It's open season on large families in America. Ever since Nadya Suleman became infamous as the unemployed, welfare mom of octuplets, the focus has been not only on her irresponsible behavior in becoming artificially impregnated with eight embryos after she already had six children with no visible means of support, but on the primitive choice of having lots of kids in the first place. One female pundit on CNN said that women who choose to have lots of children are usually uneducated, extremely religious, and bereft of any career.
Now I'm not defending Suleman whose actions are clearly objectionable. But aren't we overdoing our hatred of her? Since going on the airwaves and talking about her decision to have 14 children, she has had innumerable death threats. Through her website she has received 55,000 messages, nearly all angry and negative. Her publicist (yes, I agree, a bad idea) Joan Killeen said she dropped her client after receiving hundreds of death threats of her own. "They hope I die, they hope my business goes under, they want to rip her uterus out. They say I should be anesthetized and put down like a dog."
What was Suleman's main crime? Her babies will have to be supported by taxpayers. Fair enough. But have the CEOs of AIG, Meryl Lynch, and Citibank, who cost taxpayers infinitely more money to buy 30,000 dollar commodes and give their employees bonuses with which to buy Ferraris received the same threats of violence? Is this woman really the world's biggest criminal?
I have written several articles in the past as to how, as a father of nine children, I find myself apologizing wherever I go. Those articles sparked an avalanche of letters from families across America with five children or more who told me that friends and family always put them on the defensive for wanting a lot of kids. And they always find some sinister motive behind it. The fact that perhaps we just love children and feel they are life's most precious gift is something they can't accept. As I always tell my friends who ask me why I have a large family, "As soon as I find something I enjoy as much as my kids I will have a lot of that as well."
My wife and I travelled to Australia recently as guests of Qantas Airlines for a book and media tour. The airline could not have been more family friendly and accommodating to the baby we brought on board. A succession of both male and female flight attendants came by to play with the baby. When I asked one forty-something female flight attendant who was holding our daughter whether she had children of her own, she said, "My husband and I thought of it but decided against it. I guess we couldn't find a compelling reason to have a baby." After she departed, my wife said to me, "There she was holding the most beautiful thing in the world in her arms and that wasn't a good enough reason?"
Over the years many women have told me that they wanted more but could not afford it. And the vacations, cars and dresses that we shove onto our maxed out credit cards we can afford? The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story last summer about the shrinking populations of many countries in Europe -- Italy, Germany -- where the birthrates have fallen well below the death rates.
Amid the worst economic crisis in 70 years, all brought about by greed and misguided materialistic values, one would have thought that Americans would begin to get it, that we'd return to things that are truly valuable like family, spirituality, and community. But there it was in the newspapers this week that Saks Fifth Avenue was opening a new boutique for men with suits beginning at $7,000 a pop. I was in Miami Beach, where I grew up, for a lecture this weekend. My brother Chaim and I walked to the boat show where multi-million dollar yachts lined the streets. As I walked by these behemoths, it dawned on me that sure, I'd love to own one of them. But to be honest, the pleasure I get from my kids by far outweighs anything I have ever received in the form of worldly goods. And I had a choice that needed to be made every day of my life. I could either work my guts out to afford one of these things. Or, I could work less and spend more time with my children.
To be sure, having nine kids is not easy. When we go on a trip it takes a large amount of work to prepare. Tuition at religious schools is expensive. Food is equally so. But it's worth every penny. Watching our children laugh, learn, and interact with each other has no parallel to any joy in the universe. Often women ask me whether a particular man is husband-material. I tell them to look first and foremost at whether he likes children. If he does, it means he loves playfulness, imagination, and little cute critters who bring out his own innocence. If he sees children as a burden then he might be just a little too much into himself.
We can debate all we want as to whether Nadya Suleman should 14 kids or not. But once these children are born, the debate is over. The kids are alive. They need our support and love, not our criticism and condemnation. Children are of infinite value. And the debate as to whether they should be or not be, once they in fact are, does not reflect our truer, inner goodness.
The writer has just released his latest book, The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life. He has also launched a national Friday night family dinner initiative.
Follow Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiShmuley