A Moral Dilemma

I have a true moral dilemma on my hands. It’s a crisis between practical charity and reason. It also makes me wonder whether I am a naturally selfish person.

Here’s what happened.

Around 7:30 p.m., a phone call interrupted my NaNoWriMo work. It was my parents’ home phone, so I decided to answer. As usual, my mom freaks me out to begin the call by sounding like something may have happened to someone in the family. But, no, that wasn’t it. She was calling to ask my opinion on a woman that she and her Sunday School class have been helping.

This woman was about 30 and pregnant. She showed up at the church one day and wanted to become part of the Sunday School class and have her kids, an 11-year-old and a 6-year-old take part in church activities. Then, last week, she lost her baby at 20 weeks.

That part of the story is heartbreakingly sad, and I do feel for this family, as I feel for anyone who loses a child. I can’t imagine the pain and grief that someone would go through.

Well, that’s just one piece of the puzzle. As my mom continues to tell me about this woman, she explains that her three children all have different fathers, that the 6-year-old’s father just fled back to Mexico to avoid criminal charges, that the father of her baby was another man from a neighboring town that she also wasn’t married to. She also tells me where the family lives – in a trailer house behind a liquor store, that the woman has no job, no car (because her insurance lapsed and she was ticketed for driving without it), has multiple tattoos and is on welfare. When my mom asked the pastor about her, he said, “It really wouldn’t surprise me if she’s been involved in anything and everything.”

Now, my mom is a bleeding heart for people like this. While she’s not always that nice to her own children, she has a very strong desire to help anyone in these kind of desperate circumstances, because she grew up in a family that wasn’t completely stable (although not to this degree). But she’s not always a great judge of character – she’s a  very literal person and takes what people say at face value, especially if it has anything to do with Christianity. If you make comments about “the Lord” or try to sound like you’re “seeking God,” then she will automatically believe you.

(Sidenote: The last person that she tried to help was a woman who worked at a local gas station. She lived in the local housing authority and had three children under the age of 4. My sisters, mom and I were donating and serving lunches for the children who didn’t have food to eat in the summer – a project that my mom created and that does show she has a  good heart, especially for children. Her babies were literally crying because they were hungry. My mom went to the gas station, talked to the mother and got all bleeding heart for her, especially because the mother said she didn’t even have enough money to buy milk for the baby. Her philanthropic spirit only increased when she went to the woman’s apartment and saw that she had a picture of her baptism hanging on the wall. That sealed the deal for my mom. She bought groceries for this family, gathered clothes for the children and helped them — until the mother was picked up and arrested for running a prostitution ring from her home.)

To get back to the story at hand, the reason she was calling me was to ask if I would mind whether she invited this woman and her kids to spend the holidays with our family – Thanksgiving and Christmas. For Thanksgiving, I don’t care, even though I don’t trust this woman, because I won’t be there. But, is it wrong for me not to want my mom to invite this woman to their house on Christmas Day when Ducks and I will be visiting? I always make it a point, whatever my other holiday plans with the in-laws are, to be with my parents Christmas morning because my sister is still so young and I love to watch her open presents, but I feel like having this other woman and her kids there will ruin the holiday.

I’m sure something will come out to prove that she’s not genuine and is using people in the church for money before Christmas, so I’m not super concerned about it, but I am also a little concerned about my reaction to the situation. I’m not feeling a lot of sympathy to this family. I hope that people will charitably give her and her children some nice Christmas gifts and a Christmas dinner, but I just don’t want it to be WITH my family. And, I feel a little guilty about that, because it’s not very “do unto others” and I feel like I should want to be a little more kind and generous and let these people join in our holiday when they have no other family, but I just can’t want it.

Is this wrong? Give me your honest opinions.

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10 responses to “A Moral Dilemma

  1. LM, I don’t think there is anything wrong with feeling this way. You can’t help how you feel. It doesn’t mean, like you said, that you don’t want these people to get the help they need. But I understand the desire to spend the holiday with your family, and only your family. It sounds like this woman has had a very rough life, and I can’t imagine what she is going through. But helping her doesn’t mean you have to bring her into your life completely. Does that make sense?

    Christmas and Thanksgiving are the two days a year most of my family is together. There is no drama, just love and togetherness. We need that to keep our family bond strong. My parents used to invite another couple over for Christmas morning because they didn’t have kids. It drove me and my siblings nuts because it felt like an invasion of our family time. We spent the whole time “hosting” and trying to make them feel welcome. We couldn’t just be ourselves. Selfish, I know, but it’s just how we felt. The holidays are a time of giving and a time for family. But I do believe in limits.

    • Talked to my mom and it sounds like they may take her with them to my grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving. That should be a good place because my mom’s mother , being Samoan, never meets a stranger and their house is always full of random guests.

  2. I think it would be a nice compromise to ask if your mother could invite them for Christmas dinner, but reserve the morning “present opening time” for family only. I agree that it feels like a violation of privacy, even though this woman might genuinely need help getting back on her feet… she doesn’t need to watch your sister open her presents to do so.

    I think part of being charitable is not just giving what you can afford to give without inconvenience. I think a big part of it IS inconveniencing yourself, and I think that’s what’s making you feel selfish – you don’t want to give this part of your family life up, even though you know that part of charity and giving means that you should do it even if you don’t want to. I think in this circumstance, however, you don’t need to give everything.

    I don’t think you’re selfish for this, and I think it would be perfectly appropriate for you to ask your mom to reserve morning time for family only, even if she wants to invite this woman and her children for dinner.

    As for your mom, even if this lady proves your mom wrong, and is just taking advantage of the church, isn’t that what loving is about? Just because people don’t deserve the time and energy that you give them, doesn’t negate the spirit in which it was given. So even if this lady doesn’t hold up her end of the bargain (by actually needing and using what she’s given to better her situation), your mom’s end is still meaningful. (Though, to reiterate, this doesn’t need to extend to intruding on family time!)

    Oh gosh. I don’t know if any of that made sense. My brain is fried today.

  3. I second what DN said- I think it’s perfectly reasonable to reserve present-opening for your family alone and have this lady over for Christmas dinner.

    Good luck!

  4. If it’s not something you’re comfortable with, maybe you could ask your mom if you could help her head up an “adopt a family” type situation for them, and organize a meal and gifts for the kids.

    Don’t feel bad about how you feel.

  5. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with your feelings. Feelings aren’t facts but you are entitled to them. I second the others that Christmas dinner is a nice compromise. Besides, what would this woman and her kids do at your parents home for 24 hours? Watch you all open your presents? Stand around feeling semi-awkward and waiting for dinner to being in 6 hours?

  6. So, I’m a huge skeptic and cynic when it comes to these things, so I might be the most useless. I mean, I want to help people, but I think I’m very guarded in doing so. Also, strangers make me uncomfortable, so this whole thing is just bizarre to me. lol. I don’t know your family’s traditions, but, if your willing to give up Christmas Eve dinner, then that might be a nice compromise, like the others said. But also, how often do you get to see your mom? I don’t know how far away you and Ducks live, but it would be hard for me to share any of it if I didn’t get to see my parents except for a few times a year. And like Natalie said, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable and like you can’t relax when it’s your family time.

    I know I’m all over the place with this. I don’t think you’re wrong for feeling this way at all, but at the same time, I’m not sure on a solution. I guess you’ll have to hear about how Thanksgiving goes.

    Sorry I’m no help.

  7. Pingback: This Week in Bitchery | The Bitch Blog

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