Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Romance Author’s Mothering Under Scrutiny

According to an ABC news story, Whiskey Creek Press author, Sandee McCann, abandoned her 6 children and lives a new life in England.  Alexandra Firestone, the oldest of McCann's children, was 14 when McCann left the family.  The article says that McCann's children and husband were bewildered by McCann's departure.  Firestore recently discovered McCann's existence after 7 years via Google.   McCann is married to a nurse and lives in England.  She writes for Whiskey Creek Press and Publish America. 

Firestone was taken out of the public school by McCann to be homeschooled.  When McCann left the family, Firestone did not return to school but instead took up the reins of mothering her five siblings.

McCann told the press that she tried to keep in contact with her children but was prevented from doing so by Firestone's stepfather.  McCann also stated that she felt her life was in danger by Firestone's stepfather.  My feeling is that even if it is true, you don't leave your six kids with someone who you think is physically violent. 

ABC news also reported that due to the many offers of help from viewers, the Catholic Charities of Atlanta has agreed to handle all donations:  Readers can go to their website at Catholic Charities of Atlanta to get more information on how to help, or call them at 404-881-6571.

See also Post Gazette for more on this story.  

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

133 Comments

  1. Emmy
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 14:55:36

    I get that maybe she felt she was in an abusive situation. Stuff like that happens, unfortunately.

    I just don’t understand why she saved her own ass and left the kids. That I don’t get at all. If she was so afraid for her life, how could she leave her kids alone with this dangerous guy?

  2. Mireya
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 15:00:24

    I truly feel sorry for those children.

  3. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 15:41:32

    If she felt she was in danger, I can understand the need to leave.

    But not taking her kids with her? That I cannot understand. Nor do I want to. I’d never abandon my kids.

  4. Anion
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 16:03:04

    “Published” by PublishAmerica? That’s hardly “successful.”

    What a disgusting woman.

  5. Chantal
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 16:06:49

    I support any woman who leaves an abusive relationship-she SHOULD leave.
    But to leave her children in the hands of an abuser?
    PROTECTING your children should come first.
    I’m disguted.

  6. JulieLeto
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 16:27:27

    She not only left the children, but she apparently took no steps to try and get them back after seven years?

    I can’t imagine. This defies logic. Maybe the kids were better off without her. Just because she says he was abusive doesn’t mean he actually was.

  7. Allison Brennan
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 16:40:39

    This story really hit hard. Maybe because I have five kids and can’t imagine walking out. I don’t believe, based on the articles I’ve read, that this woman was abused. I’ve known and worked with abused women and sexually abused women and I can’t believe that someone who was fearful of her life could say, “”I am proud that when I was [feeling] rather unhappy and unfulfilled with my life I had the courage to pick myself up and successfully relocate myself to a new country,” she said.”

    And leave her children?

    Another thing that hits me is that she took her daughter out of school to babysit her siblings, then confided in her daughter about affairs she was having. What 14 year old needs that kind of pressure on her?

    Then to leave them and let them think she was dead? For seven years? No contact, no word, just going around flitting through your new life? The woman is a sociopath. A sociopath is someone who has no empathy for other people, can not relate to them or understand their feelings. Did she think once about her 14 year old basically becoming a mother at the age of 14? Or her 3 year old growing up without a mother and not know what happened to her?

  8. veinglory
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 16:58:47

    I think what she did is wrong, assuming the press reports are at all accurate. But I buy and read fiction by people who have done as bad or worse. Not that WCP is a place I shop which makes it rather moot for me….

  9. (Jān)
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 17:03:13

    There’s always a lot we’re not told by the press in stories like this, not on purpose but simply because they don’t know it either. I’m not going to pass judgment. I simply feel sad for all the people in this situation, and hope they all find ways to heal. Thanks for the address for donations, Jane.

  10. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 17:05:09

    Why is this woman’s private life being picked over by the romance blogs? I’m sure there’s a lot more to both sides of this story than the reporting suggests, and guess what? It’s none of our business.

    Are we going to examine every divorce, every infidelity, every family dysfunctionality in an author’s life now, just because they write romance novels?

    Unless this woman’s behaviour directly affects her writing or her business dealings in some way, I believe she deserves the same privacy you or I would expect. No one’s life stands up to this kind of scrutiny, and making snap psychological assessments based on the barest sketch of the situation is uncalled for.

  11. Robin/Janet
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 17:38:38

    Why is this woman's private life being picked over by the romance blogs?

    My question is why did ABC news run this story? It’s not like McCann is a celebrity and would be known to the mainstream press. I’m wondering if it was some local interest story and it just happened to be a Whiskey Creek author. But still. And I guess the story was first published in England a month or so ago. Strange. I mean, I can see why the blogs have picked it up (b/c of the Whiskey Creek association), but there must be thousands upon thousands of people who do stuff that would garner the disapproval and/or sympathy of others, stories that would keep newspapers from doing anything else but writing up various tales like this one.

  12. RfP
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 18:15:02

    Robin, yes, that Post-Gazette article showed up in my “romance” news feed a month ago; I thought it was clearly a local interest/gossip piece. I don’t know why the interest continues; it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. Most women who vanish don’t receive any press attention. Perhaps the interest lies in the novelty of her turning up again. Perhaps someone involved wants the publicity. Perhaps a bad mother story is always newsworthy. Whatever else, I’m sure part of it’s tabloid ratings-chasing.

  13. Chantal
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:00:14

    “Why is this woman's private life being picked over by the romance blogs? ”

    Well Ann, the woman put her sob story out there. She talked to the press. clearly, SHE isn’t worry about her privacy. Guess what? We have a right to talk about it.
    Just like you have the right to scold us for talking about it.

  14. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:18:29

    the woman put her sob story out there

    How is responding to reporters turning up at your door in response to an American news story, ‘putting the sob story out’? Her only public reference to her history prior to that was in the FAR article: “When I was feeling rather unhappy and unfulfilled with my life, I had the courage to pick myself up and successfully relocate myself to a new country.”

    I don’t think that means she wants her marriage picked over, her fitness as a mother judged by complete strangers, or psychological judgement passed.

    Her history, her marriage and her children are nothing to do with us or her writing. She’s not even a famous author.

    The first time I saw this being held up so blog readers could slam this woman, I felt sick to my gut. Any of us could be subjected to this at any time, and your private live might be a shining beacon of perfect practice and moral rectitude, but mine isn’t, and I bet a lot of my fellow authors would be in the same position.

    Demonstrate to me how this is Romancelandia’s business, and then I might agree with you. Otherwise, it looks like nothing more than prurience.

    The daughter says “the stories of mistreatment are only more of her mother’s fiction” according to Pickled Cupid. How many of you can testify just how differently two siblings in a family can remember events within it, and how many spouses know about abuse that the children are unaware of? I can tell you from personal experience, one child will have very different recollections of parental abuse than another, and it’s also true that when you are dependent on one parent, you will tend to support their version of events or their morality, over the one you are not dependent on. It’s not lying – it’s survival.

    We don’t know the facts, we’re not entitled to the facts, and this is a private tragedy. Give money to the kids if you feel moved, but don’t judge the mother until you know everything that went on. Which you can’t because you’re not her.

  15. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:19:22

    I don’t think the question is about our right to talk about it. Ann was asking why, and it was the first thing I thought, too. I mean, yes, she talked to the press, but I suppose if I felt that my private life were being misreported or put in a bad light, I’d try to defend myself, too. Also, one of the comments struck me. Why is there no mention of the father who allowed the eldest daughter to stop her schooling so she can take care of her siblings? We all assume that parents have an innate, selfless love for their children and make the best decisions for them, but in reality this doesn’t always happen.

  16. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:25:44

    Ah, simultaneous post. Snap!

  17. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:29:43

    @Kat & @Ann Sommerville: Since I was the one who posted it, the scolding should be directed at me and no one else. So should I have posted it? I thought it was relevant because it was about a romance author and since it had been reported at ABC was considered a mainstream article and that readers might be interested in helping out this family who have suffered quite a bit. Is it too gossipy? Possibly.

    And yes, I agree that the father appears to be a douchebag as well.

  18. Kimber An
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:32:41

    This only goes to prove you don’t need to know a darn thing about love to have a romance novel published. You do need to know a thing or two about love to get the readers I know to love that novel, however.

  19. JulieLeto
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:34:08

    The fact of the matter is, authors are public figures in a way. There is a modicum of celebrity that comes from putting your words and ideas out there for the world to see. Why should authors be treated any differently than actors or musicians? We’re all in the same business. Not that I want my private life picked over, but that’s one reason why I keep pretty silent about my life outside of writing.

    The question I ask is this: how did this story even get out there? This woman is with a small press. She’s not well known…who called ABC and said, “Hey, here’s a story you want to put on your news wire?” And except for the irony of a romance writer abandoning her children (when so many of us write about love and children as the romantic ideal) why did ABC find this newsworthy?

    I have no answers…just questions. Apparently, this was a slow news cycle if it actually got out there.

  20. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:38:51

    @JulieLeto: I have an article that I haven’t posted yet about the author biography and how so many romance authors talk in their author biography at the end of the book how happy they are in their marriage.

    You never see a romance author’s bio say “divorced and loving it” so I suppose it is a bit hypocritical of me to post this since I’m always arguing that you need to measure a book by its contents and not the author.

    Then again, I wouldn’t want to contribute to this author’s pocketbook either. Am conflicted.

  21. veinglory
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:41:17

    I think a lot of the media outlets who first picked they story up didn’t quite realise the difference between Harlequin and WCP/PA

  22. Tell me no Lies
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:47:51

    When you are a writer, you are a public figure. When you say things, like Deborah MacGillivray did, or Victoria Laurie, or do something like this woman, you should expect to be scrutinized.

    What makes a public figure? Anyone who makes their way in the public domain. Writing and publishing books to be sold places you dead square and center field. If you don’t like it, stand to one side, let others who get the big picture have a chance. Does that mean that anyone has the right to pick apart your life?

    For decency’s sake no, but this is the world of the internet, of post ‘Diana’ and where a picture sells for an ungodly amount if its the right picture of the right star with the wrong cellulite. And no one is too small. Town council members rip apart each other on the internet. Sometimes its cloaked as gossip, whispered around tables at conferences under the guise of a rumors. Other times it finds its way into print. However it gets there, the fervor, whether real or imagined finds its own legs.

    As a writer you take risks. You can’t want sales, paste your picture on a website and blog then whine when the general public takes interest in your non-writing life. It’s unrealistic to try and personalize with your readers, then draw an imaginary line across the internet.

    You can insulate. Keep pictures of your kids off the internet. Don’t mention their names, their ages, don’t mention your personal life at all. If you don’t want people to know your private side, use a pen name. Don’t blog. That may work or it may not. You can control press access, but be prepared should that line be crossed.

    In the end, be true to yourself, your character and live an honest existence. When you don’t lie or cheat, when you tell the truth and treat others decently then you will always have a pillar to stand on and you won’t have to remember what you said.

  23. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:49:05

    Jane, I didn’t mean to sound scolding! I suppose I understand the blog-worthiness of the topic since it was in the mainstream media, but I’m a bit puzzled at the extra commentary that has nothing to do with her writing. I’m slightly uncomfortable about it because there have been huge brouhahas on the blogs about authors who expose too much of their private lives and how we as readers really don’t want to know. But here we have someone who probably didn’t instigate the publicity, who doesn’t seem to want it, yet we’re still blogging/reading about it on blogs. So I’m puzzled as to why, other than yeah, it’s gossipy–not that I mind a bit of gossip, but it’s the assumptions based on an article that’s quite vague on details that rubs me the wrong way.

    Julie, for me, musicians and actors and writers who actively expose their private lives are one thing. But people who don’t use those details to advance or enhance their careers, in my opinion, should be allowed some privacy (laws may disgree, though). And in my opinion, the ABC article wasn’t about a writer. It was about a family dispute, one of whose members happens to write romance.

  24. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 19:56:49

    the scolding should be directed at me and no one else

    That’s honourable of you to say, but I’m not scolding, and in fact, a lot of people are picking over this. I don’t think you should have posted it, but the desire to support the kids is worthy. But I’m more concerned about the pile-on with the harsh judgments and the easy denouncements. Your post didn’t contain those, but some of the comments have. If we’re going to get indignant about things, why not save it for actual misdoing within the Romance community?

    And in my opinion, the ABC article wasn't about a writer. It was about a family dispute, one of whose members happens to write romance.

    Exactly.

  25. Tell me no Lies
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:05:10

    In addition to my earlier comments – SM opened herself to the internet and the public realm. She gave an interview with Fallen Angel Reviews. http://fallenangelreviews.com/Interviews/2006/Dec06-LindaL-SandeeMcCann.htm . Plugged her website (since taken down) and her author board at Coffee time (also gone at the moment). She answered personal questions.

    You can’t crave the spotlight, then dance to one side when it blinds. Be honest, be truthful and most crucial, be careful on the internet, with the press. Authors are public figures no matter what you write. Pay attention to your public image.

    Then again, you can not give a darn and solve the problem for everyone involved.

