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?


  1. says

    Hi Connie! I have a friend who has a special child and she said before that special children need special families. Not only does the mother and father have to be extra everything, if there are siblings even the siblings need to adapt to the special situation.

    When I was still pregnant with Mateo, Ramil and I would often talk about what-ifs because we know some smart couples who’ve had kids with special needs. I said then that we’re prepared after handling students with special needs but after a year and a half of mothering a normal (as far as I know,hehe) child, I think I spoke too soon. LOL :)

  2. gabriel's eyes says

    hi ns. connie.

    someone said, “God gives special children to special parents. I truly believe that parents of special children are some of the greatest caregivers in the world, the uber parents as they say. It’s a tough honor, but it surely is worth living up to. ”

    my only child has adhd/developmental delay. His needs are special, requiring more attention from us but we do not see him as any less of a human, as other people may look at . I love my son for more of what he is not. Not all of us are capable of handling special children.

    I thank God for giving us Gabby. because of him, I know how far i can stretch my limits. Because of him, I always believe in hope and dreams. Because of him, I know how much love I can give. How I just wish that our society will learn to accept them for what they are. Understanding them is another thng. Sad but it’s the truth we, parents of special kids, face everyday of our lives.

  3. says

    There are ways to know, tests to conduct, if a pregnant woman will have a child with genetic problems. It is up to her to terminate the pregnancy or continue with it. If she chooses the first, then she may have to live with the guilt of “what-ifs” (and fear of being in hell). If she goes with the latter, she may know what to do and be an even better person in the long run or she may not know what to do and have more problems later on.

    Being a special ed teacher, I have heard all sorts of questions, fears about the future, uncertainties, what-ifs and a whole load of problems being unburdened to me. I have lost some sleep in some of these, I have grown professionally and I can say I have developed better as a person.

    I just thank God I do not have these problems in the home front, that I can still be positive and blog about it and sometimes find humor in some situations.

    One thought though that keeps me on my toes: I only spend a fraction of time with these children, how much more challenging is it with their parents and other family members. But I do not dwell too much on that thought because I have a job to do in helping make their family dynamics better.

    Yes, no one can judge you for stating your honest feelings. I admire you for that.

  4. Lolit says

    Nakakapanglambot ang story ni Dani. I had to pause for a moment or two to ponder, and to pray. I’ve been in this country (US) for almost 3 decades and this is the first time I’ve ever heard or read of such abuse. The mother had (and still) her own failures and I’m almost sure having a low IQ was just one of them. Who knows what and why but knowing that she was able to go to a university, I don’t really buy that part. There’s got to be something else in her brain that makes her unable to ID the problems in her house. Drugs perhaps? Dani’s life was worst than an abandoned animal and DAFCS failed to see that. To me, they failed big time because they were there in the beginning at Dani’s house twice but what they did was turn their heads the other way and never followed up. But I praise the officer who carried Dani away from her hell and also to Bernie and Diane for their unconditional love and everything that they have done to give Dani a new life she deserved.
    Connie, thanks for sharing. I’m glad I stumbled upon your website. It’s juicy and beautiful.

  5. says

    andrea, normal kids already require so much time and attention, can’t imagine how much more attention and care special kids need.

    gabriel’s eyes, if you love him “more” for what he’s not, isn’t that a form of discrimination? I’d understand loving him just as he is. I’m not dissing you, and I don’t mean to offend. But that quote you cited made my hackles rise… I get this feeling sometimes that with people who believe in God, having a special kid is like some kind of trial that must be overcome. And when the parents endure, it’s as though it’s some kind of martyred sacrifice. But a child is a child, whatever he is and despite what he is. To glorify having a special child as though it elevates the status of his parents as martyrs is, well… The fact that a child is special does not make his parents special or more. They are just competent in the context of the special child’s needs. They are just different from the rest of us.

    The truth is, parents of special kids don’t have a choice. They have to endure or risk being labeled by society as bad parents. It’s no different from parents of delinquents and habitual offenders. But they don’t claim special status. They’re just trying the best they can as parents.

    It’s like having a diabetic child, for instance. Is a mother who cooks for a diabetic child better than one who cooks for kids without special dietary needs? Of course not. She just has a different competency, that’s all.

    People who choose to care for special kids when they DON’T HAVE TO, like the couple who adopted Dani, like Julie above who chose to help these kids, they should be the ones who ought to be called special because they do MORE than what society normally expects from them.

  6. says

    I too read the story yesterday and was glued to the screen. I really have not been able to get my mind off of it. What struck me the most was the love, compassion and patience that the adoptive parents have for Dani. There are so many pieces to the story, but for me, that’s what struck me the most. It made we want to be a better person. It made me feel very grateful for the health of my children. Thanks for your thoughts…you gave me a different point of view to think about regarding the birth mother.

  7. says

    I think that the fear of having a Down Syndrome child is something most older mothers worry about. I am 43 and have a baby. I elected to have the nuchal translucency test so I could stop worrying. It was great to see that following the test my statistical risk was down in the range of a twenty-something mom.

    I think that admitting a fear of having a less-than-perfect child make you an honest person, not a bad person. I also believe that the parents that do have a Down child are telling the truth when they say it was a blessing. I just doubt that it was a blessing that they wished for…

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