Working Parents Are Bad Parents, Apparently

I'm lucky. As a lawyer, sucking marrow from the bones of the fallen and feeding like a lamprey off the lifeblood of the economy, I have the financial wherewithal to allow my spouse to "stay home" with the kids rather than work. (I say "stay home" because her schedule with the kids drives her more miles per day than mine does.) I'm also fortunate to be married to someone with a temperament that allows her to "stay home" with the kids without bleeding out the ears or drowning them in a lake and fabricating a story involving a dark-skinned carjacker.

Many families are not so lucky. 51% of families with kids had two working parents in 1998. Some of those families, like mine, were built by adoption rather than by birth. Some were built by both.

Probate Judge Frank Willis of Van Buren County, Michigan thinks that's just not right. Even though the law doesn't support him, he's out to stop it.

See, Judge Frank Willis has authority to approve — or not — adoptions in his county. And he won't approve them unless the prospective parents sign a "moral commitment" pledging that one parent will stay home with a baby for a year, and that one parent will not work full-time during the kid's preschool years.

Willis requires parents who adopt infants in his county to agree that one of them will be home with the baby during the first year and won't work full time during the baby's preschool years. Willis is perhaps the only justice in Michigan to require such a pledge, which he acknowledges is not legally binding and may be offensive and outdated to some.

Oh, ya think?

Judge Willis' requirement is not based on any federal or Michigan or local law. He's made it up out of whole cloth, based on his personal views on parenting. So far he's gotten away with it. The commitment he requires, if honored, would render adoption impossible for some families. Not everyone can afford to have one parent take a year off work, or work only part-time for a few more years:

For the Shockleys, cutting in half their combined $70,000 income wasn't an option.
"It wouldn't have been possible to pay our mortgage and bills with one income," Allison Shockley said.

Allison works as a financial analyst at Welch Foods Inc. in Lawton, and her husband is a technology specialist at the Kalamazoo Educational Regional Service Agency. They both worked during the infancy of their older son, Jordan, 4, who was adopted as an infant in Kalamazoo County.

Without the Shockleys' signatures on the moral-commitment pledge, though, Willis would not put his signature on their petition to adopt.

And without the signature of the judge in the county where they live, the Shockleys' interstate adoption through a local agency was stalled.

But, Judge Willis says, this is a matter of principle, not of finances.

Or wait. Maybe not.

Willis said he does not require the pledge from adoptive parents of foster children, children with special needs or children from other countries. He restricts the requirement to parents adopting babies born in this country because "this is a babies' market; that's where the waiting list is."

Oh. So it's market-driven. Willis wants adoption of the sought-after babies to be limited to families with sufficient resources to have one parent stay home with them.

Look, there are perfectly colorable arguments that children are better off with one parent at home with them. There's a perfectly colorable argument that people work longer and harder because they want to buy things that aren't necessary. But, to be blunt, that's none of Judge Willis' damn business. There's no law in Michigan restricting adoption to one-working-parent families. It's questionable whether anyone would support such a law, and not entirely clear that it would pass constitutional muster. Willis is an oathbreaker. He took an oath to uphold the laws and constitution of his state, and he's pissing on that oath by using the power of his office to enforce his personal extra-legal social and moral views. That's highlighted by his calling this a "moral commitment" and pointing out that it is not enforceable. That's no damn excuse. He has no business enforcing moral rules from the bench whether or not the parents can break their word without consequence. His job is to enforce and apply legal rules. Willis' behavior is the essence of tyranny and the antithesis of the rule of law. The Court of Appeals and the state Commission on Judicial Performance need to slap him down.

(Via Alicia, a member of our adoption forum.)

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    First off, I am not adopted. I am the child of a mother who stayed home. It was great and I benefitted a great deal. I am a supporter of being a stay-at-home parent….BUT, my husband and I have adopted a son because our biology failed us, and we both work. Obviously, this idiot judge hasn't run his numbers. Adoptions in this country are either **almost** free through the counties or they can run $10,000, $30,000 or even $50,000. Adoptive parents are being asked for "pass through fees" to support the birthparents expenses, for facilitator fees to just find a baby, and possibly legal fees if the birthfather or grandparents have a contention AFTER the baby is placed in an adoptive home. AND LOTS of these same couples are also paying bills of $10k – $50k or more for fertility treatments! (Not to mention school loans, and mortgages on top of it.)

    Adoptive parents just want to be PARENTS. We want what everyone else wants! To start with healthy, wonderful babies and teach them everything we know. To love them to pieces, and know that whatever issues they have came directly because of our parenting skills or lack thereof. If they turn out to be sick, okay we'll face it together. But no parent, adoptive or biological, wishes for sick children. So don't hate me because I'm honest enough to know I'm not a saint, and I request a healthy child.

    When we got married we wanted 3 kids, then we decided 4, then 6 kids. We now have nearly 8 possible names picked out. We both work, and we know a tribe of kids would be sheer craziness. ;) But after the road we have travelled just trying to get a second child, one may be it!

    As one person put it, a mom who works less is a "more happy story". Well, after thinking about it, poverty and starvation aren't a happy story either — and that's where we'd be on one income.

    We're Christian, we pay our taxes, we vote, we don't drink or smoke, we are faithful to each other and our families even when its undeserved. We have insurance. We have a safe, comfortable home with a beautiful nursery. We serve in our Church, and often we have donated ourselves nearly into the poorhouse. We drive a car that is 10 years old with over 250k miles. Our biggest expenditure is eating out too often — which we are working on. We love our son, and each other. We both work, AND WE'RE HAPPY. We are not perfect. I am not a perfect mom, but I love my son and each day I strive to do better.


  2. says

    I go back and forth with this. I think that many studies have shown that having a primary caretaker is important and has many benefits for a child. I think this is even more important for children that have been internationally adopted and have often had many caretakers. If you have ever read Allan Schore's research about infant trauma then you will get a glimpse into the importance of stability and what the results of instability for children can be. That said, I think the judge has a duty/obligation to put the child's interests first BUT it needs to be ALL children not just domestic adoptions.

    On the other hand, I find the whole concept of wealth and how it inserts itself into the adoption process to be very distasteful. There are wonderful, wonderful parents who don't live in mansions and instead live on the ball field with their kids providing direction and tons of memories. Who is to say that a couple must have X amount of dollars to adopt and that having X income somehow ensures that they will be good parents.

    So I struggle with this one.

  3. Benjamin says

    Although it is a good idea to stay at home with a new baby, isn't requiring this the role of the legislature and not the judicial branch of Michigan? I must have skipped the day they taught about judges being able to make laws. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think judges should be allowed to make laws.

  4. Josh says

    The easy solution is to advise people via cheap newspaper ads, blogs, etc that the judge's "requirement" that you agree to his conditions is complete bulski and that you can sign and then not follow through. Then have all of the adoptive parents send him mail telling him they are not following through with his wishes because they don't have to and further telling him that he's an idiot. I bet you he'd end the "requirement" very shortly thereafter.

    The 2nd best option is for someone who is denied to sue him. Again, I bet he would quickly discontinue the practice.

  5. Richard says

    Judge Willis is part of the failure of Michigan's court system, especially the Family Division. Van Buren County is notorious for this kind of hooliganism because they are insulated in their rural fiefdom from outside scrutiny. Further, they have financial conflicts of interest from DHS for many of their actions in the "best interests" (so-called) of children. The "Moral Requirement" is beyond the law, a mere invention from the twisted head of Judge Willis.