  26. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:11:25

    The right to privacy is considered to be an issue of huge debate. It’s the basis, of course, for the Roe v. Wade decision. Some constitutional experts believe that the right to privacy is written into the constitution via the Amendments given other provisions. Other constitutional experts argue that because there is no explicit right to privacy that it is not a fundamental right.

  27. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:16:01

    SM opened herself to the internet and the public realm

    This story has nothing to do with the Romance community. It’s been picked up because of her daughter speaking to the press. The mother happens to write romance – it’s not the reason she left her family, or anything else.

    You can't crave the spotlight, then dance to one side when it blinds.

    So basically, the very act of putting our work out for the readers, allows the readers to pick us over like vultures? No, it really doesn’t. Unless McCann’s behaviour affects her readers, or her fellow authors, or her publishers, then it’s not Romanceland’s affair. If she wrote an autobiography, or made a big deal of the fact she had remarried after an abusive marriage, then there might be some excuse. Nothing of what I’ve read of her statements says she’s ‘craving’ anything but a fresh start.

    I’m telling you flat – the fact I mention in my bio that I’m married, doesn’t give you the right to know for how long or to whom. It doesn’t give you the right to know how many children I have, or don’t have, or for what reason. It doesn’t give you the right to seek out my siblings and get personal histories from them.

    That’s National Enquirer logic. We should be above that.

  28. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:20:13

    @Ann Somerville: Why mention in your bio that you are married. What does that have to do with your ability to write books? If you blog or talk about your family, doesn’t that invite speculation? As for using National Enquirer logic, I’ll say that I don’t know if I am above that. I certainly read the Enquirer online from time to time. For some reason, I feel like if the Enquirer had been covering the presidency this past 8 years, we might not be in the situation we are in.

    I really dislike the “we should be above that” line. As if we are of such an elevated plane that certain discussions should not take place. That sounds suspiciously like what I was arguing against in Fan Fiction thread.

  29. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:21:40

    Jane, to veer slightly OT, there was a recent ruling (or maybe just a statement? Can’t recall) from a judge (here in Australia) about how the right to privacy is no longer clear cut because we’ve been giving away our privacy in small increments over a period of time (I presume he was talking mostly about what info we provide online). I suppose it goes to what Tell me no lies and Ann are debating–at what point have you given so much information about yourself that other parts of your life are considered fair game?

  30. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:25:14

    @Kat: The position of an individual as a “public figure” is important for defamation cases. The rulings have been consistent that you can be a public figure in one area (i.e, being a lawyer or prominent figure in your profession) but you might not be a public figure for defamation purposes.

    But I think that the right to privacy has been eroded and certainly if you put something out there on the internet, it might be read as waiving your right to privacy on a certain issue.

  31. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:35:52

    That sounds suspiciously like what Robin and I were arguing against in Fan Fiction thread.

    Not following the logic. The fanfiction post was a legitimate subject for Romanceland’s residents to talk about. My argument here is that this is not. If you want to make a general post about whether authors should mention their marital state, or where our right to privacy ends or begins, using this case as an example then that would also be relevant (and a conversation I’d love to read.)

    But I’m still at a loss to know why the fact this woman has a minor career as a virtually self-pubbed/small pubbed romance writer, means Romanceland should (a) have an interest and (b) sit in judgement. How does what she writes have the least to do with the dysfunctionality of her family, and how does that dysfunctionality concern us?

    I’m missing something, because it honestly looks to me like nothing more than gossip peddling of private, unimportant matters. And that, truly, I did think DA was above.

  32. Tell me no Lies
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:38:14

    You can call it the National Enquirer mentality if you like. You can insult the practice if it helps you put a handle on it. As a writer, you are a public figure, whether you like it or not. As a public figure, it is your responsibility to guard your privacy.

    It has been said that a gauge of morality is that if what you are doing appeared tomorrow on the front page of the paper, would you be ashamed? If the answer is yes, you should think again.

    Public figures take risks. Winona Ryder took a risk shoplifting. She is a public figure but that was her personal life. You can turn this around, say it has to do with laws broken, but the scrutiny didn’t stop there. You can point to the fact that she is a well known public figure, while romance authors are not of the same stature, but I disagree. Nora Roberts may sell alot of books (and she’s very good), but at the bookstore, shelves are filled without deference to sales. The consumer doesn’t know the difference beyond the obvious.

  33. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:43:28

    @Ann Somerville: Kirsten Saell was arguing that Dear Author should be above allowing personal attacks from one commenter to another. I believe you were the topic of much discussion in that thread.

    The whole call for ‘DA is above this sort of thing’ seems to be most often trotted out for those who disagree with something that is occurring on the blog, for not always well articulated reasons.

    DA is a blog run by a bunch of readers regarding romance. The most that we strive for is transparency and honesty in our opinions. We aren’t, and do not want to be, above anyone else. (at least I don’t. I suppose I can’t speak for everyone else).

  34. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:54:51

    Jane, here’s the news item. It wasn’t a ruling, just a statement. He cites mobile phones, which I thought was interesting. And I do wonder about the notion of what is “self-evidently” private. Clearly, there’s much disagreement about that.

    As for this particular case, I suppose that aside from the judgments we’re making that has nothing do with books, I’m mostly uncomfortable because this wasn’t an issue that the author set out to make public, so it’s more a question of whether or not we as readers are putting an author in an awkward position where, if she’d revealed this on her own we’d have had some harsh things to say, yet because she’s not saying much in her defence now (after someone else brought it to light), we feel entitled to make equally harsh speculations.

    It has been said that a gauge of morality is that if what you are doing appeared tomorrow on the front page of the paper, would you be ashamed? If the answer is yes, you should think again.
    Eh. I don’t agree. There are things I do that I’d hate to see in the paper. Not because I think they’re immoral, but they’re no one else’s business and news stories are unlikely to present a full accounting of the story from my point of view.

  35. azteclady
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:58:30

    So I guess that posting this a few days ago was also… what? Oh yes,none of our business.

  36. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 20:59:36

    I believe you were the topic of much discussion in that thread.

    Thanks, but I don’t think I’m likely to forget what she said, considering she repeated her personal attacks over at Karen’s blog (guess DA is considered a politer place to her than there.)

    I believe you are conflating two different arguments. People can be completely polite in discussing Ms McCann here, and I would still consider it none of their business and not appropriate to a romance discussion, even with DA’s extremely broad umbrella. If, say, someone had some juicy gossip about Chantal above, would you post about it because she’s a romance reader? If someone heard you were getting divorced, would that be appropriate? Was it appropriate to discuss Karen’s fertility on another blog? Was that blog entitled to do, as it continues to do, post as much personal information about you as the owner could scrape together from contacts and the internet, and draw that information together with your real name and your online name?

    There are places we, as a community, think it’s inappropriate to go. I believe this is one of them, and you disagree. Fair enough. It’s your blog, of course you can post what you like. This one just makes me squirm, and wonder where the intrusion in an author’s life ends.

    Tell me no Lies, I’m not insulting you. However, it’s extremely disturbing that you assume a natural desire for privacy is because we have something sinister to hide. The fact we have families and day jobs is more than enough reason to keep most of our lives from scrutiny, even we live dull and blameless ones. You sound like a certain real author excoriating me for using a pseudonym. Is that because I’m secretly a shoplifter?

    You say it’s our ‘responsibility’. So basically, if someone gets through the fence we erect, it’s our fault? What about the responsibility of those who come by private information? If I found Robin’s tax return in a trash can, would I have the right to post it here because she’s a romance blogger? What about Jane’s medical records? What about yours? Where do we draw the line, precisely? Or do you think someone offering goods for sale, sells their personal freedoms as well?

    If you’re so comfortable with the invasion of authors’ privacy, then I presume you would be happy to have your life laid bare in the same fashion. After all, you’ve posted on a blog, that makes you a public figure by your logic.

  37. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:09:00

    I consider the post as something worthy of discussion, because if the facts are as we’ve read, then the woman is guilty of wrong-doing. Abandoning children is always going to be of concern to quite a few people.

    It’s something that I’d consider far more important than most issues discussed in romance land. More important plagiarism, more important than queries, or ebook readers, or piracy, or most other things. The welfare of a child should always be worthy of discussion and it’s a child’s welfare that makes this ‘newsworthy’

    If the facts aren’t as we’ve been told them, then I’ll make my apologies to the author.

  38. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:09:12

    azteclady: Not sure if that was for me specifically (since I commented on your post at Karen’s). But actually, yes. My interest in the article you quoted was from a general social welfare perspective, and I did point out that we couldn’t really know what was going on in the father’s mind. Look, that article had other things besides the human interest aspect–the policy of safe harbour. The article cited in this post is mostly human interest, and I don’t think the journalist made much of an attempt to write about any social issues beyond this specific case–nothing wrong with that, I just don’t think it gives much fodder for discussion beyond the gossip/personal judgment. Although we’re now also talking about privacy, so I guess I’m wrong…

  39. Robin/Janet
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:09:17

    Okay, I think this is the original story (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/woman/real_life/article1596500.ece). Sorry, but I don’t know how to make the link look all nice without the neat little buttons we used to have. Anyway, the original story was published in The Sun, a British tabloid. Clearly it was being sold as a scandal piece — the scandal to this family of six kids abandoned by their mother, etc., and it had that extra flair because McCann had taken up residence in England. I suspect that McCann’s American roots made the story extra-irresistible to The Sun.

    Now, as for Jane posting the story, I don’t think she’s sunk to any unacceptable level in doing so. It’s public information, and that ABC news link even made it look like the story made it to Good Morning America (is that right?). I know there was another story on the blog a while ago about an author (non-Romance) who was also a professor and had some unusual relationship with a wife and mistress (does anyone remember the story I’m talking about?). We’ve talked about David Foster Wallace’s depression and his writing. I think these conversations happen. I remember an article once upon a time about several female Romance authors who had been the victims of violence from their husbands, some of them even being murdered. I watch Dateline and 48 Hours, and I could see this kind of story being featured on either of those programs.

    I’m not particularly disturbed by the reference here to the McCann story. What is quite startling, though, is that there are 812 comments on the ABC website! I only scrolled through the first few pages, and the comments almost unanimously seem to slam McCann. That automatic blame of her is sort of sad, especially since if we were to encounter this at the beginning of a Romance novel, we’d likely be reading to find out that the story was untrue as told (it reminds me a bit of that Susan Mallery novel where the daughter runs away and the parents think she rejected them because a message she left never reached them).

    Also, I think we need to be VERY careful not to connect the story in and of itself to McCann’s career as a WP author. I don’t think anyone here has done that, but when I read Ann and Kat’s comments, I think that’s the link that is most problematic for me — the question of HOW this is relevant within the Romance community. Basically it isn’t, except in the sense that McCann is a WP author. I don’t think Jane did anything wrong in posting it, but it does bring up this strange conundrum regarding the personal information authors do provide about themselves.

    I remember when I first started reading the genre how struck I was by the way so many author bios made a point of talking about how they had their very own HEA, and that if they weren’t married they were “still looking for their HEA,” and it kind of skeeved me out, because I kept thinking it promoted this bizarre sense of personal expectation, especially in a society with a higher than 50% divorce rate. Also, so many readers posting seemed to feel similarly inclined to reference their “perfect” relationships with their very own “heroes.”

    This situation with McCann is different, because it’s more of a Dateline type story in which the person happens to be a WP author. I think the validity of posting it question can go either way. At the very least, though, it’s provided an opportunity to talk about this boundary between the personal life of authors and their work. And one thing I do wonder with these stories is if they involved men, would the reaction of readers (and reporters) be the same? One thing there seems to be within the Romance community and society as a whole is this really strong idea of what a “mother” should and shouldn’t do, and certainly McCann has been portrayed as unnatural in a certain sense, which is interesting, considering that’s a trope at issue in Romance, too.

  40. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:20:23

    Robin, I noticed the 800+ comments, too, and how most of them were castigating the mother. That’s why the comment questioning the father’s decisions struck me.

    the question of HOW this is relevant within the Romance community

    That’s what I meant by “why”. I probably wouldn’t ask this question on a blog that posts personal items as well as reviews on a regular basis, but because DA mostly stays off the personal, I suppose I’ve put my own expectations on what sorts of things I expect to read here (which is my issue, not the DA posters’). Like I said before, I can see the blog-worthiness of the article. It just made me a bit uncomfortable and I hope my previous comments have managed to articulate why. I guess if Jane had ended the post with some general discussion points about authors and their privacy, or what info they provide to the world at large, it wouldn’t have felt as iffy. But since the comments have naturally evolved that way, I suppose that’s also a good thing.

  41. Tell me no Lies
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:20:55

    Not at all Ann. I think you have every right to use a pen name. Guard your privacy! Be vigilant at all times. My point is that you are public figures and as such, people will ask, people will post. You can’t stop it, but you can minimize it. You should minimize it if you want to protect yourself. I am not comfortable with the invasion of an author’s privacy, but it is something that can happen. To think otherwise is naive.

    That is the reason for my advice, which you will note on a closer read of my earlier posts, but I will repeat it again for clarity. Be careful what you do.

    Your last comment/veiled threat is a scare tactic. The real question you should ask yourself is if there is anything you are afraid people will find? Whatever the answer is, be on your guard. It could happen. As you can see through this example, it does.

  42. azteclady
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:21:31

    Kat, what I meant is that aside from the fact that the mother is being published by WCP and PA, it’s a story about a parent abandoning his/her children.

    And not one or two kids–seven in this case, nine in the other case. In both cases, I feel for the children, and can’t spare too much pity for the parent.

    I won’t apologize for feeling that way either.

  43. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:27:42

    @Kat: The issue of privacy never even occurred to me Kat. Honestly, I read the article that was sent to me, was appalled, and posted it. Was that inappropriate for this blog? Perhaps it was.

  44. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:29:46

    Your last comment/veiled threat is a scare tactic.

    Oh puhlease.

    if there is anything you are afraid people will find

    Define people. Anonymous strangers like you, are entitled to exactly nothing, and if you were to find out the smallest detail about me beyond what I post myself, then I would be revolted, and yes, scared, because I’ve been stalked and I know how stalkers use private information to increase terror.

    To friends, I am an open book. The question *you* need to ask – are you a friend of mine? If not, then you don’t have any claim to the smallest piece of me beyond my writing. My stories and my blogs are what the public is permitted to have, and all they’re entitled to. Beyond that, you’re basically stealing.

  45. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:34:11

    @Ann Somerville: what’s with the inflamed rhetoric? Stealing? Why would you accuse someone (even a rhetorical one) of a criminal act by talking about information you perceive to be private. Garbage in the US has been considered to lack any indicia of privacy so your previous example is not a useable one in a legal sense.

    Unfortunately public figures are not afforded the same protections as private individuals and calling people thieves won’t actually change that.

    I do think that the US Constitution affords some fundamental rights to privacy, but it’s also clear that by putting yourself out there to benefit from the public, the law will also provide you less protection for supposed invasions of privacy.

  46. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:46:28

    what's with the inflamed rhetoric? Stealing? Why would you accuse someone (even a rhetorical one) of a criminal act by talking about information you perceive to be private.

    Simple – if I didn’t give it freely, they obtained it illegitimately, and more important, made it public illegitimately. I do feel very strongly that information received through unauthorised channels and posted without consent is theft – theft of someone’s privacy without consent. Please don’t go all lawyerly on me about that not being an actual crime. If someone takes from me what I highly value – whether it’s my reputation or my privacy – without my consent, then you bet I consider that stealing. Unlike my purse, no one can restore privacy and reputation once taken awy either, so it’s worse than property theft.

    Garbage in the US has been considered to lack any indicia of privacy so your previous example is not a useable one in a legal sense.

    Actually, in the UK, and I believe in Australia, taking stuff out of garbage is legally considered theft. In Australia and the UK, publishing such material without consent is subject to the test of public interest, and *you*, the person posting it, is under the onus of proving it is, not me, the owner, of proving that it’s not.

    You seem to think authors shouldn’t be the least concerned about what private information is posted about them or how it’s obtained. Again, because of my personal experiences, I beg to differ. And considering how important it is, you can hardly expect people to be dispassionate about it.

  47. Tell me no Lies
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:47:13

    Ann, I don’t read your books and have no interest in your personal life. If you don’t want to head my advice, consider Jane’s. To summarize public figures are open to more scrutiny and commentary. Authors are public figures.

    As for McCann, if I believe her and she abandoned kids to an abusive husband, that’s despicable. If I don’t believe her and she ran off with her boyfriend, that’s despicable.

  48. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:58:23

    azteclady, no reason you should apologise at all. I understand where the outrage comes from.

    Jane, whether it’s appropriate or not is really for you to say. I think it’s a very different sort of post that we’d normally see here, so I suppose I read it in the context of what I’d usually expect to find here. Now I’m wondering why I felt the need to question this post and not the others that Robin mentioned. Maybe it’s the tabloid feel of the story. Maybe I’m just distracting myself from getting any work done. Not really sure.

  49. veinglory
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 22:31:08

    I think it is interesting how far authors choose to open themselves, Politics, religion, sexual fantasies, family? A touch of personal connection (I am a mother too) helps make a sales but the next thing you know you have a stalker… or a reporter.

  50. Robin/Janet
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 22:32:58

    I guess if Jane had ended the post with some general discussion points about authors and their privacy, or what info they provide to the world at large, it wouldn't have felt as iffy. But since the comments have naturally evolved that way, I suppose that's also a good thing.

    I don’t know if that would have occurred to me immediately, Kat, although now it seems clear. Part of it for me is that I didn’t have any personal thoughts about boycotting the author or whatever, so I wasn’t following the ‘condemn the mother’ aspect in my own head. It did strike me as interesting, and it wasn’t private info emailed, and it’s not as if Jane wrote any kind of diatribe against McCann. Again, I think that posting it could have gone either way.

    As for why it bothered you more than other stories, those questions are always interesting to ask, IMO (I know I’m constantly in conflict around why some things bother and others don’t so much). I was struck, for example, by the wincing at Jane’s piece on the AAR/DIK issue, when I thought the piece was gentler and less personal than others she has done. I wondered whether it was because more people reading the site feel they *know* Laurie and therefore feel a stronger personal connection to anything critical written about her. The more identification, the more discomfort, maybe?

    The irony, here, of course, is that if this had been posted on a general interest blog, the author privacy issue would likely not have come up, because the prism through which we’d be looking at the story would be different, IMO. I *do* see the privacy issues here, but I also believe that it was the daughter here who exposed the mother to scrutiny, and she has a story to tell, too, and it’s a sad story, whether or not it’s accurate, the kind of story that has become tied to community outreach, which is probably a good thing, since these kids are obviously stuck in something not good. That’s the story that clearly so many commenters at ABC seem to be focused on, despite the fact that ABC clearly took more pains than The Sun to provide McCann’s explanation.

  51. Rebecca
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 23:10:26

    I am with Ann in this.

    Jane, this was a weird post to read on your site. It *is* gossipy because it has to do with an author’s personal life. This post invites judgment and feeds needless and useless speculation.

    There is nothing in this post that adds to the conversation on the Romance genre, writing Romances, the publishing industry, the communities that surround the genre, etcetera – all reasons I enjoy reading your Web log. Now, if Ms. McCann had pulled an Edwards…well, I’d be interested in reading about that.

    What we have learned is sad and disturbing. When I read that she had left her five children, I immediately thought of the man in Indiana who left all eight of his children at a hospital to be taken care of by Indiana’s Child Welfare Office.

    I don’t condone her actions, but remember that sometimes all people can see is that they must get out of a bad situation. We cannot know how other people handle stresses. In cases like this the public only ever learns of the the repercussions and consequences of actions and decisions.

    A question: Jane, do you think that you would publish news about Nora Roberts or Eloise James’ or any other well-regarded first/second-tier (in sales) author if it was revealed that they had made an equally regrettable decision? Would you open their lives to speculation on your Web log?

    As for the question of privacy. I believe that every person is allowed to be private – unless they commit a crime or have signed away a part of their lives in a reality TV show.

    From what I understand, authors do not sign a release statement for their entire lives when they sign a book contract. It does not follow that because a person is an author they are automatically a public person. Indeed, to expect a person to open their entire life for examination simply because their name is on a book is wrong.

    P.S. I have never heard of this writer….has anyone who visits this Web log read any of her books?

  52. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 23:23:16

    Rebecca – yes, I absolutely think I would post something about Roberts or James that was featured on ABC. I remember posting something about the sale of Judith McNaught’s million dollar home once. I guess I’m just not as moral or good as you would like to think of me.

  53. Rebecca
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 23:26:39

    Regarding author bios:

    I never take those seriously. I can imagine that having one’s own HEA is nice and probably sells books to the sentimental.

    For me? Well, I’m glad you have an HEA. What I am more interested in is your writing bio.

    Regarding everything else:

    There are a lot of juicy topics exposed by this story and this post.

  54. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 23:30:50

    I guess I'm just not as moral or good as you would like to think of me.

    I don’t think questioning a decision about whether a post belongs on DA means anyone thinks you’re immoral or bad. I don’t, even though I disagree with your decision, and I see nothing in Rebecca’s post to indicate she does either.

  55. Robin/Janet
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 23:38:56

    For those of you who object to the sharing of this story here, had the author been the daughter, would it still be so offensive? How about if the story was positive? Or what about if the request for donations was in tandem with an author who had lost her home in a storm or did not have medical insurance for a sick husband (both of which have happened in the Romance community). In other words, is it the principle of posting information from the mainstream media that relates to an author’s private life, or is it the particular issues of this story?

  56. Ann Somerville
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 23:48:02

    “had the author been the daughter, would it still be so offensive?”

    Yes. Unless the daughter shared it herself.

    “what about if the request for donations was in tandem with an author who had lost her home in a storm or did not have medical insurance for a sick husband”

    The difference in those cases is that there’s no factual dispute as in the McCann story. In that, we’ve got two basically irreconcilable versions of events – neither or which have the least thing to do with her authorship. The reporting of this story as I’ve seen it has invited condemnation of Ms McCann, and yet we don’t know the truth.

    In a charity situation, if the medical expenses were mentioned without the author’s consent, that would be appalling.

    “is it the principle of posting information from the mainstream media that relates to an author's private life, or is it the particular issues of this story?”

    Both. And as I said right at the start, I don’t think it belongs on DA because the hook isn’t real. All it would need would be McCann fictionalising her life story and selling it, or some way she had used her story in detail to promote herself, and that would be enough of a hook. I don’t see that here.

    Raising money for the kids is great, and I applaud Jane for doing that. I think the value judgements should be left for those involved and those who know the facts.

  57. Jane
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 23:49:32

    @Ann Somerville: My point is that I am not as high minded as you would like for me to be or at least as it pertains to the running of the blog. I think that what this woman did to her family is appalling and her defenses weak. She is a romance author of a fairly well known epress and thus it seemed romance related.

    Is it gossipy? Sure. Did I break any confidences? Absolutely not. It was a public piece on a mainstream media site.

    I’ve blogged about plenty personal details including how much money authors bring in and that wasn’t met with any outcries of invasion of privacy. So these accusations of theft and personal degradation seem inconsistent in this case.

  58. Kat
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 23:49:46

    had the author been the daughter, would it still be so offensive

    Not if she brought it up in the first place. (Also, just to clarify, it didn’t offend me. I was just uncomfortable since I didn’t think it belonged on DA, but like I said, maybe it’s me reading more into what DA is or is not. I acknowledge that.)

    If it were positive, no, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it. But then I think one should always be more careful of publishing negative stories than positive ones. Not that they shouldn’t be published–just that more care should be taken because they’re more easily misconstrued and the effects are more damaging.

    In terms of helping out someone in need, to be honest, that’s not the overriding message I got from this post. Again, that may well be my fault as a reader. And in calling for donations to help people who are dealing with illness or natural disasters, those don’t incite judgment calls like the ABC article does.

    So my answer is that in this case, there’s an element that has a negative impact on someone, and because of that I would think twice.

  59. Ann Somerville
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 00:17:26

    “My point is that I am not as high minded as you would like for me to be or at least as it pertains to the running of the blog.”

    You’re upset because I think well of you? Okay – that sure makes a change :)

    “I think that what this woman did to her family is appalling and her defenses weak.”

    Um, there you go with the value judgements again. What if the woman is mentally ill, or was? What if the reporting has left out her defence in detail? What if the daughter is lying or has been misled?

    We don’t know.

    Look, there have been times in my life when it’s gone completely off the rails. If you asked me to defend myself decades on, I wouldn’t be able to do so coherently or strongly because it’s not something I can talk about in that way. (I’m not talking about criminality either.) Suddenly the press is at the door demanding answers, and all I can think is, “Shit! The whole world knows about this?” It’s the Lindy Chamberlain scenario, isn’t it? A woman doesn’t react as we expect, so we crucify her for her lack of feeling. But it doesn’t mean guilt, necessarily.

    “She is a romance author of a fairly well known epress and thus it seemed romance related.”

    I simply disagree, so let’s leave it there.

    “Did I break any confidences? Absolutely not”

    No, you didn’t and if I said anything which implied that, I apologise. The conversation veered off into issues of what is private, which were unrelated to this particular case. The privacy issue here is the particular invitation to discuss it, and so give people without the facts another chance to bash this woman.

    “I've blogged about plenty personal details including how much money authors bring in and that wasn't met with any outcries of invasion of privacy.”

    Maybe because the facts are both public and indisputable? How much money Nora Robert’s is bringing in, is probably a public record if she’s part of a limited company. Whether she or her husband are sleeping around*, isn’t – and if you posted something like that, I think the outcries would be there. I hope so.

    “So these accusations of theft and personal degradation seem inconsistent in this case.”

    “accusations of theft” relate purely to how *I* feel about my personal information being disseminated without my consent. There is no specific accusation towards you of that.

    “personal degradation” – well yes, I think there is that going on.
    Anion = “What a disgusting woman.”
    Chantal = I'm disguted.” [sic]
    Julie Leto = “Maybe the kids were better off without her.”
    Alison Brennan = “The woman is a sociopath.”

    All based on a news report with disputed facts, and highly biased towards the daughter.

    * Nora, if you’re reading this, you’re being used as a high-profile example, nothing more!

  60. Robin/Janet
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 00:19:39

    Obviously this isn’t a “need to know” kind of piece, nor is there an explicit ‘relevant to Romance genre’ connection. So I can see both sides. I don’t think this story presents the most compelling case for author privacy vis a vis sharing on a blog, but I do think it’s shocking and sad, no matter what the truth of the situation.

    It’s interesting, though, because when you think about how the press covers the various hospitalizations, rehab stints, arrests, etc. of celebrities, how many people won’t go see a David Duchovny movie because he just came out of sex addiction rehab? Or won’t buy a Britney Spears CD because of her various issues with her kids? This whole meshing of the book and the author seems, in part, connected to the anxiety around posting this story. I don’t think posting the story creates that personalization, but I do think the personalization ups the perceived stakes.

  61. Jane
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 00:55:18

    @Ann Somerville: I actually could care less what you think of me Ann. We’ll just have to disagree on the entirety of this topic because yes I think any prson even if they are mentally ill is wrong to have abandoned her children. Parenting is a tough gig but a child is a defenseless being. I would judge anyone who engages in child cruelty negatively.

    I think itbis pretty indisputable that the woman left her kids for 7 years.

  62. Ann Somerville
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 01:01:37

    “I think any prson even if they are mentally ill is wrong to have abandoned her children”

    She left the kids with the father. That’s not ‘abandoning’ them to the fates. Men do this kind of thing all the time.

    “I think itbis pretty indisputable that the woman left her kids for 7 years.”

    So what? You don’t know why. That’s the unknown.

    “I actually could care less what you think of me ”

    Sorry you feel that way.

  63. Karen Scott
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 03:38:41

    As for McCann, if I believe her and she abandoned kids to an abusive husband, that’s despicable. If I don’t believe her and she ran off with her boyfriend, that’s despicable.

    What she said.

    Jane, this was a weird post to read on your site. It *is* gossipy because it has to do with an author’s personal life. This post invites judgment and feeds needless and useless speculation

    I think this is a perfect example of that ‘higher standard’ that DA is held to.

    You should really should start posting actual gossipy stuff, that way your readers wont be as surprised, and you’ll avoid the cries of OH NOES, THE JA(Y)NES HAVE GONE NEGATIVE! LE GASP! (g)

  64. Anion
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 04:22:18

    Well, Ann, perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I did go too far by calling her “disgusting”; it may well be that there are extenuating circumstances I know nothing about.

    But I know some non-custodial Moms (hell, my own mother was a non-custodial Mom for all of my teen years.) I don’t know a single one who wouldn’t have gone home and shown up on the doorstep of the home, with the police if they deemed it necessary, to find out why they weren’t being allowed to speak to their kids. I don’t judge her reasons for leaving. I think she’s lying and I think leaving children with someone abusive is wrong, but I also concede it’s entirely possible that her mental state was muddled or that the husband was abusive only to her or had turned the children against her. It’s possible she’s simply not smart enough to think of calling the police or CPS or whomever.

    But that doesn’t prevent my knee-jerk reaction, which is that having brought children into the world you have a duty and responsibility to them. It doesn’t excuse the husband either. In fact I would place more of the blame on him.

    If I say they’re both disgusting, does that change things? No, seriously.

    The thing is, as a society we depend in part on moral judgment. There should be things we don’t do simply because they are not done, and abandoning one’s children is one of those things (which, yes, she did leave them with an adult, but she still vanished without a world and that is a horrible thing to do to a child. It’s still abandonment, whether she left them with a family member or a father or a hospital or a neighbor or on the streets). I reserve the right to judge her, because her actions affect me just as they affect every other member of society. Our condemnation of her sends a message that we expect people to not abandon their children. It’s no different from telling authors we expect them to not write nasty things about people who don’t like their books (whether it’s our business or not is a different discussion, one I see both sides of. The fact is the story is out there). These things are not crimes. They are moral wrongs, so verbal condemnation is our only weapon to try and prevent it.

    JMO. I’m not strongly for or against the story being here, but I am strongly for a strong sense of right and wrong, and I am even more strongly for a sense of personal responsibility. And I’m genuinely not trying to get into an argument here either.

  65. Ann Somerville
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 04:49:20

    as a society we depend in part on moral judgment

    Agreed, and moral pressure is often the only pressure we *can* bring to bear (e.g. in the Victoria Laurie/DAM type situations).

    But I’ve seen too many situations where a situation looks black and white and the truth is very much greyer. This family has broken down, as a lot of families do. Most families have the luxury of doing that in private. The reason this family doesn’t is because the daughter decided to contact the press – and the press ran with the mother’s career as their hook. I think that’s unfair to her because no one would give a monkey’s about this if they hadn’t seized on her very minor writing career.

    “I reserve the right to judge her, because her actions affect me just as they affect every other member of society. ”

    Do you not think that unless you know the full story before you judge?

    Women who leave their children are judged much more harshly than men who do the same – yet women do it much more rarely, and usually with a lot more compulsion. I would look at this and say, it must have been something truly extraordinary that made her do this. Maybe her reasons still wouldn’t pass the moral bar, but peering at someone else’s family with a microscope is something I believe we shouldn’t do unless we’re involved.

    I think of the things in my life that a lot of people would consider beyond the moral pale (because of their religious beliefs, or otherwise) and know that there are reasons for them which those people might not accept, but which I felt at the time were compelling.

    Could she have found a better solution? Maybe. Are there better solutions? Undoubtedly. The kids suffered horribly and I feel for them, but can’t we do that without dropping boulders on the mother’s head?

    (On the turning up and demanding to speak to the kids – she was living overseas under another identity. Maybe it wasn’t possible.)

  66. Jessica
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 05:23:02

    This is my favorite romance blog, but I have to be honest: I feel that this is not a worthwhile post.

  67. (Jān)
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 06:29:55

    I think this post would have been more appropriate had it been focused on if and how McCann’s work as a romance writer was being used in the stories about this. But even without that, it is a national story about a romance writer, and this blog does focus on all such things, good or bad. I just wish people wouldn’t jump to conclusions about judging an affair that we obviously don’t have all the facts on, and that’s obviously hurt everyone involved.

  68. Anion
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 07:14:45

    Do you not think that unless you know the full story before you judge?

    Welll…I do and I don’t. She presented her side of the story in the article, and I didn’t buy it. Yes, it’s possible they left stuff out. It’s possible she spent hours making a passionate case and the reporter discarded all of that and went for the killer angle.

    But to say you can’t have a thought or a knee-jerk reaction or an opinion without knowing every detail of everyone’s side of the story does seem a bit much to me. To me, there’s is very little that could fully justify this woman’s decision. That might not be the case for everyone. I admit that, having been the child of a non-custodial mother, my feelings on this may be sharper than others’s (and my Mom was always in touch, I saw her regularly, all of that, but nothing ever fully takes away the feeling that you needed your Mom and she wasn’t there, for whatever reason.) It may be partly the fact that I am a mother and cannot fathom any force on this planet that would induce me to leave my children like that.

    Women leave their families every day, but I think there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way, and I think this woman simply did it the wrong way.

    Women who leave their children are judged much more harshly than men who do the same – yet women do it much more rarely, and usually with a lot more compulsion. I would look at this and say, it must have been something truly extraordinary that made her do this. Maybe her reasons still wouldn't pass the moral bar, but peering at someone else's family with a microscope is something I believe we shouldn't do unless we're involved.

    And that is true, to some extent. Yes, they are judged more harshly then men by some. Not by me. When a friend of mine left his pregnant wife (he “didn’t think he wanted to be married after all”) he ceased being my friend. Point blank. I told him exactly what I thought of him and his actions and that was it.

    Perhaps it’s cyncial of me. But I just can’t look at this woman and be as sympathetic as you can. You say it must have been something extraordinary; I say it’s possible, but it feels more like she just wasn’t happy and met some guy online and decided to run off and be with him. What sort of “absive husband” who doesn’t let his wife have access to a vehicle or money (yet she was apparently able to clear out their savings), let her go on solo vacations to England after he’s found evidence she’s been having online affairs? Why divorce through this “special process” by which you say you can’t find the other person if they’ve been sending emails, cards, and gifts?

    I simply look at the situation and think, that child has some legitimate greivances, and of all the parties involved, she’s the one I’m inclined to believe.

    But you have made a salient point, I think. I can’t agree with it, but I do think it’s valid.

  69. Noelle
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 08:41:14

    Jane – I love this site and I have no issue with you posting this story. I support you.

    And you know, I have put more authors on my “won’t buy” list from their comments on various blogs sites than I ever have from blog stories about authors.

  70. RfP
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 10:21:59

    I wondered whether it was because more people reading the site feel they *know* Laurie and therefore feel a stronger personal connection to anything critical written about her. The more identification, the more discomfort, maybe?

    Robin, that seems to dismiss people’s objections by assuming there’s personal bias. I don’t read AAR and my “wincing” is not about perceived allegiances. It’s about what I would do versus what someone else does. Which does NOT mean “For shame! You should only post what I like! Which is at a higher standard than you can aspire to! Nyah!”

    I don't think posting the story creates that personalization, but I do think the personalization ups the perceived stakes.

    I think it’s a valid question to look beyond how authors and readers personalize the fiction/life connection, and talk about how third parties–including tabloids and blogs–both foster and disrupt that sense of connection. As Kat said,

    there have been huge brouhahas on the blogs about authors who expose too much of their private lives and how we as readers really don't want to know.

    Robin again:

    is it the principle of posting information from the mainstream media that relates to an author's private life, or is it the particular issues of this story?

    I don’t find gossipy pieces interesting in general. My interest is in what Rebecca described as

    conversation on the Romance genre, writing Romances, the publishing industry, the communities that surround the genre, etcetera

    I clicked on this piece thinking it would include some commentary along those lines, or what (Jān) suggested:

    I think this post would have been more appropriate had it been focused on if and how McCann's work as a romance writer was being used in the stories about this.

  71. Rebecca
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 11:00:27

    Jane:

    “…yes, I absolutely think I would post something about Roberts or James that was featured on ABC. I remember posting something about the sale of Judith McNaught's million dollar home once. I guess I'm just not as moral or good as you would like to think of me.”

    The source of my question was about the editorial decision made in reporting such news. It had nothing whatsoever to do with any value judgements re you personally. I think that (not having met you personally, but having had the chance to read your posts, responses to posts, etc.) you are a fine person and thoughtful. Such thoughtfulness is really nice to find in the world of the Web log.

    I just think that posting that story was strange because it seems so counter to all the other posts you and the other Janes have shared with us, your adoring public. Seriously. We adore you. I did not mean to hurt your feelings. It’s a lot of work to keep a Web log like this going and you all do it very very well.

    Back to the editorial question.

    The editorial choice to post this information about Ms. McCann has (for me) opened up the question of how nuanced an approach the Janes wish to take regarding news about the personal and private lives of authors.

    Where are the nuances here? For me, there is a break between private and personal. Selling a house is a personal fact, but not intensely private. Choosing to leave ones husband and five children is a very private decision (even in this age of the confessional and living in front of the camera).

    So, my question to you all is an editorial one. Is all author news to be treated equally or will you all be separating author-work from author-personal and from author-private news?

    From your first sentence in response to my original comment, it sounds as if all author news will be treated equally and all reported regardless of whether its germane to the core subjects of your Web log. And that’s your prerogative.

    I am curious. That’s all.

  72. Robin/Janet
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 12:33:23

    Robin, that seems to dismiss people's objections by assuming there's personal bias.

    I don’t see it as about bias at all; I see it as about context. There have been multiple posts about how we need non-verbal cues to understand what others mean in their posts, their tone, etc., but I think it’s more about context. Many people in the Romance community know the context of Laurie/LLB, for example, and I think that will create a different reading of any issue related to her than it will about someone whose context is not known to the participants.

    In that sense, I think familiarity with someone or even their persona creates a certain context in which their statements can be and are read that’s different from a situation in which that context is absent. Whether that context translates into empathy or the perception of more or less objectivity (because I think that can actually swing both ways, which is another reason I don’t think it’s about “personal bias” which suggests to me one direction), I do think it creates a different filter, to which people will respond with different levels of intensity.

    That doesn’t make their perceptions any more or less valid, but I think our comprehension of the context changes the tenor of the conversation for all of us.

    The most basic demonstration I can come up with is that of watching a disagreement between two people you know but who don’t know each other, and how much easier it is to understand where each is coming from (and might even be moved to try to explain/translate/mediate) even though the participants can’t.

  73. Robin/Janet
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 13:26:03

    Rebecca, I obviously can’t answer the question you posed to Jane, but I wonder how you feel the McCann story compares to this one, for example:http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2007/08/02/pulitzer-prize-winners-wife-leaves-for-ted-turners-harem/.

    I personally think the Romance “hook” here is that the daughter was able to discover her mother via her public online identity as a Romance author (please don’t think I’m creating a causal connection between the genre and her actions, though; I’m just saying that once she went public in that way, she created a trail for her daughter to discover and follow). But that still doesn’t solve the questions people have about whether this story should have been posted here, I don’t think. As I said, I can see it both ways.

    What I don’t think, though, is that its publication signals some descent into the gutter, in large part because this story was part of the international mainstream news, not an email chain, not a private rumor passed around, not something overheard or seen at an event, etc. With all the stuff that goes on that ISN’T posted publicly here, that, IMO, is the overwhelming, compelling, long-standing pattern and reflection of how highly Jane respects the personal privacy of authors.

  74. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 13:30:24

    Romance authors write about love. When they do something that seems cold and heartless, we react.

    Some romance novelists create characters/villains who are sociopaths, and we are fascinated by their psychology. Having a (suspected) sociopath write about tender feelings and happily ever afters…now that’s interesting. And relevant.

  75. Jane
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 15:09:31

    @Rebecca: “So, my question to you all is an editorial one. Is all author news to be treated equally or will you all be separating author-work from author-personal and from author-private news?

    From your first sentence in response to my original comment, it sounds as if all author news will be treated equally and all reported regardless of whether its germane to the core subjects of your Web log. And that's your prerogative. ”

    First, I want to say that I appreciate your comments and criticism. My feelings are not hurt in any way. It’s one thing to criticize the post as lacking in relevance or being too gossipy for a news section. It’s another thing to say that the post is beneath DA. DA is not a news site run with editorial staff who debate about the wisdom of posting various topics. For the news and op ed pieces I post, I am the only filter.

    The criteria I use in determining whether to post something is simple: 1) is it interesting to me; 2) is it romance and/or publishing related; and 3) is the information public.

    I found that the ABC news piece fulfilled all three criteria. I am very careful to never post about something that isn’t already made public. I am not in the business of breaking news or making news. I try very hard to keep confidences and I don’t think I have ever posted anything that someone shared with me in confidence. People who know me generally find me to be pretty discreet.

    If it was reported that Big Name Author A went into rehab for drug abuse on a major news site, I would repost that here. If it was told to me in confidence, it would stay in confidence. I guess that is how I determine what is posted in the “news” section.

    I don’t see that reposting something that was on ABC News is a violation of privacy, something I believe in and value. I don’t see this as privacy issue because it was already widely public information.

    I don’t know whether that answers your questions. I’m not sure what you deem to be the “core subjects” of DA.

  76. JulieLeto
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 15:29:16

    What Jill said.

  77. Kimberly Van Meter
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 17:11:45

    I lurk quite regularly on this site and I enjoy reading the posts, whether they’re regarding reviews, industry news, or opinion. It seems this particular post has hit a nerve and I can see arguments from both sides (card-carrying Libra) but since opinions are being tossed into the mix, I can’t help but throw mine in, too. I agree that authors are, in a way, public figures. Sometimes we forget that because our work is completed in a solitary fashion but our work affects others in both positive and negative ways. If a pedophile were writing children’s books, I’d want to know so I could avoid purchasing his/her work. I refused to watch the movie “Powder” for this very reason. My dh and I didn’t agree on the principle but it was something I felt strongly about. Personally, I don’t care what this author’s reasons were for leaving her children. The point is, she left them and NEVER CAME BACK. While I do not read this author, now, there is little chance that I would EVER pick up her work. Is it unfortunate that her dirty laundry was aired in a public manner? Absolutely. But I, for one, am glad that I’ve been educated as to her character. This are my personal feelings and I realize they may very well clash with that of others but it doesn’t change my feelings.

    Thank you Jane for the education.

  78. kirsten saell
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 19:44:33

    Robin/Janet said: “…how many people won't go see a David Duchovny movie because he just came out of sex addiction rehab? Or won't buy a Britney Spears CD because of her various issues with her kids? This whole meshing of the book and the author seems, in part, connected to the anxiety around posting this story.”

    Hell, Robin, if this woman wrote litfic, everyone would expect her to be messed up and would probably buy more of her books after reading this. But because she makes her money on the HEA, the whole situation skeeves me out. I don’t think all romance writers should be married, or even happy. I do think there should be a capacity in them for love and loyalty, and whether she or the daughter is to be believed, there’s a serious lack of that going on here.

    “When I was feeling rather unhappy and unfulfilled with my life, I had the courage to pick myself up and successfully relocate myself to a new country.”

    That’s the part that disturbs me the most. It’s easy to pick yourself up and successfully relocate if you can just leave your six kids where they are, isn’t it? And the word “courage” seems a rather blase way to describe leaving six kids in the care of their allegedly abusive father and skipping the country.

  79. Ann Somerville
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 22:26:18

    “When they do something that seems cold and heartless”

    Of course, if we’re talking about the hero of a romance story, then it’s a feature, not a bug.

  80. Robin/Janet
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 23:43:19

    Of course, if we're talking about the hero of a romance story, then it's a feature, not a bug.

    Well, yeah, because he hasn’t yet been healed by the heroine’s magic hoo haw, unconditional acceptance, perfect maternal instincts, and naturally perky breasts.

  81. Ann Somerville
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 23:52:19

    So maybe Ms McCann just needs a magic peen to cure her of her cold-heartedness?

    I know that dick definitely made me a better person ;)

  82. Anion
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 03:49:57

    I refused to watch the movie “Powder” for this very reason.

    Good for you, Kimberly Van Meter! I keep an eye on De Salva’s IMDB page; I won’t see anything he has anything to do with. I don’t give my money to pedophiles or those who work with pedophiles.

    (I’m not comparing McCann to a pedophile, btw. It’s just a side comment.)

  83. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 09:43:48

    Ann, I know you’re making the point that a man would be judged differently in this situation. I totally agree with you. If the news came out that Nicholas Sparks had left a wife in the lurch with 6 kids, this thread would be blowing up with comments. All negative, I’m sure.

    Abused women sometimes do things the rest of us can’t understand. Perhaps this is the case with Ms. McCann. I would be even LESS sympathetic if the subject of this article were a man.

    I hear your frustration with the idea that women are supposed to be sweet but ruthless men are sssexy (in romance novels, anyway), and I can’t argue there.

  84. kirsten saell
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:09:45

    If the news came out that Nicholas Sparks had left a wife in the lurch with 6 kids, this thread would be blowing up with comments. All negative, I'm sure.

    That’s the thing. Because this is a mother we’re talking about, we’re almost desperate to come up with some excuse for why she might have done this: she must have had her reasons, reasons we can’t know, maybe she was abused, mentally ill, we really can’t understand what was going through her head, and so on. If it was a father, we’d probably just be calling an asshole an asshole…

  85. Robin/Janet
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:38:09

    I don’t know; there seems to be something singularly socially heinous about the “bad mother,” however we may define her (we’ve certainly banished her from Romance — no true love for her, dammit!). I agree that Nicholas Sparks would have faced condemnation for similar behavior, but if you read some of the comments on the ABC story, there is NO mercy for McCann, no pretense of mercy, no thought of mercy, no way.

    Now I’m not defending McCann (don’t know anything from anything about why she did what she did), just commenting on the way we have been socially programmed, IMO, to see “bad mothering” as “unnatural” somehow. Although if you trace the development of commercial fiction written by and for women as it grew from the Revolutionary values of the late 18th century, the figure of the mother has been the predominant symbol of republican (in the sense of the republic, not the party) womanhood, so in a sense we’ve simply stayed the course. It’s just that now we’ve transformed her as a political symbol, via the Victorian culture of the 19th century, to a moral symbol.

    Oh, and I had no idea about Victor Salva. Wow. And people worry about insuring Lindsey Lohan.

  86. kirsten saell
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:56:11

    I don't know; there seems to be something singularly socially heinous about the “bad mother,” however we may define her…

    But again, I think we’re predisposed to assume a man who does this is just an asshole who wants to avoid his responsibilities, whereas if it’s a woman, there MUST be some good reason she abandoned her kids. I imagine that if it comes out that McCann did this for selfish reasons, the condemnation will be much worse than it would be with a man.

  87. kirsten saell
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:57:55

    duplicate post, sorry

  88. Robin/Janet
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 12:25:59

    I imagine that if it comes out that McCann did this for selfish reasons, the condemnation will be much worse than it would be with a man.

    But that’s kind of my point. We may think a man who is selfish is an a-hole, but a woman who shows similar selfishness (whether or not it’s the actual reason for her actions) will be told that no punishment is harsh enough for her show of un-motherly behavior.

  89. Kim
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 20:06:13

    There is no excuse to leave your children with someone who you claim is violent. She saved her ass from this situation bu left defenseless children? She didn’t try all the legal resources available to get them back? She left her kids for SEVEN years with a man who is supposedly abusive? No contact. No attempt to get them back. Mental illness,my ass.

    Chick,please. Abandonment is abandonment.

    I have four sons,ages 16,13,12,and 9. I call them the Children Of the Corn because they could make anybody run screaming from my house. But I would never,never,never leave them. Never. Especially with a man who is violent.I would put a man six feet under if he ever thought about hitting me. Trying to hurt my children would make me get “Hostel” on him real quick.

    There is no excuse for this kind of crap from any parent. None.

    I cannot understand a woman who can do such a thing.

  90. Throwmearope
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 20:53:36

    This is Jane’s blog, she can do what she wants to do. If she posts something you find distasteful, click out of the article. Authors are public figures, their private lives are only as private as their guard dogs are fierce and efficient.

    It might have required a lot of courage to move to another country in search of a new life. It requires a lot more courage to stick around and raise a bunch of heathens (er, children). By the way, I call my children RC in public. It stands for rotten children, but strangers don’t lecture me about my bad attitude as a mother like they did when I didn’t abbreviate the term.

  91. Ann Somerville
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 21:10:15

    “I would put a man six feet under if he ever thought about hitting me.”

    “Mental illness,my ass.”

    Gosh, with all the lack of sympathy here for people with mental illnesses and abused women, I sure wouldn’t come to the romance community for help if my husband was knocking me around, or I was hospitalised with my depression. No wonder people in those situations find it so difficult to ask for help.

    “I cannot understand a woman who can do such a thing.”

    Then why do you think you’re fit to pass any assessment on her?

    People – even romance writers – have complicated lives, and often they fuck up. I’m horrified at the lack of sympathy or empathy on display here, and the incredibly harsh judgments being placed on a woman based on biased third party reports. I’m not saying she’s inevitably whiter than white, but good grief.

    Speaking of the Children of the Corn, the pitchforks come out damn fast on our sisters. The benefit of the doubt, the excuses, the ‘you’re so mean’ condemnations, are pretty selectively doled out, aren’t they?

  92. MoJo
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 22:26:30

    By the way, I call my children RC in public. It stands for rotten children

    I call mine Tax Deductions, or TDs. :D

    This is Jane's blog, she can do what she wants to do.

    You know, I think that’s the crux of the matter. And I agree.

  93. kirsten saell
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 22:30:51

    Speaking of the Children of the Corn, the pitchforks come out damn fast on our sisters. The benefit of the doubt, the excuses, the ‘you're so mean' condemnations, are pretty selectively doled out, aren't they?

    You aren’t asking people to tone down their retoric, are you? To choose their words in a way that considers other people’s feelings? Color me confused, because I thought you were all for not policing others’ methods of expression…

  94. Kat
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 22:32:04

    I think we're predisposed to assume a man who does this is just an asshole who wants to avoid his responsibilities, whereas if it's a woman, there MUST be some good reason she abandoned her kids.

    Not sure about this. When azteclady posted the article on Karen’s blog about the man who abandoned his 9 kids in a hospital, my first thought was to wonder if he was depressed. Anyway. I guess we all bring our personal biases into the equation when we’re given limited information. I’m sure there are other news stories where I’ve been quick to assume the worst.

    This is Jane's blog, she can do what she wants to do. If she posts something you find distasteful, click out of the article.

    I’m slightly offended by this. I don’t feel that questioning the intent behind a post goes against what this blog is about. Jane’s free to tell me to shut up if she wants to. Don’t you think some of the ensuing discussions following this post have been thought-provoking? I have.

    with all the lack of sympathy here for people with mental illnesses and abused women

    I think that’s probably what I disliked most, really. If you’ve ever had to deal with someone who’s depressive or self-destructive or even just plain stupid and not had the luxury of cutting them out of your life, you quickly understand that people do all sorts of bizarre things that make sense to them at the time. Truthfully, I’d rather parents abandoned their children somewhere safe than lose it one day and drown them all in the bath.

  95. kirsten saell
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 22:39:21

    Not sure about this. When azteclady posted the article on Karen's blog about the man who abandoned his 9 kids in a hospital, my first thought was to wonder if he was depressed.

    He abandoned his kids in a hospital, after his wife died. He didn’t leave his kids and his wife and move to another country to start a new life. If he did that, your assumptions might have been different.

    I also would rather have a parent abandon a child somewhere safe than possibly harm them, but this woman’s own excuse for leaving her family is that her husband was abusive. Leaving her kids with him is not leaving them someplace safe.

  96. azteclady
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 22:53:46

    You know, I’m sort of surprised by these cries for sympathy for the adult woman–mid thirties when she abandoned the kids, if my math is correct–and so little for the children, most of which are still minors today.

