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The right to have kids, shouldn’t be.

 Rachel Fryer

(Rachel Fryer, 32, made a court appearance from the jail Thursday to face the new charges: felony murder, aggravated child abuse, evidence tampering and mishandling human remains. (George Skene, Orlando Sentinel / February 27, 2014)

I once told my friend Carol no one has the right to have kids, we only have the right to want them.

She shot me an annoyed look that said I was missing the point; we all get to have kids, we just better not screw it up.

Evolution hasn’t caught up with my futuristic notion that the something outside the individual (and I’m not referring to God) should decide if we’re worthy to bear children. I haven’t thought this through, like who gets to pick and what’s the criteria, but in essence I think we need to earn the right to parent, not inherit the right.

“I think we should be born sterile,” I told my friend, “and have to prove to something to someone, somewhere that we have the basics in place to have kids. I’m not saying someone has to be rich or have a flawless life record, but parents should be at least 21, have a solid enough showing in the bank, in their current lifestyle and in their head.  This seems logical enough; for God sake not to be cliché, but it takes more paperwork to get a driver’s license than to have a kid. ”

“Fine, but what if this baby approval group rejected you?” Carol asked.

“Then they do. But here’s the thing, I wouldn’t be rejected. I know what good I had growing up. I also know what royal dysfunctional messes left their mark on me,” I told her.

When my daughter Tina was between 2 and 4 there were days I screamed all over her while she chased me down the hall. Doors slammed; I was bone tired, overwhelmed, had PMS and wasn’t giddy (although grateful) about being home full-time. I was convinced I was creating a sad kid forever but she kept smiling at me the next day, and then the next.  As Tina got older and I had more free time to myself, we both screamed less and she kept smiling, not more , but still.

She forgot the time I hid from her in the dark on my porch at 11 pm crouched out of sight.  I tried for two hours to get her to go to bed until we were both spinning out of control.  Eventually I got mean. My husband was usually my mediator during these tirades but he was out-of-town that night and so I was left to my own inner voice which was exhausted, enraged and unsympathetic.  Afraid I might shake or slap my toddler I retreated onto the porch for a couple of minutes. Tina ran around the house from room to room crying “Mommy where are you?

Take that.

Suddenly I felt like throwing up and so I went back inside. I hugged my child on my knees sobbing into the horror that I created even a second of abandonment in her life, because I’d felt more than a second in mine.

My daughter doesn’t remember that night; she seems to remember the other 20 or so days of the month across 16 years I didn’t lose my shit.

The majority wins. That’s parenting.

My Dad’s first wife Pat left our family when I was five.  She had an affair with a man she met on a time-away-from-my-father bird watching cruise.  Pat and Frank eventually got married, partnered up as world-famous wildlife photographers and left their respective kids. Parenting bushels of kids didn’t stand a chance against photographing Lamas, tigers and giraffes in Africa for National Geographic.

This is a woman who should never have had children but she wasn’t born into an era when it was acceptable to opt out, and so she kept having babies. Exist strategies for women who didn’t want to mother used to be Valium, limited career choices outside the home or to leave altogether.  Pat became a mother because at the time when my three brothers, sister and I were born in the fifties and sixties (my father and mother adopted my sister and I) having children is what couples did. Having children was the check list in a woman’s categorized life; not a choice to consider your options.

Not everyone should have children.

Some people shouldn’t dig for non-existent child longings and leanings and the stamina for forever parenthood. I had this for one child; I didn’t have it for two. My desire for a baby while I went through invasive fertility treatments was so all consuming that getting pregnant was a daily breathe prayer of absolute unrelenting certainty that nothing else mattered and nothing else would, until. And yet when my doctor told me I was just as likely to have a second baby as I was a first, my decision had already been made. I was done. 

We need to know why we want to mother. We need to know if our answer is enough to sustain ourselves and our family.

We need to stop pretending we can make some people into parents because kids end up being target practice. 

“Some people are bad parents,  writes Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab, “and no matter what we do, they won’t get any better.” Orlando resident Rachel Fryer has had seven children is pregnant again and is being held on charges of murdering her 2-year-old daughter and burying her in a shallow grave. Two years earlier she “accidentally” suffocated her daughter’s twin brother by rolling over him when he was only two weeks old while she was asleep on the couch.  Rachel was on drugs at the time.  

My life is as removed from Rachel Fryer’s as you can imagine, still as any mother, I’ve felt overwhelmed, depressed, enraged and desperate. “I’m bout to have a nervous breakdown,” read a message allegedly found on Fryer’s cellphone. “I can’t take it no more….My child is retarded, I don’t know what else to do….I need my depression medicine ASAP. This is too much, I’m about to lose it.”

Rachel’s 7 year old daughter allegedly told the police that her mom often hit she and her siblings, and that Rachel beat her the day before her younger sister disappeared.

I know the feeling of wanting to smother incessant crying or to haul off and wallop a child who hits your last nerve. And yet thank God I never did either of those things because I had internal and external options given to me by my parents. I was born into lucky circumstances and somehow maintained impulse control.

I’m not heartless to Rachel’s tragic story, but I’m not willing to give an adult the repeated benefit of the doubt where kids are concerned, when doubt has as long and obvious a tragic history as Rachel’s.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel

  • Child-welfare officials were concerned Rachel Fryer was an unfit mother and, at various times, objected to her regaining custody.
  • The 32-year-old and her children were reunited, and it wasn’t long before Fryer’s life began to crumble.
  • She couldn’t afford rent.
  • She didn’t have enough money for food.
  • Beds she rented for the kids — ages 2, 3, 4 and 7 — were returned because she couldn’t afford them.
  • Two months after Fryer and the children were reunited a court-appointed child-advocate requested a hearing over “pressing concerns” about the Sanford family.
  • That hearing was never scheduled, and the following week, Fryer’s 2-year-old daughter Tariji was dead.
  • More than 1,700 pages of documents detailing those and other elements of Fryer’s history with child-welfare agencies were released Friday, providing a glimpse of what unfolded in the years after Tariji’s twin brother died in 2011.
  • Fryer, who has given birth to at least seven children and is pregnant, has a long history with the Department of Children and Families.
  • After a drug raid at her home in 2005, Fryer voluntarily gave up her parental rights to two of her children.
  • She gave birth to several more children, and in 2011, Tariji’s twin brother, Tavontae Gordon, died.
  • At the time, authorities concluded Fryer accidentally suffocated the infant while they slept together on the couch. But Sanford police earlier this month reopened the investigation into Tavontae’s death.
  • The infant’s death prompted DCF to remove the four other children — including Tariji — and place them in foster homes.
  • DCF reports characterize Fryer as a woman with mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, physical health problems, unstable housing, unstable employment and recurring criminal behavior.
  • In mid-2013, a court-appointed child advocate said the children should remain in foster care because neither Fryer nor the children’s father, Timothy Gordon Jr., had complied fully with the reunification requirements.
  • But Fryer completed her case plan, and Seminole County Circuit Judge Donna McIntosh reunited the family.
  • After that reunion in November, problems quickly arose.
  • Case workers noted in an early December report that Fryer had no steady employment and her income wasn’t sufficient to care for the children.
  • As Fryer’s struggles mounted, she and the children withdrew. The kids missed school. When a bus driver walked up to Fryer’s door and asked to see Tariji, Fryer refused.
  • In a Jan. 30 report, the court-appointed child advocate expressed concerns about Fryer’s financial problems and an array of other issues, including her arrest in December for failing to appear at a court hearing.
  • She also took her kids out of daycare because she was “tired of everyone in her business,” even though it was a condition of her reunification with the children.

“I don’t want people to think I don’t love my kids because I really love my kids. I was scared. I was really scared,” Rachel Fryer said. 

The problem I have is with Rachel’s version of love is her version isn’t good enough. More than likely she grew up around drugs, was neglected or abused and her way is the only parenting style she knows. I could be non-judgmental except we have to judge the welfare of children when lives are at stake. Sometimes we have to judge the long and obvious history of some parents or we don’t protect the children.

This isn’t a matter of whether a mother breast feeds or not, stays home or works, all that competitive parenting chatter that doesn’t make an ounce of difference in the long run of a child’s life. We’re talking about neglect and injury and death, we’re talking about the fact that Rachel somehow keeps getting pregnant and so, is getting another chance to try parenting, again and again.   

Kids aren’t practice for get parenting right, eventually. Kids are the main event for getting ourselves right.


Laura G Owens

Writer. Blogger. Essayist. My focus is wellness, social commentary and personal essays that explore the messiness of being human. Our ambivalence. Our uncomfortable feelings that when revealed, shed shame and reveal our authentic selves.

