Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Thin Line Between Love and Hate

I was on a snowshoe outing far away from the worries of the “real world” last weekend when ,during a lull, I took out my phone to take a picture and unwittingly switched to my Facebook feed, I knew that this was a mistake even as I was doing it and felt remorsefully chided for my actions when the first feed that came up was the headline about a woman in Olympia who had slashed the throats of her three young children to “keep them quiet for their father.”  I was horrified and shaken.  The random acts of violence done to children by adults never ceases to amaze me, our capacity as mothers to be as cruel as we are loving is a mystery.  I promptly put my phone back into my pocket, willing the vileness of what I had just read out of my mind, in that moment I sought peace in the sun on a mountain top sparse with frosty snow and a teenage daughter who had invited me to go out snowshoeing.

When I got back home I looked at the comment threads on fb, the public was clearly condemning this monster of parents, the worst mother in the world.  I had to read the story.  It was sad.  The poor babies, crying for comfort only to have their throats cut by their mother.  The upside was that the younger two, six-month old twins, were reported to be “crying uncontrollably” when the paramedics arrived, this gave me hope that their airways were intact and they probably would survive.  The news story did not mention if the two-year old, covered in dry blood, was making any noise, I can only pray that this child too survives this ordeal.

After absorbing these horrific details, my mind went to the state of the mother.  Post Partum depression and medication to treat it were mentioned.  The father was reported to be a solider.  The evening of the attack, the parents had been watching a movie and drinking wine.  Mom reported frustration that dad “did nothing to help” with the children and, based on her report,  he could not stand to be in the same room with the children when they were crying.  As a mother of now 13-year old twins and a sister two years their elder, I can certainly understand.  Infant’s cries are often unsettling, especially when blasted in stereo in two and sometimes three part harmony.  I get it, I have been there.  I was also depressed and taking medication for Post Partum depression following the birth of my twins.  My husband went back to work full-time a week after they came home from the hospital.  The care of the two babies and their toddler sister was mine.  Not that I ever considered something as bizarre as slashing their throats to keep them quiet, but I can imagine how this mom must have been feeling.

While I want to make it clear that I do not condone her behavior, I can certainly see how she got to this point.  We are a society that demands perfection from mothers.  Asking for help is considered to be a sign of maternal weakness, especially if you are a stay at home mom.  While working mothers are expected to manage it all without missing a beat, there is a definite social stigma for stay at home moms who ask for or hire help, especially if they are not wealthy.  The thought on the mind of everyone who is judging the situation, and judges of mothers are plenty, is, “how can they afford that?”  “Shouldn’t that mom be taking care of her own children instead of paying someone to look after them while she goes to the mall or the spa?”  Working mothers are not exempt from this judgment, it just takes a different tone, “Paying someone else to raise her kids while she goes to work, how selfish?”  “ Hiring a babysitter so she can get some ‘me time’ isn’t that what she has all week while she is at work?” and then the clincher, even if it isn’t said, “If that mom really loved her children she would make the necessary sacrifices to stay home with them.”  The “animosity” between working and stay at home moms is then duly fueled by the media to promote increased sales of parenting magazines and to make sure that moms and women in general remain divided and ineffective at making meaningful change in society.

I do not know this particular mother’s story beyond what I have read in the current media hype about it.  But I do recognize the same judgment and willingness to “let the mom fry” for her actions in the comments from the public at large.  Not a single one that I have read has offered any question as to how the woman got to this point.  She was depressed and taking medication and was the primary and maybe only caretaker for three very young children.  In the United States our stigmatizing all problems related to mental health has reached epidemic proportions.  The tone of the comments on many of these threads is also one of accelerated and trigger happy hate, “just put a bullet in her head,” or blaming, “she should have reached out, there are plenty of resources available” because, of course, it is just so easy as a depressed and overburdened trained by society to believe that she should be able to handle it all mother, to just reach out and “ask” for help.  Asking for help is hard, and unfortunately not always encouraged.  The refrain, “just let me know if you need anything,” may come from a meaningful place, but it still requires asking for help and, more often than not, tends to sound as meaningful as, “how are you today?” Do people really want to know? Do people really want to help?” “What if I ask and they resent what I am asking them to do?” or “What if they say, ‘no?”

Helping requires some recognition of the need of the recipient on the part of the helper.  For a new parent this may mean that the doorbell rings one morning and a cleaning crew is on their doorstep ready to give the house a deep clean, or a delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables arrives unannounced, a student in the neighborhood is sent over to take the kids to the park while the mother enjoys some downtime.  As a society we need to be more proactive in recognizing those that need help and stepping in to help them and I include myself in this group.  Perhaps the most meaningful and telling piece of reporting that I have read about his case so far comes from neighbors lamenting  that they did not pound down the doors offering to help this family.  If we were more supportive and less judgmental, kind instead of critical, embracing instead of alienating, there is a better chance of eliminating maternal violence.