How often are moms killing their kids?

We were all shocked to read last week about Lashanda Armstrong driving her minivan into the frigid Hudson River killing herself and three of her children. (Her oldest son swam to safety thank goodness!)

But just how often do mothers kill their children and why does it happen?

(I am so sorry this blog is such a downer but I feel like it’s very important to discuss and bring attention to this issue.)

The Associated Press took a look at statistics and case studies, and it’s a surprisingly large number of women killing their kids. Some experts say about 100 times a year. Others say one every three days! AP also found out that moms are more likely to kill their kids (under the age of 5) than dads. A mother killing her own kids cuts across class, race, ethnicity and age. The common thread for these women is they feel alone and without support. Often the mothers think they are doing what is best for their children by killing them.

From the Associated Press (I bolded the best parts):

…“But mothers kill their children in this country much more often than most people would realize by simply reading the headlines; by conservative estimates it happens every few days, at least 100 times a year. Experts say more mothers than fathers kill their children under 5 years of age. And some say our reluctance as a society to believe mothers would be capable of killing their offspring is hindering our ability to recognize warning signs, intervene and prevent more tragedies….”

“How common is filicide, or killing one’s child, among mothers? Finding accurate records is nearly impossible, experts say. One problem is classification: The legal disposition of these cases varies enormously. Also, many cases doubtless go unreported or undetected, such as very young mothers who kill their newborns by smothering them or drowning them in a toilet after hiding the entire pregnancy.”

“I’d say a mother kills a child in this country once every three days, and that’s a low estimate,” says Cheryl Meyer, co-author of “Mothers Who Kill Their Children.”

“Several databases track such killings but do not separate mothers from fathers or stepfathers. At the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System reported an estimated 1,740 child fatalities — meaning when a child dies from an injury caused by abuse or neglect — in 2008.”

“And according to numbers compiled from 16 states by the National Violent Death Reporting System at the CDC Injury Center, 130 children were killed in those states by a parent in 2008, the last year for which numbers were available.”

” ‘The horrific stories make the headlines, so we believe it hardly ever happens,’ says Meyer, a professor of psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. ‘But it’s not a rare thing.’ ”

“Meyer and co-author Michelle Oberman interviewed women at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. They found that of 1,800 women at the prison, 80 were there for killing their children.”

“It’s also a phenomenon that defies neat patterns: It cuts across boundaries of class, race and socio-economic status. Oberman and Meyer came up with five categories: filicide related to an ignored pregnancy; abuse-related; neglect-related; assisted or coerced filicide (such as when a partner forces the killing); and purposeful filicide with the mother acting alone.”

“Different as these cases are, though, there are some factors that link the poor teen mother who kills her baby in a bathroom with an older, wealthier mother, and one of them, experts say, is isolation.”

“These women almost always feel alone, with a total lack of emotional support,” says Lita Linzer Schwartz, a professor emeritus of psychology and women’s studies at Penn State, and co-author of “Endangered Children.”

“Schwartz says women are often not checked for mental illness after their crimes, and that is unfortunate.”

” ‘Women need better treatment not only before, but after,’ she says. ‘They get tormented in prison, when often what they need is psychological care.’ “

“The issue of mental illness is a tricky one. Some women are obviously seriously ill — for example, Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children, one by one, in the bath in 2001, believing she was saving them from the devil. After first being convicted of capital murder, she was found innocent by reason of insanity and remains in a mental institution. ”

‘But Oberman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, says cases are not always so obvious — sometimes depression is enough to send a woman over the edge. “Almost all these women are not in their right minds (when they commit these acts),” she says. “The debate is whether they’re sick enough to be called insane.”

‘Besides isolation, another frequent similarity in the cases is a split with the father of the children. ‘So often there is an impending death or divorce or breakup,’ Meyer says.”

“In the case of Armstrong, the 25-year-old mother had apparently argued with the father of three of her young children — about his cheating, according to the woman’s surviving son — just before driving into the river on Tuesday in Newburgh, N.Y. (Her 10-year-old son climbed out a window and survived. Three children, ages 11 months to 5 years, died.)”

“This was one of those cases where the mother was committing suicide and decided to take the kids with her. To rational observers, there is nothing more perverse. But in the logic of many these mothers, experts say, they are protecting their children by taking them along. Armstrong’s surviving son told a woman who helped him that his mother had told the kids: ‘If I’m going to die, you’re all going to die with me.’ ”

“Experts have heard that many times before.”