Comments (7)

  • Darla Sue Dollmansays:

    March 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Interesting post, but I have to disagree for many reasons. Although I do feel people should understand that having children is a privilege, not a right, I don’t believe that requiring someone to have a good paying job, an education, or to be a certain age is reasonable. I have met wonderful families whose parents were 15 and 16 when they married, and they stayed married for life, and their children were truly great people! I was 19 when I had my first child. I never once spanked my children. I do not believe in screaming or shouting at children. I do not own a picture of my oldest son that shows him doing anything but laughing! He is a well-adjusted man, educated, intelligent, a wonderful father and husband and the minister of his church–and would not exist if I had waited to seek some sort of government approval. I know your heart is in the right place. I understand the concept, the quote in Parenthood where Keanu Reeves says “You need a license to drive a car, but anyone can have a kind,” but setting age and income requirements for parents frankly shocks me. Big Brother to the extreme. Judging all families based on the one example you provided is a logical fallacy. There are wonderful parents who are trying to cope with a child who has mental or emotional disorders and these are not the fault of the parent. I’ve known people who waited until they were nearly 30 to have children, came from wealthy families, were well-established financially, I’ve met their parents and they seem like well-adjusted couples, but these people had no parenting skills whatsoever. Equating age, income, careers, etc., with the ability to parent is a logical fallacy, as well. There is no connection. As a challenge, for every example you provide of a good parent who was over 21, financially well-established and had a solid career before having children I will come up with an example of parents who were young, struggling financially, surprised by a pregnancy, worked through the struggles of life together and taught their children by example that nothing in life is handed to you, nothing in life is perfect, sometimes life is a struggle, but the struggle is part of the learning experience, part of the joy and beauty of life. As you said, you are guessing about this woman’s background. You have no idea what she’s been through. It’s possible she came from a wonderful family, her life was going very well, but was raped or traumatized somehow, or her husband suddenly abandoned her and she could not get her life back on track after one heartbreak after another and, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, she ended up with all kinds of problems, turned to the “system” for help, and the “system” failed her, as it so often does in our country. My speculation about her background is as plausible as yours–we do not know and really, even with her background information, it is not our place to judge. You are proposing that an arbitrary group of people pass laws and judges all parents–that frightens me, to be honest. My heart is breaking for these children who lost their lives and no, this is not an isolated incident, but your proposal is a nightmare and I believe it is morally wrong and beyond playing God.

  • Laura G Owenssays:

    March 5, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful post. There just is no perfect solution for who “should” but who “shouldn’t” seems obvious at times. I have long thought having kids is just too easy and while I agree that the struggle is part of the beauty of life, too many times I see kids suffer at the hands of adults not equipped early on — or ever to have kids. As I noted I haven’t thought this alternative society through, it’s a big picture philosophy rather than a true dystopian wish. I hope this stimulates thought and discussion. Is it ever possible to create set criteria to have children? No. I PERSONALLY like to see some basics in place before folks have kids, I”d be lying if I said otherwise. You are an extraordinary person and I suspect, were more mature than most at 19. If folks marry at 15 and 16 I’d have to think these are now seniors who hail from a different era, because ordinarily I look at my daughter, well adjusted and think, hell no is she ready for being a parent. First, for what it entails and in what she would have to sacrifice in terms of college etc. In my essay I refer to my dad’s first wife leaving when I was 5 and never returning. She had it “all” on the outside, husband, wealth and still wanted to sow her wildlife photographer oats (worked for Nat Geo etc) so absolutely, income is NOT a precursor to a good life for kids. She wasn’t meant to parent. And who we think might fail as parent’s won’t and vice versa. Although I don’t like to see kids come into poverty with the cards stacked against them. As I mentioned, I’m not heartless towards the struggles that plague any woman, single moms in particular. My life is far and away from Rachel’s but I can’t support her getting pregnant again and again while her 2 month old died 2 years ago (smothered as she was on drugs sleeping with him on the couch) and she just killed her 2 year old (the twin) and buried her, and is pregnant again. As my bullets show from the Sentinel article, the history for tragedy was looooong and documented. My empathy with that kind of repetitive tragedy and then getting pregnant again and again leans towards kids who get no say — because even though as adults we don’t often know better because we never LIVED better — when we opt to parent, it’s our job to try are darndest, if nothing else, to limit the number of kids we bring into our own variables of instability. I don’t think kids are here to fix us, I think they are here to add to our lives…we must fix ourselves and I don’t mean fix as in lacking in flaws. I did yell at my daughter when she was younger, I was/am plenty flawed. I mean I don’t see children as beings we bring into a relationship, our lives, to “fix” what ails us. And yes, I know folks who had surprise babies who are extraordinarily happy, so the “formula” is not set, but some obvious factors, poverty, addiction, abuse, lack of support etc, stack the cards against kids.