  97. Kat
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 22:58:11

    So maybe she lied about him being abusive to cover her arse about abandoning the kids. If you believe the daughter, the guy wasn’t abusive. Maybe the mother really just couldn’t cope, either because she was depressed or just plain selfish. Why did the eldest daughter have to be pulled out of school to care for her siblings? Where was the father? Why did the daughter choose to approach the media first before attempting contact with her mother? The answers may not go to WHY the mother left, but they would certainly affect the assumptions I make about the story.

    My point is that even though the two articles had different contexts, there was no shortage of people willing to assume facts about the man who abandoned his kids, either. We assume. We’re predisposed to it. I suppose I’m just questioning the assumptions (yes, including my own). I know it drives some people crazy (my dad, for one), but I can’t help myself sometimes.

    Having said all that, I’m glad that the whole thing resulted in people wanting to help the kids. I just hope any money they get is spent properly (and yes, that’s me making an assumption).

  98. Kat
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 23:12:10

    azteclady, somewhere at the top of the comments, Ann said: ‘Give money to the kids if you feel moved, but don't judge the mother until you know everything that went on.’ That’s pretty much how I feel except I’d say ‘assume’ rather than ‘judge’. My not wanting to immediately assume the worst of the mother doesn’t preclude my having sympathy for the kids.

  99. azteclady
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 23:20:53

    Kat, while I see your point (I think I do, at least), I’m still finding it… well, weird, that “give money to the kids if you feel moved” is all the compassion spared to seven children–the eldest of which was 14–abandoned by their mother, while the same mother is being defended so ardently.

  100. Kat
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 23:29:43

    I don’t feel like I’m defending her. Just saying that I don’t know everything and there may well be some mitigating circumstances. Frankly, my first thought was why the kids are still in that house if they’ve not been coping well. My automatic assumption is that the dad is a deadbeat if he’s relying on a 14-year old girl to raise his kids. Then I thought maybe the dad just didn’t want to be interviewed. My point is, I don’t know. The kids have 800+ comments worth of support (I’m talking about comments on the actual news item). I don’t think a few voices saying there may be other facts we don’t know about is necessarily weird.

  101. azteclady
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 23:38:01

    And I was not referring to your comments, but to most of Ann Somerville’s comments in this thread.

  102. kirsten saell
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 00:01:41

    I don't think a few voices saying there may be other facts we don't know about is necessarily weird.

    A few voices saying there may be other factors is cool, understandable, and not what anyone has an issue with, I think.

    It’s the “shame on you, who are you to judge??!!” from voices that quite frequently sit in judgement of others–the “be nice!” from those who claim to advocate freedom of expression–that seems a bit wonky. Perhaps abandoning your children isn’t such a terrible thing. Heaven forefend should someone call it “gay”, though.

    *ducking*

  103. Kat
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 00:35:49

    Perhaps abandoning your children isn't such a terrible thing.

    For the record, I didn’t say this, nor do I think I said anything that even remotely implied it. (I will admit to implying that it could have been worse if she’d been mentally unstable.)

    And now I think maybe it’s getting personal and hearkening back to a closed thread. Bowing out now because I have nothing to do with that. Nevertheless, some of the other issues raised in these comments were really very interesting (and Robin, as usually, gave me much food for thought).

  104. kirsten saell
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 00:48:10

    For the record, I didn't say this, nor do I think I said anything that even remotely implied it. (I will admit to implying that it could have been worse if she'd been mentally unstable.)

    No, you didn’t say that. And I haven’t piled on the woman or called for her to be strung up, either. I do find it difficult, given both sides of the story, to see her as someone to admire. That’s why the “…I had the courage to pick myself up and successfully relocate myself to a new country.” part bothered me so. It seems rather self-congratulatory, given the circumstances.

    (and Robin, as usually, gave me much food for thought).

    She does that, doesn’t she?

  105. clusterbucks.com » Blog Archive » My Review of Music And Lyrics
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 03:36:35

    [...] 80’s then you need to see this film anyway Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Comment on Romance Author's Mothering Under Scrutiny by aztecladyTrisha Telep – Mammoth Book of Vampire RomanceGuy Sebastian – Angels Brought Me Here LyricsNavartri [...]

  106. Karen Scott
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 04:48:56

    I think the outrage at the mother stems from the widely held belief that women are expected to be more maternal than men. That may be sexist, but as a society, I think we’re almost accepting of the fact that some men are assholes, and wouldn’t think twice about abandoning their children. It happens everyday here in England.

    Whereas, a mother abandoning a child that she carried in her womb for nine months seem to have more of an impact on us. I don’t think it’s just another example of how women turn on each other, I just think we hold other women to higher standards when it comes to looking after their children. I know I certainly do, rightly or wrongly.

  107. kirsten saell
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 10:37:07

    Whereas, a mother abandoning a child that she carried in her womb for nine months seem to have more of an impact on us. I don't think it's just another example of how women turn on each other, I just think we hold other women to higher standards when it comes to looking after their children. I know I certainly do, rightly or wrongly.

    That’s certainly true, and I don’t think it’s a only societal thing. From a biological standpoint, the male investment in offspring is virtually nil. A few minutes, a few billion sperm. In the animal kingdom, most males do the nasty and simply walk away before the offspring come along. A woman invests nine months of risk to her health (at the very least putting strain on her body), culminating in a life-endangering process, then invests months or years breast-feeding. No matter how we as human beings who no longer live in caves like to tinker with our roles in life, this is how nature originally intended it to be.

    So of course, a woman abandoning her kids is simply going to seem more unnatural and wrong and shocking and unforgivable than a man doing the same.

  108. Robin/Janet
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 12:36:35

    (and Robin, as usually, gave me much food for thought).

    Ah, gee, thanks, Kat (I think, lol).

    This thread was getting a mite uncomfortable for me, too, but I am going to try for one more point about the whole “natural mother” concept.

    A couple of reasons I find this fetishization problematic:

    1. Are those species where males do the childcare (lots of birds, for example), or where both “parents” actually abandon their unborn offspring for unknown reasons “unnatural”? The biology argument can be compelling but it’s rarely monolithic, especially when we’re talking about humans, who, depending on the issue, are seen as either resisting or capitulating to biology.

    2. The unintended but existing perception that if women are more “natural” mothers, the men who are now staying home with their kids are feminized, somehow, making that incredibly important social trend even less attractive than it already is for many men AND women who are wary of being stereotyped (men as not masculine enough because they are in a traditionally female social role, and women as not maternal enough because they are in the traditionally male social role). I find it kind of sad that women seem more readily able to admit they put their kids in daycare (which is often run by other women) than that their husbands/boyfriends stay home with the kids.

    IMO the more insistently we push the “natural mother” theory, the more we imperil gender equity in childcare AND work (and deprive kids the benefit of developing close relationships with dads who take on those primary childcare roles). One woman in this time article (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1668449-1,00.html) one mother with a stay at home husband recalls,

    When her daughter fell down at a birthday party, Amy Vachon, 44, of Watertown, Mass., recalls that the girl ran crying all the way across the room–to her husband Marc. “I admit it hurt at the time,” she says, “mostly because I wondered what everyone thought. There’s such a high standard in society for the good mother.”

    3. Despite the perception that mothers are more naturally prepared and inclined for child care, the reality is that many, many women neglect, abandon, and otherwise abuse their kids. It’s strange, really, because we do castigate women more than men for falling down on their maternal job, and yet we don’t, as a society, seem prepared to really acknowledge the scads of mothers who violate the sacred mother code every day. And I wonder, too, if this idea that women are more naturally “fit” for motherhood keeps us from addressing providing more education and support for women who are really struggling with the demands of motherhood.

  109. kirsten saell
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 13:49:54

    IMO the more insistently we push the “natural mother” theory, the more we imperil gender equity in childcare AND work (and deprive kids the benefit of developing close relationships with dads who take on those primary childcare roles).

    I’m not pushing–or rather, not advocating–the “natural mother” theory, just acknowledging the fact that people’s reactions have a basis in it. Speaking as a woman who is not cuddly or overly nurturing in general, nor concerned with the whole “mommy culture”, I would be overjoyed to have a husband who stayed at home with the kids and took over all those “woman” things. I’m pleased that we’ve come out of the cave, so to speak, and if I could have found a way for the man to carry the babies and deal with childbirth, then go on to nurse the little mooches for months on end, I’d have happily let him do that, too. :D

    But you can’t compare human parental roles to birds or sea horses. Any bird, male or female, can sit on an egg. Not every human can give birth or breastfeed. The biological investment that goes with laying an egg or spawning is not the same as giving birth to, and nursing, a baby. Because of that biological investment, women will likely always be seen by society as more intrinsically, emotionally bonded with their children than men–even though it’s not always the case. Just look at custody cases among divorced parents. If both mother and father want to be the custodial parent, the onus is on the father not just to prove he’s fit, but to prove the mother is unfit, before the children will be placed with him over the mother.

    Not saying it’s right. Just saying it’s so.

    I honestly don’t think we’ll be able to escape the “natural mother” concept entirely until we’re able to get around the dictates of biology.

  110. Robin/Janet
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 14:18:00

    But you can't compare human parental roles to birds or sea horses.

    I was responding to this comment, Kirsten:

    From a biological standpoint, the male investment in offspring is virtually nil. A few minutes, a few billion sperm. In the animal kingdom, most males do the nasty and simply walk away before the offspring come along. A woman invests nine months of risk to her health (at the very least putting strain on her body), culminating in a life-endangering process, then invests months or years breast-feeding. No matter how we as human beings who no longer live in caves like to tinker with our roles in life, this is how nature originally intended it to be.

    But maybe we’re talking about two different things? Or perhaps I misread your comment here?

    I agree with your comment that humans are different, though. We certainly have the capacity for reason as a way to override instinct. And even when it comes to what we perceive to be instinct, I don’t think science always supports our beliefs about what is and isn’t “natural” (especially as our biological knowledge continues to evolve). For example, in that Time article I referenced above, there is this:

    Ironically, dads who take on parenting roles once considered emasculating may simply be responding to nature. Studies have shown that men experience hormonal shifts during their female partner’s pregnancy. A man’s testosterone level drops after settling down to marriage and family, perhaps in preparation for parenthood, as the male hormone is thought to be incompatible with nurturing behavior. In one study, for example, men with lower amounts of testosterone were willing to hold baby dolls for a longer period of time than those with a higher count. In another, the very act of holding dolls lowered testosterone.

    So perhaps our widespread social belief that “From a biological standpoint, the male investment in offspring is virtually nil” is not scientifically correct. I agree with you that it is a predominant belief, but I don’t think that necessarily makes it valid from a scientific perspective, even though that’s often the alleged roots of those beliefs. Just like scientists say our insistence on justifying a craving for french fries on a need for salt is biologically bogus (double damn on that one!), I think our growing research on the biological imperatives on men and women relative to parenting (which is, of course, different than childbirth, and lasts much, much longer in humans than in other species) is beginning to challenge our long-held views about motherhood and fatherhood.

  111. kirsten saell
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 15:27:38

    I’m not talking about what’s best. I’m talking about what’s necessary, from a biological standpoint–the contribution, male and female, necessary for a child to be created and survive. If we disregard all those trappings of civilization we can rely on now, like baby formula, etc–from the moment of conception to the moment a baby is on solid food, the mother is more necessary to its survival than the father. Let’s go back to the cave for a bit. If the father walks away at the child’s birth, that child will be at a disadvantage–less well protected and provided for, with only one parent. But if the mother walks away at birth, well, men don’t lactate. The barest physical necessities of the child (a place to gestate, baby’s first food) come from the mother.

    However, the role of the human father is kind of unique in nature. Looking at the skeletons of pretty much any mammal, you’ll find one thing that human males lack, and that’s an actual penile bone. That bone allows male mammals to get erect instantly and mate at the drop of a hat. It’s been posited that human males lack this bone as a means of fostering pair-bonding between a man and woman. To put it bluntly, if it takes a few minutes of petting and snuggling to get it up, that only strengthens the pair-bonding which IS a biological norm in human parenting. And the need for more reliable pair bonding in humans is linked to all kinds of things, like walking upright and being able to talk, which are linked to the fact that human babies tend to be much more helpless for much longer than even other primates.

    And again, I’m not saying it’s all black and white, or that a father’s role is not important to a child’s well-being. But from a level of purely biological necessity, well, once the sperm swims, a woman can, with difficulty, do the rest on her own. And the biological price she pays to bring the baby into the world (health risks, stretch marks, and oh, let’s not forget the actual pain of giving birth) is higher than what the man pays.

    There’s no doubt that feeds into the idea that “OMG, a woman would never do that to her kid unless she was crazy!”

  112. Ann Somerville
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 17:22:07

    “Looking at the skeletons of pretty much any mammal, you'll find one thing that human males lack.”

    Actually, a number of mammals lack a baculum. And a number which don’t, do not form exclusive pair bonds – like marsupials, rabbits and horses.

    A primate which forms even more intense pair bonds than humans – the gibbon – does have a baculum.

    “It's been posited that human males lack this bone as a means of fostering pair-bonding between a man and woman.”