” ‘We see cases where the mother thinks the child would be better off in heaven than on this miserable earth,’ for example with an abusive father, says Schwartz. ‘They think it’s a good deed, a blessing.’ ”

“A good deed — performed by a good mother. “It’s how the sick mother sees herself being a good mother,” says Oberman. “Once she decides she can’t bear the pain anymore, she thinks, `what would a good mother do?’”

“Korbin, the anthropologist, says in prison interviews she conducted, some women who had killed their children were still certain they were good mothers. And it’s that very ideal of being a “good mother” that is holding our society back from taking preventive action or intervening in a potentially abusive situation before it’s too late, Korbin says.”

“Often the people around these women will minimize a troubling instance that they see, saying, `Well, she’s a good mother.’ We err on the side of being supportive of women as being good mothers, where we should be taking seriously any instance where a mother OR father seems to be having trouble parenting. ANY instance of child maltreatment is serious.”

“In fact, Armstrong’s aunt told reporters that her niece “was a good mother. She was going through some stuff.”

“Meyer, for one, is angry that the people around Armstrong didn’t take heed of the warning signs earlier.”

“To me this is a textbook case,” she says. “This woman was completely overwhelmed. Almost always, you can find people who say, `I knew something was wrong.’ This did not come out of the blue. I say shame on the people who saw signs and didn’t do anything. This is your responsibility, too.”

“Not that it is easy to know when and how to raise an alarm bell. “I think often people just don’t know what to do,” says Korbin.”

“But, she adds, it doesn’t help to gape at a few of the more shocking cases and then move on, without recognizing the scope of the problem and the factors that link many of these cases.”

” ‘People focus on the spectacular cases — and they are spectacular,’ she says. ‘But that means another few kids will die over the next few days without much notice, and that is very sad.’

Does any part of this story surprise you? Does the estimated number of times it’s happening surprise you? Does the part about them thinking they’re good mothers and helping their children by killing them surprise you? Does it surprise you that a mother is more likely to kill a child under 5 than the father?

How we friends, families, communities help prevent these types of killing? Where is the lifeline for mothers so they do not feel overwhelmed? How do you even begin to intervene if you feel like a mother is breaking down and her children are in danger?

– Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, ajc.com Momania. I have increased my Twitter activity. I am sending out great stories for moms each day focusing on health, fitness, sex, entertainment, food, travel and obviously parenting! So follow me on Twitter at @AJCMOMania!)

61 comments Add your comment

Jeff

April 19th, 2011
4:07 am

Unfortunately, women are catching up with men on this. But I hope we prosecute women the same because a child is a child no matter what.

motherjanegoose

April 19th, 2011
5:41 am

I cannot fathom taking another person’s life. When mine were small, we live thousands of miles from family and it was sometimes overwhelming but this is something I could never do.

catlady

April 19th, 2011
7:02 am

Someone is going to get on here and say it all traces back to devaluing life because of the availability of abortion. Then someone else will dispute that, and off we will go on the abortion debate.

Parents who kill their children are mentally ill. Period. It may be a control issue, or depression, or delusions or whatever, but it boils down to serious mental health issues.

I wonder how often women who kill their children kill themselves as well, vs. how many just kill their children? I am betting the mental pathology is somewhat different.

catlady

April 19th, 2011
7:03 am

Oh, and there is munchausen (spe?) by proxy, which I believe is almost always the woman.

djm_NC

April 19th, 2011
8:21 am

you are right catlady. women who kill their kids are mentally ill. and there usually (as the article says) someone who will later say ‘i knew something wasnt right’. we need to educate people on what to do when you ‘know something isnt right’.

MJG-of course you cant imagine doing this!! you are not mentally ill. unless a person has experienced mental illness in some way, there is really no way one can understand how it feels.

very sad. i am sorry for this young boy who escaped. who knows what problems he will have due to all of this.

mom2alex&max

April 19th, 2011
8:29 am

catlady: actually I am sure that before long, someone will point out that all this is due to working moms. Bet on it.

motherjanegoose

April 19th, 2011
8:34 am

@ mom….actually, the fact that I have always been a working mom, has saved my sanity at times.

Getting out with other adults and being appreciated, with a paycheck, can do wonders for your self esteem. In some respects, I have had the best of both worlds. I taught school and had summers off with the kids, when they were small. While I loved the time off, I enjoyed the classroom too.