  • Darla Sue Dollmansays:

    March 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I agree–we must fix ourselves–we, not the government. We are all flawed. If I was perfect, I would be God, but I am not. It is not a perfect world and we should not and cannot expect perfect lives. I do not believe that having problems or struggles should exclude someone from having children. If they do not see their parents work hard, struggle to pay the bills, struggle with personal problems and the cruel events that happen in this world, how will they learn to cope? However, this opens up an even bigger can of worms–who will make these decisions and how? Who decides which couple should be allowed to have children? What happens to those who “break the rules” and become pregnant at 20? Do we become China forcing women to have abortions because they want two children instead of one? What will women do when they discover they have broken the law and become pregnant at 17, 18, 19? Abortion, abandonment, or even more children found in dumpsters? I understand that you are saying you don’t have all the answers, but I think this proposal is beyond a violation of rights, it is dangerous.

    • Laura G Owenssays:

      March 6, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Thank you for taking the time to read and reply with such care. I completely hear you, Darla. In no way do I truly want to invoke this scenario, although I would like folks to have kids when they are adults, at the very least. If I were to vote today, I would not want a totalitarian Orwellian system that decides who can and who can’t bear children. What I’d like is for babies not to have babies, and children not to be born into cycles of abuse, neglect and apathy (including to families of means who are dysfunctional). I’d like our society, all societies, to value the introduction of a child into the world as a monumental family and society-changing decision. Someone might erroneously assume that because I had one child (by choice) I am anti-child. In fact, I’m SO pro child that I only want kids born if they are wanted, loved and cared for. I had my share of dysfunction growing up (but was deeply loved) and I don’t want my daughter to have that, indeed, smooth sailing all the way doesn’t make for much character in kids. This is a complex sticky issue, wanting more for our kids. I want the best for my child but I don’t want my daughter to struggle with deep emotional scars, the very same scars that inform much of my own character today. What informs my view on this piece, is likely very different than what informs someone else’s (my mother leaving etc. etc.). Yes. China’s system to control population is horrifying to say the least. My overreaching point while I use a dramatic scenario about being born sterile, invoking criteria, is to provoke thought: I feel we must consider bringing children into the world as the most important choice and life transition ANY human being can have. By bearing a child we impact the lives of not only the child but the mother, father, siblings, society etc, I don’t want babies born and born and born and born into a cycle of poverty or addiction or say for example, a wealthy socialite who has kids because it’s simply what “One – does.” in her circles. A couple folks responded to this piece on LinkedIn. I sense they took from it not a literal suggestion that we be born sterile and filter baby-makers by income, age etc, but rather that we insist on a careful, thoughtful (by the individual) thought process for bringing babies into the world. I guess some might say I over think the beauty and joy that spontaneously having a child brings to our imperfect messy lives, but it’s BECAUSE I value children so deeply that I want folks to consider baby-making with the highest regard and respect. But, you are right, surprise babies bring spectacular joy to many lives. I see it over and over and over. There isn’t a parent on the planet who doesn’t make mistakes (please, my list is long), but the big issues, addiction, apathy, abuse, poverty are so (often) devastating to the trajectory of a child’s life I can’t support baby-making for everyone by default of our baby-making parts. Some folks just aren’t meant to be parents. I have great respect for anyone who bears/adopts, cares and loves their children, and equal respect for women who know they don’t want children and so they don’t have them. Societal expectation for women isn’t a reason to bear children. Being selfish IMO, isn’t to opt out of having children, it’s having children for the wrong reasons. And I guess that’s where the rubber meets the road. What are the wrong reasons?

