Monday, December 20, 2010

Bummer children

Recently I went to visit my friend Enola Gay. It was evening and her youngest son, Master Calvin, had sacked out in her arms, safe and secure.

We started talking about a horrific case of child abuse that recently came to light in a nearby city. It seems identical twin girls, two years old, were found living in conditions of such squalor and abuse that an investigating police officer vomited from the smell. They were naked and covered with feces and scabs. The girls lived with their (cough) “mother” and (cough) “grandmother.” The toddlers were so identical that the grandmother could only tell them apart by their injuries. “They [the mother and grandmother] didn't seem to think that it wasn't that unusual, they weren't that alarmed by it,” said one of the responding officers.

Let me revert for a moment to a livestock analogy. For those familiar with sheep (and we’ve never raised sheep so I cannot speak from personal experience), apparently it is not uncommon for a mother sheep to reject her lamb, either unable or unwilling to nurse and care for her own offspring. These “bummer lambs,” as they’re called, must be bottle-raised. Although it’s a lot of hard work for the people doing the bottle-raising, the lambs grow up just fine.

Until they have lambs of their own. Apparently many bummer lambs grow up to be lousy mothers. Apparently lambs must have mothering techniques demonstrated to them before they can successfully nurture their own lambs. Apparently a sheep’s mothering instinct is so fragile that if for whatever reason a lamb’s upbringing is interrupted, a cycle of bummer lambs can result.

This doesn’t happen all the time, of course. Some bummer lambs grow up to become fine mothers. But the incidence of bummer lambs rejecting their own offspring is much higher than with sheep-raised lambs.

Enola is the one who told me about this, and she’s the one who drew the brilliant parallels to human mothering skills as well.

We discussed whether the greater increase in “bummer children” – children of divorced or single-parent homes, children of career women, children who have been raised in daycare, preschool, and public schools – is leading toward greater incidences of child neglect and child abuse. It’s as if the mothering instinct in some women is so fragile that any interruption results in abuse and neglect of their children. And so a cycle begins and continues.

It’s pretty obvious that the (cough) mother and grandmother of these two-year-old twins do not have the faintest idea how to mother. The mothering instinct was either squelched early or never existed at all. Do you think these little twin girls were ever nursed at their mother’s breast? Held by a loving father and waltzed around the room? Rocked and sang to by their grandmother?

Don playing with Younger Daughter
 Of course not. These poor kids are clearly “bummer children” – the neglected and abandoned offspring of a “bummer mother” who undoubtedly never learned a bit about mother skills from her own mother. I wonder how many generations have passed since a real mom was on the scene? Or a real dad? And will these poor orphaned girls become bummer mothers when they reach adulthood, or were they rescued in time? What a pitiful – as in, full of pity – scenario.

Which does NOT excuse what these creatures did to those children.

Enola pointed out how Scripture frequently refers to us as sheep and lambs. And, like sheep, we can sometimes be really, really stupid. Too many women have rejected the highest calling a woman can have, her God-given talent to mother. Too many mothers create bummer lambs because they cannot or will not mother their own children.

Older Daughter with her "lambs" cozily tucked in for a nap.
Modern feminism as well as the pressures of modern life (heavy taxation, high mortgages, unemployment, etc.) have combined to eject countless millions of women from the home and into the workplace. Yes, I’m well aware that it is often unavoidable, so I will never roundly condemn a woman who must work. But somewhere along the lines we have rejected the notion that women should be stewards of the home. It is no longer an honorable profession, but instead has become a profession to sneer at, a profession to escape from.

But mothers – real mothers – know better. Do you realize just how much teaching takes place in the home? And just how much of that learning is lost if no one is home to teach it?

The obvious beneficiaries of this education are girls. They learn to cultivate their natural-born instinct to nurture. Under the tender guidance of their own mother, they learn the critical skills to raise children with love and discipline.

Less obvious but just as critical is the benefit a nurturing stay-at-home mother brings to boys. Boys learn what a mother should be. They learn how to treat girls. And when these boys grow into men, ideally they strive to marry a woman something like their own mother, a woman who will make a balanced life partner and thus pass the nurturing instinct on to future children. And so the healthy cycle continues.

