The less than perfect child

I was reading the case of Danielle (via Dooce), now called Dani, and please go read about this mind-blowing case of child neglect, about a feral child adopted by a couple with a young son. I am simply amazed at the care that the adoptive parents are giving her. Part of me says the article is pure drama but another part of me says it is possible that there are people out there who can actually nurture those in dire need in ways that most of us can’t. And these people are not even the girl’s biological parents.

If you go and read the article, and please do, read until the very end. The initial shock will wear off and you might realize that the shock is actually triggered by social norms. It is so easy to judge and condemn a mother who left her child to live unattended, amid feces and bugs, but every situation can be viewed from more than one perspective. A mother with an IQ of 77, “borderline range of intellectual ability”, gave birth to three children, two of whom are retarded. The daughter, the subject of the article, at age 9 has an IQ of below 50. How does a woman with “borderline range of intellectual ability” know the needs of a special child when she is not even aware that she herself was intellectually handicapped? Even now, she does not know that she has done anything wrong with the way she raised her daughter. But, perhaps, the real question is whether the concept of wrongness applies. Is blame the proper word here? Is it really a case of neglect or honest innate inability?

When we used to kid about having another child, at the back of my mind, there was always a red flag that warned about menopausal mothers having kids with Down Syndrome. I’m not menopausal — yet — but I am in my 40s and I know more than one mother who had a child in her 40s and the children had Down Syndrome. I have an IQ of… never mind, it’ll just seem like I’m bragging. The point is, even for someone who is not handicapped in the way that Danielle’s mother is, I wasn’t sure if I was, if I am, capable of caring for a less than normal child.

There, I said it. It sounds bad. It sounds mean. It sounds immoral. It isn’t the “right” thing to say for a mother. A mother is supposed to say she will love her child, no matter what, and she will care for and nourish it as though it were the perfect child. That’s the kind of statement that wins nods of approval and remarks about being a good mother. That’s the kind of statement that wins “Mother of the Year” awards. That’s the kind of statement that inspires, wins accolades, spawns TV guestings and feature articles. But I’m not asking for anyone’s approval or admiration. I’m simply stating my honest feelings.

The truth is, the physical and emotional demands that a disabled child makes on a parent are far, far more than what a normal child requires. And parents are human beings, subject to limitations of physical and emotional endurance. I don’t know whether, if I had a less than normal child, I wouldn’t feel resentment and disappointment and, worse, whether I will be able to NOT communicate the resentment and disappointment to my child.

In the comment thread of the article about Danielle, someone wrote, “In our society you have to have a license to drive, practice medicine or law, but is all you need to bring children in this world is lack of contraception.” True, there are no schools to learn how to become a good mother, there is no education, formal or practical, that can truly prepare a woman for motherhood, and society does not demand that a woman must fulfill certain qualifications to become a mother. If a woman who is intellectually and emotionally unequipped to be a mother gives birth, should she be condemned if she is unable to be society’s standard of what a good mother is?