      • Darla Sue Dollmansays:

        March 6, 2014 at 5:44 pm

        No one would question your intention, nor would they consider the fact that you have one child, which doesn’t apply in any way to this situation. The fact is that Google’s online offerings alone have already surpassed all predictions for loss of privacy and government intrusion in the lives of others and our government is already choosing who can and cannot have children through forced sterilization of people with developmental disabilities. I like to think there is a solution to every problem if we try hard enough and work together to find it, but I do not believe forcing any kind of government regulation on who can have children, when, or how, is a solution. I believe that is a nightmare straight out of a science fiction novel. I worked as a journalist in New Mexico 25 years ago and wrote a series of articles on child abuse and the fact that New Mexico was third in the nation for deaths and disabilities of children related to abuse situations. This is now the “hot topic” in the news once again, but the journalists have failed to note that the story hasn’t changed over the past 25 years. However, according to the US Dept of Health and Human Services statistics are inconsistent when it comes to child abuse and neglect and they did study age, concluding that “there is no single known cause for child maltreatment”

      • Darla Sue Dollmansays:

        March 6, 2014 at 5:49 pm

        “While no specific causes definitively have been identified that lead a parent or other caregiver to abuse or neglect a child, research has recognized a number of risk factors or attributes commonly associated with maltreatment. Children within families and environments in which these factors exist have a higher probability of experiencing maltreatment. It must be emphasized, however, that while certain factors often are present among families where maltreatment occurs, this does not mean that the presence of these factors will always result in child abuse and neglect. The factors that may contribute to maltreatment in one family may not result in child abuse and neglect in another family. For example, several researchers note the relation between poverty and maltreatment, yet it must be noted that most people living in poverty do not harm their children. Professionals who intervene in cases of child maltreatment must recognize the multiple, complex causes of the problem and must tailor their assessment and treatment of children and families to meet the specific needs and circumstances of the family.” –It is wrong to play God. It is wrong to judge others based on age, education, or financial status. That’s just how I feel, and your proposal smacks on all of these. Do I think there is an answer? Yes, but I don’t think we’ll find it by imposing our own prejudices on others.

  • Laura G Owenssays:

    March 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm


    Truly, I understand the maltreatment of children must have multiple interplaying factors that even if taken family by family vary. And, indeed not everyone in poverty abuses, or of wealth abuses or in higher or lower education abuses (or neglects) children. I’d guess it’s the result of a complex interplay of environmental, biological and personality factors, a history of neglect/abuse in one’s own family etc. My question would be what variables, and combination of variables, are statistically more LIKELY to contribute to maltreatment of children? I’d have to think growing up with it in one’s own family has a pretty strong correlation.

    My judgment when it comes right down to Rachel’s case, isn’t about age, income or education, my judgement is about the abuse. I’m flawed admittedly for judging, but I have a hard time NOT judging a mother who killed two of her kids. I could pretend I’m not judging, but I’d be lying.

    Now, what led Rachel to this. I have sympathy for the myriad of factors that pushed her and pushed her and pushed her to a nervous breakdown where she snapped. I”ve been on the edge as a young mother, oh believe me, I have. What mother hasn’t?

    I think about Andrea Yates who murdered her 6 kids and recall how angry my friend was. I too was horrified but I tried to explain to my friend that Andrea was mentally ill and that no one intervened to stop this train wreck. She had post-partum depression which turned to post-partum psychosis (she, her husband and doc knew that with each pregnancy she was getting worse.) Psychosis is RARE but that’s what led her to the tragedy of drowning her kids. She was not in her right mind and no one helped her make a better decision. I was less judgey about Andrea which might strike some folks as odd.. Because

    a) she was mentally ill b) I had PPD (NOT psychosis where you are at risk of hurting others). I was more saddened than angry at Andrea yet I was angry at her husband and doctor who kept on blessing her getting pregnant when she was clearly unstable, and increasingly so. Now, am I saying I want the doctor via the government to mandate she can’t have more kids, NO. What I would suggest is the post-partum screening that is becoming more common now, preemptive help. Doc likely didn’t have that, but the writing was on the wall that Andrea was not of sound mind to keep having babies. Tragic.

    Not trying to play God, was just, as my last post pointed out, provoking thought — not for a literal scenario of filtering out child-bearers (except again, I prefer parents at least be of adult age, but I would suggest this not mandate it). I’d like for us to consider as a whole and as individuals, what having a baby means to the child, the parents, society etc. That’s my overreaching point, that all of us as individuals view baby-making as sacred, not just by the beauty children bring, which they do in spades, but by the massive changes having a baby brings to lives and society. I just don’t know how to explain myself any better than that.

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