But that cycle can be broken in countless ways. In the past, family cohesion was frequently broken by deaths. Tragically, today that cohesion is more often broken by divorce or worse, unmarried mothers. Too often these women are forced (or prefer to) work outside the home, leaving their children to grow up in institutionalized day care… where mothering does not exist. (Mothering does not exist in daycare because, almost by definition, it cannot.)

All too often, bummer children often grow up to become bummer parents. After all, they never had a role model to cultivate their mothering and fathering skills. They never had anyone there to tenderly kiss the boo-boos, anyone to teach them how to bake cookies, anyone to show what a joy it is when Father comes home after a hard day’s work and rejoins the family for the evening.

The saddest part of these neglected and abused twin girls is that we have no way of knowing – until they’re adults – how much of their early “bumming” will stick.

I pray a solid, stable, intact family adopts these toddlers and teaches them how to nurture their innate mothering instincts, so when the time comes for them to marry and become mothers themselves, they won’t reject their own lambs.

Don reading to the girls.
As I post this, my husband is reading out loud to the girls, as he does every evening for half an hour or so.  He has done this since they were old enough to walk.  Both girls are superb and advanced readers, but they love listening to their father read out loud.  He has read to them many books of classic literature.  But more important, he - and I - are insuring that our girls will never become bummer children.


  1. This topic seems to me to be an appropriate segment for your "Women Against Women" series. Here are a grandmother, a mother, and 2 little girls who are all messed up. Why? Was the grandmother a lousy mother who passed on the horrible mothering to her own daughter, who in turn abused her twin girls? Or were the adults addicted to drugs or alcohol? Just what were these women doing while they neglected those innocent girls? I hope the two adult women rot in prison and I certainly pray that the mother never has other children.

    Where was the father? Too often men make babies and then disappear. That, too, must stop. There are far too many people in this society who abandon their responsibilities in favor of vices, money, and "a good time." And why do they do that? Because they can. Government entitlement programs enable them to do so.

    Not only will those poor little girls suffer, probably for the rest of their lives, but so will our society.

    Anonymous Patriot

  2. I just had a baby 7 weeks ago and my sister had to find a different babysitter for her 3 yr old while I was on 'maternity leave'. The friend Sister had arranged to watch my niece cancelled the morning I went into labor and she had to put her in a daycare... a Christian daycare mind you and highly recommended.

    In just three weeks, all discipline went out the window and my sweet niece turned into a whiney brat. She threw fits, screamed "No!" constantly, was never satisfied, and never stopped crying. She also picked up this strange babbling habit. Sister figured out that she was imitating the other children, many who had almost no language skills at all!

    I just got her back under my wing this weekend. I thought it was going to take at least a week to get her to behave normal again. It only took me TWO TIMES putting her in the corner to snap her out of it. My sister is thrilled.

  3. So heartbreaking.
    I'm the daughter of a working single momma. I had planned to raise my kids while working. The combination of losing our first little one during pregnancy and spending a few months working in a preschool opened my eyes to the value of motherhood. We jumped right in to the SAHM thing and spent a year or two really struggling financially and emotionally. It was so hard to adjust to this very different lifestyle.
    Nearly 8 years later, we are thriving.
    I'd have to say that you are right. I'd count my momma as a good momma. Still, I think my mom and all of us kids really missed out on a much better life for the lack of having her just be there for us. I know that it was a struggle for me to "find myself" as a SAHM. I don't think the transition would have been so hard, but I had never considered life as a SAHM before we jumped in feet first!

  4. Well done Patrice.

    Adorable pictures too.

  5. What a sad situation for those twin girls-- I pray they'll go to a loving home.

    A 4th cousin of mine had a little boy and was living with other people in a house. She was young, still in her late teens or early twenties and still "partied". From what I understand, my aunt was trying to get custody of the toddler, her great-great-grandson. She already had custody of an older child, but the cousin was fighting to keep this boy.

    One night, she wanted to go out and party. She locked the boy in his room and left... for several days. There are other people living in this house and not a one did anything about the child in the locked room. I'm sure they heard him crying or screaming, or did he learn that his cries bring no help? Or did they turn up the volume on the TV or radio to drown out his cries? They found him dead, his diaper full of feces. He chewed on a plugged-in power cord, probably because he was either teething or hungry and was electrocuted. She, and her roommates, are now serving jail time.

    I never met this cousin or know this part of my family very well, they're out west, I grew up on the east coast. Poor child, never having a chance to grow up, probably never knew a loving touch while he lived. My aunt had 7 children, and all have been in jail at one time or another, and now her grandchildren and great-grandchildren are in jail. Hate to say it, when it's a part of my family, but my aunt is a perfect example of a bummer mother creating bummer children who in turn, create more bummer children.

  6. I can tell you as the child of a "bummer lamb" that it's hard. My grandmother was/is a psychopath. I don't say that lightly. My mother left home to live with an aunt at 16 because she couldn't take it anymore.

    I think my mother struggled against this legacy her whole life (she died a few years ago). There were good times for us kids and not so good times. However, she was able to raise three children who are utterly devoted to their own children. If she were alive, she'd see two daughters who are staying-at-home with their children and homeschooling and one son who married a woman who stays home also.

    Sometimes I feel as if I'm making up for lost time. I was never taught how to bake or sew or knit or anything like that. My grandmother knew how to do those things, but she certainly didn't teach my mother. My mother tried here and there, but she was a working mom and didn't have much time (she and my dad worked opposite shifts so that someone was always home with us kids). Now, with my own kids, I feel like I need to bring that knowledge to them, even as I'm learning it myself.

    I made my peace with my mom before she died. My sister, as the eldest, had a harder time. It was months after her funeral that we had a conversation about our childhood and she expressed a lot of sadness and anger. It was only after I pointed out all the ways that our mother had tried to not be HER mother that my sister was able to let go of her frustration and be thankful for what we had.

    Enola is a smart lady.

  7. This is my favorite post to date (as a new reader of just a few months). Thanks, Patrice. God used you today to encourage me and confirm my choices. :) Jennifer

  8. It is so hard to read stories like this. I grew up in horrific conditions, abused in every way imaginable by not only my stepfather but my own mother. I find myself, even at 35 years old, yearning for that mother/daughter relationship that I missed out on. The good that has come out of my childhood is that I am (I think!) a great mother. I have written my mother off and on over the years and the same question I always pose is how could she do these things to me when she was treated horrible as a child as well. I know God gave me grace in being a mother but I also believe that if we learn nothing from experiences then what is the point of living? I am so thankful that my mother; who conceived me out of rape, chose to let me be born. It is the one unselfish choice she has made. In turn I have a half dozen living children who I adore and strife daily to be the best mother I can be. Having my oldest, who is 20 years old, be a bright, beautiful and most loving person she can be makes me feel I have done a decent job. God's grace and my husband and my hard work produced a wonderful person.

    I think it must grieve parents when they turn out children that are selfish and wretched. I think of how my own mother is missing out from knowing the person I am and the people my children are. I pray these two little girls grow up in loving homes where they will learn how to be a good mother as well as a good person. May God have mercy on them and bless them always.

    Ouida Gabriel

  9. I think the SAHM thing is definitely a choice. I think it is easy to talk about society and the cost of living and all that but it comes down to a choice the family must make. Like finances or dieting it is simple but not necessarily easy. I bring home a pretty average income and we choose for Wifey to stay at home. This means we have less and older stuff and do fewer things than we could if she worked. For us it is worth it. I think for most people (kinda hard if Dad works at McDonalds) it is realistic to go SAHM.

  10. This totally breaks my heart. I was just speaking with my husband the other day about this exact topic. About how Motherhood is shunned by our culture. How people (even other women!) look down on you because you choose to do the right thing and stay home with your children. I struggled with this at first, because I was brought up in a very independent manner. As a girl/woman I had always worked to provide for myself coming from a poorer household. God has done a lot of breaking down and re-shaping of my life. It saddens me to no end to see women choose to work over staying home with their children. Often times these women will try to fill the void with "stuff" and "things". :( Trusting the God will provide can be very challenging for anyway... I think being a domestic housewife and mother is one of the most beautiful and rewarding careers going. I hate that our society has forced women to go back to work to support the household, leaving our children high and dry and asking other people to raise them, usually to not to the best standards.