Perhaps other families show continued appreciation for laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping and all household chores…not so much around here. Now that the kids are older, they understand and pitch in.

@djm_nc…thanks for the confirmation…I am not trying to make light of it but some here do think I am a nutcase.

Have a great day all!

JJ

April 19th, 2011
8:36 am

I never thought I could have children. When I was married, we tried and tried and tried…..we went to fertililty doctors, we did just about everything. He already had a kid, so I just knew it was me. I wanted children SO badly……SO BADLY!!!! Just about everytime one of my friends got pregnant, while I was happy for them, I was devastated for me. I could cry at the drop of a hat. I would see women out with their little babies and a piece of me would just die. Then one day, VIOLA……best thing that ever happened to me. I was 31…..but then he walked out. Second best thing that ever happend to me…!!!!

During this very difficult time, whenever I would hear about a mom killing her kids, or abandoning them, I just cried and cried. Here I wanted kids so badly, and there were moms killing and abandoning theirs….it just wasn’t right….I told my husband I wanted to go get all the abandoned kids and love them…..I wanted at least 3 kids, but I got one and she’s healthy and happy and so am I. Now that I look back, I’m glad I only had one. I’m able to provide for her and I have given her a happy, stable life. She is now in her second year of college, and I couldn’t be prouder!!!

I can’t imagine killing my child, although there were times………LOL…..I think these women can’t see past right now, and yes they are mentally sick. Susan Smith killed her kids because her boyfriend didn’t want kids. Instead she could have given up custody. But to strap your kids into a car, then push that car into a lake is just beyond me. I’m sure she heard them screaming…How can you stand there and listen to that??????? Now I’m getting upset again!!!

I can’t even kill a bug.

Lori

April 19th, 2011
8:49 am

There definitely has to be some kind of mental illness involved. Something in these women must have just snapped. There is no way a sane person could watch her babies die, much less actually do it herself. That being said, I also believe that there is true evil in this world. Did Susan Smith kill her kids because she was ill and couldn’t be without her man, or was she just an evil person?? I guess we’ll never know, but these stories just make me so sad and upset every time I see them in the news. I would lay down in front of a train for my son, so I can’t imagine any mother who wouldn’t do the same.

jarvis

April 19th, 2011
8:58 am

This is obviosly horrible, but try not to buy into the X number of times every X number of days. Spreading things over a set timeframe is a common scare tactic used by politicians and media folk.

For instance, in the 2004 tsumnami 228,000 people died. Another way to say that is “on averagea a tsunami killed a person every 2.3 minutes in 2004″. Obvously that is a drastic example, but simple math would tell you that “on average” 100 deaths a year is a death every 3.65 days. It’s the same data just written in a way to seem more frightening.

This is obvously bad but considering that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 homicides in this country annually, this isn’t our largest killer by far.

jarvis

April 19th, 2011
8:59 am

Obviously….obviously is my word of the day.

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
9:01 am

Wait……Women who kill their children are mentally ill? No way! You’re serious?

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
9:04 am

The Associated Press took a look at statistics and case studies, and it’s a surprisingly large number of women killing their kids. Some experts say about 100 times a year. Others say one every three days!

That is FAR less than handgun deaths. I find the handgun deaths more disturbing than trailer park trash thinning the herds.

JJ

April 19th, 2011
9:19 am

This just breaks my heart.

FCM

April 19th, 2011
9:50 am

They found that of 1,800 women at the prison, 80 were there for killing their children. (That is .04%) of that population.

The statisitic does not make the deaths of the children any less appalling or tragic.

I think you already nailed the reason “they feel alone and without support.” Also many of the deaths involve a single parent, step-parent, or parents in a secondary relationship.

Every parent on the board knows that raising a child is hard work. Every single parent (JJ, Catlady) knows that doing it on your own is probably the hardest job you will ever take on. Some (again, JJ, Catlady, me) decide to forgo a relationship/looking for a new spouse…at least until the kid are older.

It is like I tell my kids about sex….You need to make sure you know what you are doing. Someone who is not willing to consider raising a child (emotionally, physically, economically, etc)on their own has no business having a baby.

It’s not just divorce either….One of the kids’ friends’ Dad died of cancer. That Mom was not planning a single motherhood of 3 (oldes 8 youngest 18 months) when that happened.

traci

April 19th, 2011
10:05 am

Enemas – it’s obvious you have one stuck up your arse. Thinning out trailer trash? How did you make it through the thinning process then?

