise children without the financial or emotional resources to give them comfortable, painless lives?

    Painless lives? No amount of money or emotional support can go quite that far, sadly. I realize you probably didn’t mean that sentence literally and were just pointing out a dichotomy, but you’ve got me thinking, so if you don’t mind me bouncing this off your post…

    One of the things I find so interesting about this case is, okay, sure, most of us would think we need to be millionaires to feel confident we can support 15 kids, but that may be a byproduct of our competitive consumer culture. I’m reminded of an ep of Diff’rent Strokes in which Gary Coleman’s character took an IQ test and answered “How many people sleep in a double bed” with “8″ because that was his life experience, and you know, one could argue the rest of us just aren’t wise enough to make good use of our resources like that.

    But sometimes families of 4 end up homeless. Especially in recessions like this one. And if they’re white and formerly middle class, our dominantly white middle-class culture gets tears in its eyes and forks over the tax support and doesn’t complain that anyone can get laid off, and with all the jobs getting outsourced overseas in the past 15 years, they should’ve seen it coming and had fewer kids.

    I really think part of the backlash this woman is getting from some corners comes from our society’s fundamental failure to embrace people outside the white middle class as entitled to the same things as people within it. If you’re not white and/or financially below middle class and you have more than two kids, the attitude seems to be that you’re gettin’ all uppity and deserve whatever happens to you, you selfish thing. I’m not saying white middle class people’s actions never get questioned, but I think we’re much quicker to attack people outside that group.

  15. Savannah says

    @Jennifer
    I do dislike the way I worded that. I definitely didn’t mean that money/emotional support will always automatically lead to a child living a happy life. And I don’t really have an income level in mind or anything. But I do believe in some bare minimum of financial and emotional availability (I think I’m actually way more concerned about the latter).

    I agree with you that lower class families are judged more harshly when things like this go wrong in their lives. I also think people with more kids and women in particular are judged more harshly when things go wrong in their lives (if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “What’s Angelina Jolie going to do with all those kids when Brad inevitably leaves her?”).

  16. says

    I agree with you that lower class families are judged more harshly when things like this go wrong in their lives. I also think people with more kids and women in particular are judged more harshly when things go wrong in their lives (if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “What’s Angelina Jolie going to do with all those kids when Brad inevitably leaves her?”).

    Exactly. And it also works with sexual orientation, disability and any other set of privileged v. non-privileged groupings.

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