  11. As a sheep grower, I would like to make some observations about bummer lambs. I don't LIKE to have them because they are a lot of time and effort, but I don't like the alternative, which is letting the little lamb starve. There are a lot of reasons for them, the most common of which (in my flock) is the health of the ewe. A ewe may have had a difficult labor resulting in the inability to stand (opdurator nerve paralysis) and care for her lamb. Both will require careful tending. Perhaps the ewe has had ketosis or other metabolic disease and she just doesn't have the milk supply. In that case, bottle feeding the lambs while leaving them to the ewe to look after is the correct course of action. I've never had any problems with those bottle lambs mothering their lambs.

    I don't have any flat out rejection of lambs, and I have no ewes that attempt to kill other ewe's lambs now. I did at one time. I bought some absolutely gorgeous ewes. I found later that they had absolutely no mothering ability or desire to care for lambs, and some tried to kill other ewes' lambs. When their ewe lambs grew up and exhibited the same behavior, I realized that I had some ewes that were insensitive to oxytocin, and has passed on that trait to their lambs in turn. They had been an expensive purchase, but keeping them and their progeny would cost me more over time. I hauled them all off to auction. Problem solved.

    I note that some of the more severe abuse cases that we work with come from parents that are on (illegal) drugs. Could those drugs interfere with bonding hormones? Probably. Could the people be on illegal drugs because of some deficit they're trying to self medicate? Maybe. Is it possible to not form close bonds with others even if there are no drugs involved? Definitely. Perhaps the preponderance of women with no mothering skills or desire comes more from the fact that in the past, in the care of an unloving parent, they probably would not have survived to adulthood.

  12. A dear friend headed a high school day care that kept the infants of the 'students'. After being away from the system for a few years, my friend ran into one of students she had been close to. When asked to confirm that she still had only one (out of wedlock) baby, the girl confided that she couldn't go to college and make ends meet with only one baby so she had 2 more babies to increase her government support checks.

    That breaks my heart. What kind of mother could she possibly be if her motivation for having children was monitary. As an aside, if she were to marry and have a full time, live in husband, the government checks would stop. What have we allowed the government to create in the name of social justice?

  13. Ouida, your story sounds eerily similar to my mother's story. Like you, she was able to overcome that kind of "bummer lamb" upbringing. My mother knew early on that the biggest mistakes she could ever make was to marry a man like her father and raise her children like she was raised. Instead she married a good man (52+yrs and counting) and raised four solid, happy, secure children. You're to be commended - no, LAUDED - for taking the path you did. Your children and your children's children will bless you for it.

    - Patrice

  14. I found your blog through WND and am so thankful I did. My sons are 23, 21, and 20. We home educated them and I have been a stay at home mom/ homemaker since the first was born, in sunny hedonistic, So. Cal! Today, the frightening state of young girls and women has been burdening me greatly.

    You are such a kindred spirit, it is comforting.

    We see, for the most part, only Christian families, and the misguided notions are amazing. The girls are still in la la land about considering being supportive and nurturing wives and mothers, or see it as a fantasy that won't come to them since the guys they meet will never consider supporting a family solely for awhile (hmm, maybe raised by working moms , single or married).

    The girls look at my home cooking, sewing and quilting and generally busy and slightly disheveled home as interesting and lively, but odd compared to the boring, institutionalized, school, part time job and quiet inactive clean carpet homes they are used too. They are busy, but I see the same pattern that I was brought with. Busy achieving, but for what purpose that has any long lasting eternal rewards.

    The glossy young tv personalities (serious new anchors and commentators included) give such a weird goal. Be pretty and sing and dance, express opinions as long as you can. Then, take the depression meds when it doesn't work out.

    I thank God for changing me early on, and my ministry is going to be showing the young women I come in contact with that "Home" is their Godly purpose, not an afterthought.

    With more and more low wages and higher and higher taxation, I pray families will see the light and choose a better life.

    This "bummer lamb" post really shook me in it profoundness, and something I can give as support that the materialistic lifestyle is not worth sacrificing the new little lambs.

  15. Thank you Patrice. Your words bless me often but they blessed me even more today!

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

    Ouida Gabriel

  16. Your post really pulled at my heart strings. Last summer we took in my niece and nephew, they are both toddlers. My sister and her boyfriend abused and neglected the children. I spoke to the arresting officer and he said it was one of the worst houses he has seen. That is scary coming from a big city cop. We had to drive all night to get the kids. When the county gave them to me, they were filthy and covered in bruises. It was heart breaking. I have never met the kids because my sisters lifestyle is scary to say the least. We had not talked in years. No matter what type of help or encouraging words we tried to give her, she basically would spit in our faces. But her children were welcomed into our home without thinking twice. Its been very hard, but they are improving each day. Both have disabilities, so life is not the easy one I had before they came. I fear the children will be returned to my sister in a few months. The counties top priority is reunification. They children are young to save right now. In a few years I am not sure if that is possible. The cursing, hitting, and biting has stopped. It took several months to stop those issues with the kids. They are happy children now. They can leave food on their plates and aren't trying to hide food for later. They have a schedule and cannot stay up until one am. That was a hard one to break! It seems like the state is giving my sister every break they can. I pray that she does right by the children when they are returned. But I have a feeling they will come back to us at some point. My kids were complaining recently about having to share mommy. I explained the situation in terms they would understand. I thought they both were going to cry. They can't understand how a mommy could treat her babies like that. They both have more 'tolerant' of the toddlers since our talk. I remind them each day to be kind, which can be hard with toddlers! Your blog is wonderful, thank you!

  17. It's so hard to say WHY this cycle is perpetuated, Patrice. I have to say that I, myself, was a "bummer lamb" yet I made conscious choice to be the kind of mother that I never had. I was never held. I was never rocked. I never heard the words "I love you" or "I'm proud of you." The only physical touch I received from my mother was a physical beating which was horrible, but the emotional abuse is even more difficult and heartbreaking to remember.

    But deep in my heart I always knew I wanted to be a mother and give my child what I didn't have. To me, being a mother was the greatest calling and the highest honor God could possibly bestow upon a woman. In spite of my upbringing, I knew it in my soul. When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter I immediately signed up for parenting classes. Why? Because although I knew that I did NOT want to be the type of mother I had, I knew that I lacked skills such as how to discipline (but knew I didn't want to spank). I KNEW things in my heart. I knew how to love and how to snuggle and how to say the words that I felt in my soul... but I was afraid that I'd screw it all up.

    In short, I wanted to break the bummer lamb cycle. And I have. Did I need to take parenting classes to do that? Nope. Not one. I'd cared for my baby brother when he was an infant and knew about nurturing and feeding and changing diapers. I'd babysat throughout my teen years and knew how to soothe a frightened child. I knew how to kiss a scraped knee and make the boo-boo better. But I needed those classes for my own reassurance that I COULD break the cycle of heartache, hurt, pain, and abuse.

    I tell you and your readers all of this (most of which you already know because we've been friends for so many years) because I want to reiterate that learning to parent is a CHOICE, as is everything else in life. I believe that you can CHOOSE to be a great mother. If you don't have the skills, take classes. If you don't have the heart to be a mother, do the right thing and give the child up for adoption (which shows a great deal of love in my eyes). Apathy is a choice as much as action is. There are no excuses. And there are no second chances once you've scarred that little spirit. Step outside of your own ego and narcissism and ask for help. Do whatever it takes. Believe me, the children in your life NEED it.

    Being a mother is the most sacred, honorable "job" a woman can ever aspire to. It's joyous, beautiful, difficult, and sometimes frustrating. But it's AMAZING at the same time. Doing this "JOB" is the best thing I've ever done. I'm proud of myself for breaking the "bummer lamb" cycle and know that my own daughter will grow up to be an amazing mother, too, because I had the guts to be a real mom.

  18. Anonymous 12:13:

    Yes, yes and YES!!!! Parenting is a CHOICE! I have a close friend whose (cough) "mother" was very similar to yours. This friend's father was a firefighter who died in the line of duty when my friend was very young. Thereafter her life was a living hell as the (cough) "mother" abused both her and her brother. Like you, my friend consciously chose NOT to raise her own daughter the same way she was raised. The daughter is now 16 and as fine a young lady as you'll never meet - all because my friend CHOOSE a different path than the one in which she was raised. You're to be congratulated for making such fine choices yourself and launching into society an upstanding young woman.

    - Patrice

  19. So you're using the story of an abusive mother who stays home as an example in your tirade against working mothers? This makes no sense.

    1. Seconded. I'd be interested in hearing her views on the father staying home instead.