    If someone uses the words ‘It's been posited’, then I expect to see actual references to actual scientific papers. What’s reported in the popular press doesn’t count.

    Sociobiology comes out with a lot of bull. You can find just as much biological evidence to justify infidelity, child abuse and a woman’s place is in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.

    “And the need for more reliable pair bonding in humans is linked to all kinds of things, like walking upright and being able to talk, which are linked to the fact that human babies tend to be much more helpless for much longer than even other primates.”

    Swans mate for life, and so do many other animals, yet they produce precoccial young.

    Nothing is more irritating than bad science being used to prop up specious arguments.

  113. kirsten saell
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 17:53:41

    Sociobiology comes out with a lot of bull. You can find just as much biological evidence to justify infidelity, child abuse and a woman's place is in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.

    I’m wonder what your point is, exactly, since my “specious argument” is basically not that different from Robin’s. My point is that beyond conception, a father’s presence is physically unnecessary in bringing a baby into the world, and that a woman’s biological investment in offspring are greater than a man’s. But that this doesn’t mean a father can’t love his children as much or more than a mother can, or that a man can’t be a better parent than a woman, or that women are naturally more nurturing than men. It just means that, right or wrong, society is going to see it that way.

    I’m not going to cite studies, but I am a bit of a Desmond Morris junkie and I find a lot of the theories he presents make a certain sense. But clearly, there is no better judge of what’s sociobiological bull and what’s not than Ann Somerville…

  114. kirsten saell
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 18:04:31

    Sociobiology comes out with a lot of bull. You can find just as much biological evidence to justify infidelity, child abuse and a woman's place is in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.

    Yes, you can. But just because that scientific evidence doesn’t mesh with the kind of society we’d like to live in, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or accurate. Nice thing is, humans (I hope) have enough brains to be able to transcend that sociobiological foundation and leave it where it belongs–in the cave.

  115. Ann Somerville
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 18:15:51

    You are pushing a biological imperative for parenting roles, for the view “the role of the human father is kind of unique in nature” (which it isn’t, by a very long way) and using pop science – misunderstood pop science at that – to support it.

    Desmond Morris’s books are not scientific references – nor are his views infallible, though I believe he’s done a lot to explain primate and mammalian behaviour to the non-scientists, and ‘The Naked Ape’ was my first introduction to animal behaviour and ethology, as it was for many of my generation. However, it’s a mistake to take his interpretation of a distillation of the prevailing thoughts in his field as it stood in the 1960s, as unchallengeable. His writing is aimed at making scientific theory accessible, like David Attenborough does – but like Attenborough, he has to leave things out, to keep it understandable for the untrained audience.

    If we were so predestined by our biology to perform parental roles – if the lack of a baculum was so crucial for pair bonding – how do you explain divorce, infidelity, the failure of the mothering ‘instinct’, or people who refuse to have children or marry at all?

    Socialisation plays a much greater role in our expectations of and behaviour as parents than biology, and reducing these very complex behaviours to whether the offspring are helpless, or we have bacula, is simply not sustainable. Scientists don’t do it for that very reason. They may offer possible explanations for an observation, but anyone constructing an overall theory of parenting behaviour will not seize on a single idea – say about bacula – and use that as the sole prop for their ideas.

    Unfortunately, pseudoscience *will* take a single ‘fact’ and extrapolate from that (usually to sell you something.) This is the reason it’s not consider real science.

  116. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 18:20:26

    Here’s my simplified take on the whole subject.

    Not everybody is cut out to be a parent. Male or female. I’ve met plenty of bad parents of both sexes.

    But, if you do become a parent-mother or father-you have an obligation to that child. You bring the child into the world, then you need to care for the child, love the child, nurture the child. I don’t care if you’re the mother or the father.

    Some people determine AFTER the fact that they aren’t cut out to be parents. It’s kind of like closing the barn door after the horses have escape…but with a lot more impact. You bring the child into the world, you should care for the child. Mother, father, both are parents. I think very little of either parent who’d abandon a child for any reason.

    Bottom line is…this woman abandoned her kids in what was a potentially dangerous situation. A 14 year old girl ended up stepping in the shoes of the mom.

    It’s wrong. In so many forms. If she had some sort of mental illness, it’s still no excuse, because she obviously recognized the danger to herself.

    If it had been the father, I’d say the same thing. Wrong is wrong. The sex of the person doing the wrong doesn’t play into it, and neither do any societal issues, from my POV.

  117. kirsten saell
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 18:35:51

    However, it's a mistake to take his interpretation of a distillation of the prevailing thoughts in his field as it stood in the 1960s, as unchallengeable.

    It’s also a mistake to call bullshit on any theory simply because it doesn’t fit in with your world-view.

    If we were so predestined by our biology to perform parental roles

    I never said that–I actually think Robin came closer to saying that, with the quoted bit on hormone levels in men. But I’m glad you were here to tell me how untrained I am. Clearly sex has nothing to do with pair-bonding.

    They may offer possible explanations for an observation, but anyone constructing an overall theory of parenting behaviour will not seize on a single idea – say about bacula – and use that as the sole prop for their ideas.

    I didn’t do that, either. I was adding to the discussion, not trying to narrow it down to one theory versus another.

    Socialization is important. But speaking both as a woman who has three kids, and a human being with a brain, I can tell you biology is a factor in reproduction. And until we start seeing men walking around with huge, pregnant bellies, or lifting their shirts to breastfeed, eliminating society’s expectations of “the mother instinct”, for lack of a better term, is unlikely.

  118. Robin/Janet
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 19:06:46

    I actually think Robin came closer to saying that, with the quoted bit on hormone levels in men.

    I’m starting to get confused about who’s arguing what, but I just wanted to clarify that my quote was in response to the idea that men have no biological investment in childbearing.

    I think where I fall in all of this (and I’m not a scientist, so I have nothing to back up my belief here) is against the idea that whatever increased burden a woman bears in carrying and nursing a baby, that our ‘cult of motherhood’ beliefs can only be taken so far on this basis. In fact, I’m not sure, honestly, how much of these beliefs are simply attached to a so-called biological argument as a means to justify them or if they’re some natural progression from the biological burden the woman bears in childbearing.

    For example, in the 19th century, when doctoring became the province of males (and women lost a number of reproductive choices), doctors were obsessed with women’s ovaries and uteri, taking the smallest opportunity to remove them as troublesome organs. “Hysteria” was believed to originate in the womb, and theories abounded about how the uterus actually traveled throughout the woman’s body, causing various “nervous disorders.” Now we know that such beliefs are crazier than those nervous conditions, but at the time they were seen as “natural,” as based on what was seen as a biological imperative related to female fertility.

    I’m not going to argue that women do not have an increased biological burden in childbearing (and pregnancy remains the most dangerous medical condition for women). What I’m trying to challenge is the idea that this biological reality should provide provide any legitimacy to the idea that women are more naturally suited to motherhood. I’m honestly not convinced that it IS the reason we believe that so strongly. I don’t see it as a casual link (biological imperative) in the same way Kirsten does, in other words.

  119. Ann Somerville
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 19:31:59

    I think people forget that scientists and researchers work within their political social environment, and aren’t free from prejudices. They also, necessarily (particularly in the ‘soft’ sciences) need to find a ‘hook’ to grab public interest, to garner research funds from public monies. So you will tend to find an alignment between the soft science research which gets the big noise and money, and the big issues/social agendas of the day, whether it’s the intelligence of non-whites, the biological basis of homosexuality, or the role of parenting in a world where family dysfunction and social breakdown is at epidemic levels. Victorians were obsessed with sex because they thought it threatened the fabric of their society, and so the cause of sex had to be eliminated (and if it kept those bolshy women quiet, so the better.) I don’t believe it’s a coincidence Freud was a product of the Victorian era.

    It’s no coincidence either that sociobiology with its emphasis on biological imperatives for behaviour became popular in the 1970s as the sexual revolution was in full throat, as the ‘natural’ respect for authority was being seriously challenged for the first time in the west, and when people were breaking out of the ‘traditional’ (i.e. Victorian) models for family and marriage.

    It’s somewhat ironic that Edward O. Wilson, the father of sociobiology, was in fact an expert on bees – and it’s the application of sociobiological principles to humans which has caused the most controversy. Humans are animals – but we’re also the only one (that we know of) with such a dominance of intellect over instinct. That’s why many scientists hesitate to extrapolate from an observation in non-human animals, to humans.

    Just as a comment on the original post, I do wonder where were the support mechanisms for this family? The oldest daughter has to mother the family and leave school to do it – where were the extended family and friends? Why did the father not ask/not receive help? Why didn’t anyone ask why the daughter left school? Looks to me that the entire social structure which was supposed to make sure this situation shouldn’t happen, broke down – and the victims, as always, are the kids. It also might explain why the mother bolted rather than try to solve the problem or place the kids elsewhere – if they have no one they can ask for help, how could she have managed? Of course she might be a selfish sociopath, but as I keep saying, we’re not privy to all the facts.

    I get that if the facts are exactly as the reports of the daughter’s comments have them, the mother is truly culpable, and even if they aren’t, she should have found a better solution – but families don’t exist in a vacuum. This one seems to have done, though. At least the publicity given to this family now will help to give them the social support they needed so much earlier.

  120. kirsten saell
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 00:29:09

    I'm not going to argue that women do not have an increased biological burden in childbearing (and pregnancy remains the most dangerous medical condition for women). What I'm trying to challenge is the idea that this biological reality should provide provide any legitimacy to the idea that women are more naturally suited to motherhood.

    Again, you’ve managed to say more clearly what I was trying to: it isn’t that men have no investment. It’s that men have the investment that they choose to have. Because a woman’s investment in reproduction is mandatory, it is more of a burden. That doesn’t mean they’re better parents–but it does mean that they often have parenting thrust upon them in ways men don’t.

    Men don’t incur the same risks to their health and life, they don’t get stuck lugging a bowling ball on top of their bladder, they don’t endure the excruciating (I know, I had an 11 lb baby) pain of childbirth, and they don’t spend two or six or 24 months breastfeeding. Men do not have to give up alcohol, or worry about gaining weight and not being able to lose it again. Men do not get stretch marks from their kids, or hemorrhoids, and their genitals look exactly the same after the child is born as they did before.

    That is not to say that men have no responsibilities toward their children, or pay no price for having them. And I think it’s a terrible thing to let a man off easier than a woman for walking away from those responsibilities. But I’m not arguing right or wrong. I’m simply stating what is. The woman’s burden is greater than the man’s, and therefore, in the eyes of society the ultimate responsibility for offspring will always, I think, lie with the mother. Is it unfair and wrong? Yes. Will it ever be different? Probably not.

    I think people forget that scientists and researchers work within their political social environment, and aren't free from prejudices.

    That is entirely true, and not just of scientists. And with soft science, well, you can probably find evidence to reinforce any ideology. But does that mean we pitch it all in the trash? Just because it’s unreliable, should we stop trying to understand ourselves?

    There’s a real desire among us these days to pretend equality means men and women are exactly the same. But gender is going to play a role in reproduction. Sex, pair-bonding and parenting are all functions of biology as much as intellect.

    Just as a comment on the original post, I do wonder where were the support mechanisms for this family? The oldest daughter has to mother the family and leave school to do it – where were the extended family and friends? Why did the father not ask/not receive help? Why didn't anyone ask why the daughter left school? Looks to me that the entire social structure which was supposed to make sure this situation shouldn't happen, broke down – and the victims, as always, are the kids.

    That is certainly true. Things may be entirely different in Atlanta than they are where I am, but here, all it would have taken is one anonymous phone call (from the mother, even from England, ffs) to launch a Ministry of Children and Families investigation. I’m trying to see this as a mother in crisis, but there’s just very little here to reinforce that impression. And part of me wonders if my (and your) desire to apply rationalizations for what looks on the surface to be inexcusable behavior, isn’t as much a symptom of the “cult of motherhood” as the posts denigrating her. We hate the idea that maybe she’s just a selfish bitch, so we’re eager to seize on any way to pardon her.

  121. chosha
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 03:10:02

    PROTECTING your children should come first.

    Of course it should, but abuse victims don’t always have the mental, physical or emotional wherewithall to do what any reasonable person would do. I’m not saying what she did was okay, but I know women who survived spousal abuse and in most cases they were lucky to have people around them who made sure their kids were okay until their mother was once again capable of caring for them and protecting them. In at least two cases, harm did come to the child before the mother was able to change her situation and her children’s situation. Weakness is not synonymous with negligence.

    Is it possible that this woman simply abandoned her children? Yes. But the fact that it’s possible doesn’t make it so. Women are always and immediately judged harshly, and most often by other women. Is our lack of compassion for human failings really doing us any good?

  122. JulieLeto
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 07:56:47

    Is our lack of compassion for human failings really doing us any good?

    I don’t see this as a lack of compassion. In my opinion, too much compassion means that people think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, with impunity. And what kind of society would that be? The idea that shame and regret are bad and shouldn’t be thrust upon people by the society in which they live breeds sociopathic behavior.

    Maybe we don’t know all the facts in this case, but I think it is perfectly fine for women to say, “IF this is the case, then this is wrong.”

