Friday, August 03, 2007

On the Duggars

I happened to come across a piece which celebrates the birth of the seventeenth child into the Duggars family. Now, the number of children this family wants to have may be their own business (though that could be debated from an environmental angle, say, and also if they cannot afford to feed all of those children), but the announcement made me think how differently the choice to have lots of children is viewed from the choice to have a few children and work outside the home.

The latter choice is viewed as wrong by a sizeable number of Americans, though naturally only in the case of mothers who are employed. Fathers are quite free to be employed, never mind how many children they have. But mothers who have jobs outside the home are suspected of child neglect or even worse. Yet having seventeen children is not treated in a similar manner. But think about it: How could Michelle Duggars possibly spend the amount of attention on each and every one of them that many of those motherhood experts specify? (Jim Bob, the father is obviously not expected to spend time with the children.)

My guess is that it is the older siblings who pretty much bring up the younger ones. This may not be bad, but surely it would be regarded as horrible if it was a consequence of the mother having a job and therefore delegating child-minding to someone else.

Or think about how this case is viewed in comparison, say, to all those stories about welfare queens who have more children supposedly only because it gives them more money. The Duggars are not criticized for having more children than they can afford to support properly.

What is the difference in these kinds of comparisons? The Duggars tell a story which both shocks us (seventeen children!) and also supports very old patriarchal norms about what a good mother is. She stays at home and has lots of children, basically. That this might not be good for the children is ignored, because the other myth is more powerful.