Sylvania

April 19th, 2011
10:12 am

There about 83 million mothers in the US. I’m sorry, but statistically, 100 times a year does not represent “a surprisingly large number of women killing their kids.”

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
10:23 am

Why the harsh rhetoric Traci?

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
10:26 am

Sylvania, you are correct Therefore, you do not need to apologize. This blog has a history of hyperbole just to elicit panicked discourse.

HB

April 19th, 2011
10:30 am

“Some experts say about 100 times a year. Others say one every three days!”

You know these are pretty much the same estimate, right? 100/365=3.65

HB

April 19th, 2011
10:33 am

Sorry, got my ratio backwards. Meant to type 365/100, but it’s about one every 3.65 days.

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
10:39 am

Good one HB. That just reinforces my statement above about the hyperbole here.

chica

April 19th, 2011
10:41 am

The men on here are ruining this blog with all of their facts and logical reasoning.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 19th, 2011
10:44 am

I think that is a lot (every 3 days!) but also it’s more than what you are hearing in the news. I can think of just several cases of women driving kids into cars but according to that number every 3 to 4 days women are killing their kids. So while we think of the driving into the water scenarios or drowning all of them in the bathtub the reality is it’s happening every three days and we’re not hearing about it

Corey

April 19th, 2011
10:45 am

What is the psychological implication of women killing their children preferably by drowning them? Anyone care to provide some insight?

Dan

April 19th, 2011
10:45 am

She is simply selfish, I loved all the comments from friends and family saying this was out of character, that she was always responsible. Really? 25 yrs old with 4 kids different dads and not married, I think the trend is/was bad decisions were the norm. I have no doubt the man involved was a bum, but the only victims here were the kids

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
11:04 am

And many many more are being killed by handguns.

Considering the number of mothers, which was already stated, there are other crimes just as heinous in much larger numbers. Why is this stuck in your craw?

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 19th, 2011
11:07 am

You’re killing your kids – I can’t even imagine.

Corey — that is a great question. AP I guess didn’t ask — it does always seem like drowning. Easily accessible and maybe seems less violent than shooting, stabbing, strangling — leaving them in the carseats would be but holding them under in a bath tub wouldn’t be. Just awful to think about.

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
11:13 am

WTH? I’m not killing anyone. How can you even glean that from my posts? I’m insulted.

Dan

April 19th, 2011
11:13 am

@enemas and many many more killed by drowning and auto crashes. maybe we should outlaw pools a lakes and make transporting your child in a car illegal

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 19th, 2011
11:15 am

Much happier topic by 12:30 —-

Kat

April 19th, 2011
11:16 am

I’m certain some psychologist will say that those mothers are returning the kids to their original fluid-like womb homes.

tracey

April 19th, 2011
11:19 am

i cannot even begin to imagine what would make a mother kill her children. obviously, there has to be some sort of mental illness/pain that i couldn’t even begin to fathom. when the whole andrea yates tragedy happened, i just was hurt. 5 children, but then the story came out. i begin to wonder why she didn’t snap sooner. i wish i had some answers, but i don’t.

Dan

April 19th, 2011
11:24 am

in my earlier post I meant accidental drownings, but that logically follows why mothers choose that method, it can easily look like an accident, at least to the untrained eye

catlady

April 19th, 2011
11:35 am

I bet that did not include women killing their kids by taking up with some low count man who slowly beats/abuses them to death. Or she does.

Becky

April 19th, 2011
11:36 am

I can’t imagine what could happen to a Mother to make her want to do this..Or a Dad..I know that someone told me a couple of weeks ago, that all of your fun ends after you have chidren..WHAT? No, it doesn’t..Then she said, it does if you don’t have any family around to help..Still don’t agree with that.. I really do feel for all of the single Moms, but if they really don’t think they can deal with these kids, there are better ways than killing them to handle this..Of course, I have a huge samily that is always there for me if need be..

@Kat..That is very sad, but so true..All of this just really makes me cry..Sweet little children that only need love…

Becky

April 19th, 2011
11:39 am

@catlady..That is sad also..NO man would ever come between me and my two..My husband knows that if I ever had to choose between him and them, he’s gone..Of course he feels the same way..Yes, I love my husband, but I love the kids more..That might not be right for a lot of people, but it’s right for me.