  123. kirsten saell
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 10:09:10

    Women are always and immediately judged harshly, and most often by other women.

    Um, in my experience, not really. If this were a man, I think the responses here would have been more universally condemning (less harsh, but more unanimous). Instead, we have a number of comments advising people to be understanding and not judge until we know all the facts. We’re more likely to ascribe reasonable explanations for this because she’s a woman–OMG, it must be abuse, or mental illness, because it’s inconceivable that she’s just a self-centered, antisocial cow. If it was a man, we’d just assume he was a selfish jerk who didn’t care about his responsibilities.

    I will grant you, though, that if it comes out that she did this for entirely selfish reasons, yes, we as a society–and we as women–will probably judge her much more harshly than we would a man.

    Wishing it were justified, and then vigorously condemning it when we discover it isn’t, are both (I think) symptoms of the same social problem.

  124. Just another anon
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 11:07:01

    PROTECTING your children should come first.

    Of course it should, but abuse victims don't always have the mental, physical or emotional wherewithall to do what any reasonable person would do. I'm not saying what she did was okay, but I know women who survived spousal abuse and in most cases they were lucky to have people around them who made sure their kids were okay until their mother was once again capable of caring for them and protecting them. In at least two cases, harm did come to the child before the mother was able to change her situation and her children's situation. Weakness is not synonymous with negligence.

    Is it possible that this woman simply abandoned her children? Yes. But the fact that it's possible doesn't make it so. Women are always and immediately judged harshly, and most often by other women. Is our lack of compassion for human failings really doing us any good?

    I’m going to address this comment anonymously. I’m a regular commenter here, however my comments to this are coming from personal experience and the details of it are just. Personal.

    I’ve never been involved with an abusive spouse or significant other. However, I’m the child of parents where spousal abuse became the norm. It rarely became physical. It did on occassion.

    My father was an alcoholic. As he got worse, he became more abusive.

    My mother stayed. She shouldn’t have. When she did finally leave, it was after the kids had left the house. Her reasoning was because she couldn’t provide for us all on her own. Do I understand the reasoning? In a way.

    Do I agree? No. She could have provided for us. It would have been harder, but people manage. My brothers and I still have scars from it, particularly the youngest brother.

    I love my mother and I’m slowly coming to respect her again, because as she been away from my father, she’s grown and I think she realizes the damage that was done simply by staying.

    I love my father. But I don’t like him. I don’t respect him. My relationship with him is nonexistent. His alcoholism is what drove his behavior, and I can pity him for the addiction, but I don’t really pity him.

    Some people are criticizing others here because of a perceived lack or a stated lack of sympathy for the woman.

    I can have some compassion for a woman trapped in a bad situation and being fearful to leave. I can have a lot of compassion and admiration for a woman in a bad situation who was afraid to leave, but did it anyway because she wanted to protect her children, give them a better life and do the right thing.

    But a woman who flees a dangerous situation and does nothing to protect her children, if this is the case here, I have a much harder time feeling compassion. What little pity I do feel is grudging. I have a very hard not judging, because I was raised in a home where spousal abuse happened. I have a hard time not judging, because I am a mother myself and I would never leave my children behind. The only thing that would separate me from my children is death and I’d willingly die before I’d put them in any sort of dangerous situation.

    If the story in the press is correct, not only did she leave them in a dangerous situation, she left her old life behind proudly.

    The ABC article stated

    McCann is the author of a number of romance novels. In an interview about her books with Fallen Angel Reviews, she told the interviewer of her proudest accomplishment: “When I was feeling rather unhappy and unfulfilled with my life, I had the courage to pick myself up and successfully relocate myself to a new country.”

    In addition to having lived in an abusive home, I’ve worked with abuse victims before. This rings false.

    I’ll reserve my compassion for the children, because they were the ones hurt the most here. Parents are supposed to be there for their children, not leave the oldest one to play mommy so she could leave the country and settle down in a new life.

    Weakness isn’t the same thing as negligence, no. Should we have compassion for her? I don’t know the right answer to that. I can tell you, though, that compassion won’t undo the damage she did her kids. It won’t help them. It won’t undo their hurts. Whether she was negligent, or abused and running for her life and too weak to do the right thing, her children are the ones who suffered the most.

    This world has become far too lenient on those who do wrong, and in the process, the ones who suffer as a result of those wrong are too often left behind.

  125. Robin/Janet
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 12:58:52

    Maybe we don't know all the facts in this case, but I think it is perfectly fine for women to say, “IF this is the case, then this is wrong.”

    Okay, this comment finally crystallized the issue for me.

    IMO there’s a difference between someone doing something wrong and someone being a bad person. But these things are often conflated such that wrong and bad become synonymous or bad simply subsumes wrong. Throw the whole mother thing in and you’ve got an epic level of badness happening.

    Reading those comments on the ABC site, there seems to be a tenor of “bad mommy” rather than “she did something wrong.” That’s what I’ve been uncomfortable with, even though it’s taken me until now to really be able to articulate that. I don’t think we’ve been having the “she’s such a bad mommy” pile on here at all, but I think what we’ve been debating has been that split, even if we’re not discussing it directly. So for me, that doesn’t mean I want to “pardon” this woman (that’s an action that occurs after a conviction, for one thing); it’s simply that I think our society tends to create the bad mommy far more readily rather than the mommy who did something wrong.

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone celebrating McCann’s actions or arguing that they’re not wrong (and no one here is doing that, IMO), but I think there will be disagreement around whether what she did makes her “bad.” Where you hear the ‘let’s wait to judge’ comments I think it’s that leap from wrong to bad that’s being questioned. Not a desire to excuse or indemnify or rationalize (this is also part of my “no” answer to Kirsten’s inquiry about whether the hesitation to condemn is a product of the cult of motherhood). Simply a resistance to the idea that a mother who does something wrong is automatically *bad*. Because IMO our social norm connects “bad” to “mother” in a way that connotes unnaturalness and deviance. That we essentialize both terms in such a way that exponentially multiplies the badness when it becomes aligned with the motherhood stuff. So it’s not even that doing what she did makes her a bad person, but that it interrupts the natural rhythms of the universe in some fundamental way.

    In my opinion, too much compassion means that people think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, with impunity.

    Now, see, I’m a sucker for those stories about people who, for example, had a child killed by a drunk drive and end up forgiving (in an authentic, substantive way) the driver. IMO, we actually need more compassion as a society, not less. But I don’t see the same connection between compassion and transgression (or perhaps I see it in a different direction, I don’t know). Then again, I’m one of those bleeding heart liberals who believes that our criminal justice system is too punitive and not rehabilitative enough, lol.

  126. Christine Merrill
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 13:34:43

    “IMO there's a difference between someone doing something wrong and someone being a bad person.”

    But I think there’s also a difference between being a bad person and a bad mother.

    If the facts are as they appear, then she did something wrong.

    If she had, what she felt was a justification for doing it, then she might be a good person who made a mistake.

    But when you abandon an entire house full of children, you have to give up forever the designation of “Good mother”. Doing this makes you a “bad mother” in the sense that you are doing no part of the actual job of mothering. You quit. You walked. It doesn’t make you Satan. You might be a good person, but you are a “bad mother” because you are making no effort to care for your children.

    And the magnitude of this situation makes it much harder to consider it a blip on an otherwise perfect record. The problems in this family went on for 7 years. How is this not bad parenting? Because we probably have a bad father as well. Both adults get the blame if a 14 year old has to quit school.

    And I’m another one speaking from personal experience when I say that mental illness is not a free pass, from the kids perspective. It is never supposed to be the the job of the children to take up the slack because Mom or Dad can’t cut it. If Mom or Dad can’t cut it, they might be good people in many ways, but they are bad parents.

    Knowing there is a reason for the behavior is one thing. But it doesn’t turn a wrong into a right. All it means is you were a bad parent, because you were physically or emotionally incapable of being a good parent.

    Trying to justify it, means the kids end up taking the blame for unreasonably wanting their parents to act like adults.

  127. kirsten saell
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 14:33:47

    But I think there's also a difference between being a bad person and a bad mother.

    But when you abandon an entire house full of children, you have to give up forever the designation of “Good mother”. Doing this makes you a “bad mother” in the sense that you are doing no part of the actual job of mothering.

    Totally. You can be a bad son, daughter, sister, brother, father, doctor, mechanic, whatever without being a bad person.

    In fact, “totally” to pretty much everything Christine just said.

  128. Karen Scott
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 15:48:38

    don’t see this as a lack of compassion. In my opinion, too much compassion means that people think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, with impunity. And what kind of society would that be? The idea that shame and regret are bad and shouldn’t be thrust upon people by the society in which they live breeds sociopathic behavior.

    Maybe we don’t know all the facts in this case, but I think it is perfectly fine for women to say, “IF this is the case, then this is wrong.”

    I couldn’t agree more Julie.

    Also, the fact that a she’s a romance author, (who seems to have been stable enough to make a career out of writing) who abandoned her children, makes this very news-worthy methinks.

  129. Christine Merrill
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 16:39:42

    “Also, the fact that a she's a romance author, (who seems to have been stable enough to make a career out of writing)”

    That’s just it. If she’s published with WCP and Publish America, her career might be emotionally satisfying, but it is very, very unlikely that she is making a living off her writing. I know money isn’t the only thing, but the image of her as successful romance writer is a bit of a stretch.

    The article sited above says that she is a part time nurse. But that one of the colleges she claims to have graduated from does not agree on that.

    So parts of her half of the story sounds like she’s blowing smoke. Which makes it harder to believe the rest, and harder to be supportive and open minded.

  130. Robin/Janet
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 17:16:30

    But I think there's also a difference between being a bad person and a bad mother.

    And there’s also, IMO, a difference between being a bad mother and doing thins that are bad mothering/parenting.

    When I was growing up, I lived in a small town, and I had a friend who had a very similar upbringing to mine (upper middle class, intact family, pretty normal as families go). Well, one day my friend slept late (we were in 8th grade, I think), and her mother, frustrated, told her she could walk to school rather than being driven there (school was close, and this was the kind of town where we all walked all over the place). So my friend disappears somewhere between home and school. For months there was no word, no sign, until some kids eventually came upon her body in some woods. It was beyond horrible, as you can imagine, and her mother eventually succumbed to cancer, from grief, IMO. Anyway, she faced judgments of being a bad mother for refusing to drive her daughter to school that day, and I don’t think she ever overcame her guilt, even though there was no way to know something like that would happen.

    Now, I’m not comparing McCann to my friend’s mom AT ALL. I’m just saying that the notion of what constitutes a “bad mother” is a strong one, and one that I think our society tends to make more readily than that of making some bad parenting decisions. My parents made some bad parenting decisions, but I don’t believe they were bad parents. And FWIW, I don’t think children should *ever* have the burden of being forced to make excuses for or forgive their parents (once they become adults I think understanding can be very healing, but as children they should not be expected to show anything like that). And under the best circumstances, we will all likely have somewhat different definitions of what separates a parent who makes bad parenting choices from a truly bad parent. But I gotta say that the mere implication that my unwillingness to publicly condemn someone as a “bad mother” based on one news story is tantamount to pardoning/excusing a sociopathic criminal is pretty much digging me in to my view rather than persuading me to another.

  131. Robin/Janet
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 17:25:18

    Also, one of the reasons I’m so intent on this is because I have been long bothered by the seemingly inflexible roles for heroines (and heroes, for that matter, because men face many expectations around the proper exhibition of masculinity) in Romance. They can’t have too much sex or be too sexually confident or they’re sluts. They can’t want to remain childless, and if they had a child unplanned, it must instantly be a gift OR the mother must undergo terrible grief and punishment for giving up a baby. Abortion is . . . unspeakable. Things are slowly changing, I think, but how many multi-baby epilogues are we still treated to, and how strong is the correlation, for example, between the popularity of historical Romance and the desire to see socially more conservative mores in heroines? And even in contemporaries, how many heroines are having unprotected sex with the hero because he’s THE ONE and if they get pregnant it will be the *greatest wonder ever*? And how strongly do these role correlate to the judgments and expectations we place on women more generally, and what are these judgments and expectations?

  132. kirsten saell
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 18:44:37

    Also, one of the reasons I'm so intent on this is because I have been long bothered by the seemingly inflexible roles for heroines (and heroes, for that matter, because men face many expectations around the proper exhibition of masculinity) in Romance. They can't have too much sex or be too sexually confident or they're sluts.

    I’m bothered by that, too. And that’s why I write romances that (hopefully) subvert those kinds of rigid roles. But like my bunions, the fact that I’m bothered by them doesn’t mean they won’t (probably) always be with us to one degree or another.

  133. Robin/Janet
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 20:24:25

    the fact that I'm bothered by them doesn't mean they won't (probably) always be with us to one degree or another.

    I am just not very sanguine about accepting limiting social norms, whether they be about evil mothers or sexually craven Romance heroines. IMO most of these norms are unconsciously accepted and unconsciously transferred (sometimes even against conscious intent), and it’s only by talking about them that they can be identified, challenged, and discarded.

%d bloggers like this: