Q: I can't stop thinking about the woman who now has fourteen children. In fact, you could say that I am obsessed about the woman who is obsessed. I just don't get it.
I have five children, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 10, and I am busy from morning until night. Wait, let me amend that last statement. I am busy 24 hours a day. I love my kids, but believe me, and certainly don't quote me, sometimes I just want to throw them out the window. I am tired. I am disheveled. Would you believe that I am sometimes even lonely? And I believe I could not carry on a conversation with an adult anymore.
Of course I love my children and yes, even though we are not religious, my husband and I did want them. We always wanted a large family. We are lucky that we can afford help and lucky, too, that we have involved families. Of course, most of all, we are lucky enough to have each other. But all of this support does not diminish the reality that each child requires attention and time. It is a joy to parent, to help our kids learn about life, and to be the best adults that they can be. But it is also a joy to spend some romantic time with my husband. And, it is also a joy to grow intellectually on my own.
I don't know how this woman whose name is Nadia now has 14 children -and no husband - plans to cope. Obviously she has something wrong with her. I also think there has to be something "wrong"--unethical or something - with whoever helped her to have even more than a single child. Where were the doctors? Where were the social workers while she had all those impregnations?
But beyond all of the articles that we have all read about the cost to the public and about her obvious obsession, I really want to understand what an obsession like this means. She is obsessed with being a mother? How can that be? A mother wants to care for her children. That's her focus, her primary obligation. At the same time, this particular mother wanted to be a child care expert. How can you want to be both a mother and a child care expert and not know that you can't possibly care for 14 young children at the same time?
Now, supposedly, there is the chance that she will get book contracts and that will help her some. (Of course, if she had another six kids, she'll get even more contracts.) Still, though, she has almost no means of support. I could go on and on. You can see I am obsessed about her obsession and, it seems, so is the rest of us. We can't take our eyes off this woman. Why?
Also, while I am at it, I am wondering what it means when outside experts suggest that this woman is compensating for a lack of identity and self-esteem? Are they saying that she has a low self-esteem and so giving birth gives you an identity? Let me tell you that having five children feels sometimes like I have no identity.
I don't understand what anyone is thinking. Do you have any answers?
A: I certainly don't have a ready explanation of why this woman had an additional eight children after she already has six -- and all, apparently, by in vitro fertilization. Everyone is speculating, but as of yet, we haven't heard from her or from her doctors. However, what I think you are actually looking for is a short psychology lesson on obsessions and on identity. I think you are also looking for an affirmation of your own parenting skills and knowledge.
As you said, it appears that we are obsessed about this woman who is obsessed about having kids. It is, as you suggest, like looking at a train wreck. When we watch someone else in trouble, we distance ourselves from that possibility. It is the other person who is experiencing the tragedy. We have been spared this time. We experience a vicarious sense of relief.
I also think that, like the Bernie Madoff scandal, we are trying to understand people who set no limits for themselves. The vast majority of us are too responsible to destroy our lives, not to mention the lives of others. How do these people get by with being so irresponsible? Where is their censor, their super-ego? Why don't they have the parental voices we all hear inside our heads -- the ones inculcated since childhood? Of, if they hear them, why are that able to ignore them -- or incapable of obeying them?
Most of us would be fearful of taking steps that we had thought through and had deemed dangerous or inappropriate. So we watch with both amazement and curiosity--not to mention relief that it isn't us - as one car of the train slams into another. We watch the train wreck.
However, a person who is obsessed usually cannot control their thoughts. They have the same thought over and over again. They only way they can control this never-ending loop of an obsession is with a compulsion. The compulsion is the action that deals with the consuming thought that interferes with their life. It is the effect. The incessant idea is the cause.
However, the compulsion itself interferes with life. We have all heard about compulsive rituals like washing hands or continually returning to check if a light switch is off.
But if we believe that this mother of 14 is obsessed with being a parent, then the having a child is the compulsion. It is both irrational and unavoidable. That does seem to be an incredibly exaggerated way of dealing with the obsessive desire to be a parent, but the obsession itself implies a clear irrationality. At the same time -- as if to show the extent of her obsession and also her awareness of it -she is getting a master's degree in child development. So her obsession has taken her down some productive and well thought out paths. This just confuses the picture even more, and makes us more fascinated. She seems in some ways quite normal or understandable and in other ways just plain out of touch. You don't have to be a shrink to know that the human mind is not a series of one-way streets. Traffic flows all over the place.
You also questioned the suggestion in many articles that her obsession has something to do with either her lack of identity or self-esteem, or both. Is the love she gets from a child or the proud label "mother" enough to resolve identity and self-esteem issues? Yes. That can work. But does it require so many children to ensure one's identity and the self-esteem? No. Then maybe there is something else at work.
Pregnant teenagers are seen sometimes as being so lonely or so insecure about themselves and so uncertain about their identity that the baby inside is like a friend or a sister. The teenager doesn't think beyond the pregnancy itself. It is the pregnancy itself that comforts a teenager, not the prospect of being a mother or of being part of a large family.
So, returning to the theory of self-esteem and identity, it is possible that our obsessive mother, Nadya, is on a constant search for identity. But beware the obvious! It may not be a perpetual mother that she wants to be, but a perpetual daughter instead -- a daughter to her own mother. As she continues to have children, the grandmother -- her own mother -- continues to play a huge role in her daughter's life. We have some hints that the grandmother is aware of this. She is now threatening to leave. She stated that a psychologist had told her to tell her daughter to leave the family home. That sounds less like an attempt at eviction and more like a course of treatment. But the grandmother was incapable of such stern measures. She felt her daughter needed so much help.
But even this explanation does not fully explain what is motivating this woman to continue having children. It just could be that she is addicted to pregnancy - a condition we find in women who repeatedly become surrogate mothers. They do so not because they want children of their own - or additional children of their own - but because they enjoy carrying a baby and helping others to achieve happiness.
This, of course, is not the case with Nadya. She keeps her babies. In her case, whatever her other problems -- compulsion, obsession, etc, -- she is also burdened with an extremely idealized view of the role of the parent. She does not live in the real world.
This brings us back to you. You are no Nadya. You wanted a big family but you have the financial and emotional support that's necessary. Being exhausted sometimes or being able to express desire and a need for something other than parenting sounds to me like a very well-rounded, honest and loving parent. You may be an obsessive parent who worries a lot about her kids and spends as much time with them as possible, but that's hardly life-threatening. The worst you could become is a helicopter mom, or a mom who hovers over their children. But you yourself said that you find pleasure in giving them all the tools that they will need for adulthood. So your chopper is grounded.
You sound like you have your parenting under control. You may be a good, obsessive parent. You are certainly not a mom obsessed with parenting or a woman who cannot see herself as anything other than a mom. You're not the mystery. Nadya is.