JJ

April 19th, 2011
11:41 am

Amen Becky!!! I think that’s why I didn’t date a lot while raising my daughter. She is my #1. Every decision I make, I make with her in mind.

Laurie

April 19th, 2011
11:46 am

“Does any part of this story surprise you?” NO. Society as a whole does not do enough to support women in their role as life givers and primary/sole caretakers of children. We restrict women’s access to sex education, health services, abortion, and equal wages, while looking the other way when men skirt financial responsibilities or inflict violence on their family. I’ve been there, done that, and am one of the fortunate few to rise above it. Anyone else who says different are male and/or have had too much handed to them in life.

Real

April 19th, 2011
11:50 am

This is exactly why I got full custody of my daughter last year. Things got tough, and at times it seemed like I would never get custody. Some people even told me to give up because Dad’s never get custody. At times I thought about mothers who do these things, and it made me fight harder. No way I could let my daughter potentially be a victim of such a horrible act. I have my daughter now, she’s happy, and I thank GOD everyday for deeming me worthy of such a blessing in my life.

LydiasDad

April 19th, 2011
11:52 am

Let’s quit excusing it by saying the woman felt alone. She’s a selfish, crazy, loser. What ever happened to calling them that? She murdered 3 innocent kids because she’s crazy. Many people want to adopt, and she had a choice. Should have just taken her own life.

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
11:56 am

@ Laurie

So it’s society’s fault? Cop out. The one thing society provides us as of late is a support system for failing. Someone fails? Well all feel sorry for them and either give them another change, or put them on a TV show.

It’s time we stop blaming society as an entity and blame ourselves as individuals.

Enemas for Easter

April 19th, 2011
11:59 am

@ Real.

God?….Really? God had a role in that? All you had to do was sit back and let god do the work. So why did god fail these last 3 children?

poison pen

April 19th, 2011
12:09 pm

A lot of the deaths are with multible children, I have always wondered why do these women keep having 3,4,5 or more children?
Aren’t all killings due to some kind of mental condition? I wonder what would happen if we took all these killers and hung a few on National TV if it would slow it down, you can bet your bippy that it would.

poison pen

April 19th, 2011
12:15 pm

Laurie

April 19th, 2011
11:46 am
“Does any part of this story surprise you?” NO. Society as a whole does not do enough to support women in their role as life givers and primary/sole caretakers of children. We restrict women’s access to sex education, health services, abortion, and equal wages, while looking the other way when men skirt financial responsibilities or inflict violence on their family. I’ve been there, done that, and am one of the fortunate few to rise above it. Anyone else who says different are male and/or have had too much handed to them in life.

Laurie, I almost pissed my pants laughing at your dumb post, The latest study shows that Women are making more money than Men, which is good.

Sex education is starting in schools at a very early age, so you are wrong about that. There are free abortion clinica all over the place paid for by Taxpayers, something I am against, so you are wrong there. In fact you are wrong about everything that you have written, and yes I am a Man who had nothing given to him.

Real

April 19th, 2011
12:25 pm

All you had to do was sit back and let god do the work.
Enemas Nowhere in my post did I imply, tacitly or otherwise, that GOD’s involvement required a lack of effort on my part.

redhousecat

April 19th, 2011
12:51 pm

my opinion is that there is so much irresponsibility these days in the realms of parenting. These people popping out kids left and right are obviously not emotionally or mentally ready for parenthood. All they are worried about is getting that next piece of ass, ignoring the repercussions. Then you have those that realize maybe those little tax credits aren’t worth it anymore. They are costing more than the government can pay them.

I’m sure one can gather enough stats to show that these killings happen to lower income people the most. Andrea Yates was an exception and I simply think she was crazy since day one and needed help long before she was even married.

It takes a little sense of responsibility to be an adult, even more to be a parent. I foresee many more of these deaths in the future as long as people continue to raise the remaining rugrats to think they are entitled to everything.

sad indeed.

Real

April 19th, 2011
12:55 pm

I’m sure one can gather enough stats to show that these killings happen to lower income people the most.
redhousecat You can gather enough stats to show anything. I agree 100% on your points about accountability and entitlement though.

Emilio

April 19th, 2011
1:00 pm

I think women should be able to legally kill their children up until the age of 18. They birthed ‘em…..

redhousecat

April 19th, 2011
1:04 pm

@real
hence the sarcasm re: stats