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

So SAD

April 19th, 2011
1:22 pm

A woman just killed her kid by putting him in a HOT oven. Police are still trying to figure out if the child was killed before being put in the oven.

JJ

April 19th, 2011
1:28 pm

Andrea Yates suffered from post-partum depression. She knew it, and her husband knew it too. She tried to get help, but her husband lived in denial, and continued to get her pregnant. Then, as men do, he worked a full time job to support his family, but did NOTHING to support his wife with the children. Some men think that their only responsibility is financial. Go to work, and come home expecting a clean house and dinner on the table at 6:00. No interaction with the kids at all, since he has worked all day (like raising kids is a breeze). If you chose to have children, BOTH of you are responsible for the upbringing of said child. It pisses me off when men don’t take care of THEIR responsibilities. It takes 2 to make a child, and it takes 2 to raise that child.

Andrea Yates was suffering post-partum after her 2nd child…….she never got the help she needed at the time, mentally or physically. I’m not making excuses for her, but that’s what I remember reading about when the story was mainstream.

It could have been me...

April 19th, 2011
1:37 pm

After I had my daughter 8 years ago, I was so stressed out I wanted to die. My anxiety was so bad that I would curl my hands up and then have to run hot water on them to unclench them. The same with my jaw as I was clenching my teeth so hard I actually grinded one down until it had to be pulled. I quit sleeping. I worried constantly something would happen to my daughter. Irrational fears like kidnappers in the middle of the night storming the house; the house catching on fire and not being able to reach my baby. I had a loving and supporting husband I reqularly threw things at. I had my whole family 40 minutes away and a car to get there. We were not financially unstable and I stayed at home. Why was I acting like this??? I finally went to the doctor. Try this pill, try that pill, NOTHING was working. I wondered everyday if I had the courage to just take a bottle of pills and make it stop. After months and nothing was working, I checked myself into a hospital. It took 5 days and a LOT of meds but I finally calmed down.

I felt like a failure. Post Partum depression had kicked my butt. While I never thought to harm my daughter I did want to harm myself. She was the only one that stopped me. (A crazy mother is better than a dead one, right?) I’ll be on meds the rest of my life and enjoy all of the crappy side effects that go with them. But i’m alive! My daughter is alive! And my husband no longer gets things thrown at him!

Dan

April 19th, 2011
1:57 pm

@ JJ I agree that a father should be more involved than financially
however that is historically speaking a new phenomenom, for millenia men provided food and shelter and women kept house and home. Using that as an excuse is a bunch of pyscho babble. It begins and ends with personal responsibility. Your fate isn’t and shouldn’t be tied to what someone else didn’t do.

JJ

April 19th, 2011
2:01 pm

@Dan – doesn’t that personal responsiblity also lay on the “father”?????

Dan

April 19th, 2011
2:10 pm

@jj of course, and I stated that the beginning of my post, just pointing out that the “respobsibility” of a father beyond food shelter and security is one largely manufactured within the last generation or so, and in the end killing the kids is solely the respobsibility of the one doing the killing, because so and so didn’t live up to her expectations doesn’t transfer the responsibility. Not defending the idiot father in this story but clearly this woman has been making poor decesions her whole life. She is not the victim here

redhousecat

April 19th, 2011
4:45 pm

I agree with Dan. Even though Andrea Yates suffered from PPD early on, she should have taken some responsibility to help herself regardless of if the husband dictated her or not.

Women like the most recent murderer created issues for herself which led to the kid’s demise. I believe the same with that south carolina woman too (a few years back). People like these women quickly learned that their kids were getting in the way of another lifestyle. These women are too selfish to off themselves, so they pick on the kids. Because we all know at least in prison they get 3 squares, shelter, healthcare, sex, and whatever else they need.

Shmorky

April 19th, 2011
5:00 pm

They need to do way instain mother> who kill thier babbys. because these babby cant frigth back! it was on the news this mroing a mother in ar who had kill her three kids. they are taking the three babby back to new york too lady to rest my pary are with the father who lost his chrilden : i am truley sorry for your lots.

redhousecat

April 19th, 2011
5:17 pm

@shmorky LMAO—How is babby formed?

shaggy

April 20th, 2011
7:13 am

Shmorky,

Let me guess, vodka, or maybe you like gin, and lots of it, or maybe it’s some mushrooms your “babby” brought home, or a handful of Xanax?
If you are really that iliterate and sober, please get a “See Dick and Jane” first grade primer and just start over.

Frank411

April 20th, 2011
1:15 pm

The statistics in this blog, which picks up on an MSNBC piece that apparently AP ran as well, are over-the-moon conservative. If you look at US Health and Human Services (HHS) data from 2007, something like 348 children were murdered by their biological mothers (close to 1 a day) while biological fathers murdered about 200 children. The HHS statistics for child abuse are even more telling. Biological mothers abuse their children at approximately twice the rate of biological fathers according to the HHS data.

Interestingly, when you look at whether men or women abuse more children, the data shift to showing more male responsibility. When you drill into the data, you quickly see that is because uncles and boyfriends of single moms commit a lot of abuse.

Frankly it is yet another strong piece of evidence that the Holy Grail of Single Motherhood which the Media and the Feminist Movement which like to see enshrined as the norm (and which now comprise approximately 40% of families in the US according to the data published in March, 2011 by the White House Council on Women and Girls), is not all that it is cracked up to be.

It is also a strong indication that the tendency of Courts to view fathers as just ATMs, who have to provide financial support, but can be denied access to their biological children at will by mothers (the Family Courts in the US are notorious lax in enforcing child visitation orders), contributes to the problem.

Other commenters have posted the tired old rhetoric about how fathers just aren’t involved in family life. Actually the most recent data, again published in March, 2011 by the White House Council on Women and Girls (there is no White House Council on Boys and Men, by the way despite the statistics showing that boys and men have fallen off a cliff educationally and economically) shows that while men work more outside the home than women, men are also working much more in the home and with the family than they ever have before. Indeed, the White House Council on Women and Girls data shows that when you add together the amount of time men spend on the job and working at home, and add together the same time for women, men OVERALL work more than than women supporting and nurturing a family (if memory serves, men overall work a combined total on the job and at home of 40 minutes a week more than women).

Interestingly, much of the alleged “pay gap” between men and women is explained by this data (which the White House was careful NOT to put in the headlines and titles of its report, possibly for political reasons). Of the 20% “gross pay” gap between men and women, fully 14% is explained SOLELY on the basis of the number of paid hours worked. So really the pay gap is, at most, now down to 6%. And when you factor in the reality that 92% of all workplace deaths are men, it seems like women are getting the smarter and better deal (would you trade a 6% pay raise for your life? many men do).

Returning to the immediate subject, there is even a case where a woman shot her husband in the head with a .38 while he slept, amazingly he survived and testified at her trial that she was insane, as a result she beat the rap and she got out of the insane asylum after 7 years. The kids have been in the custody of friends of the mother who won’t let the victim father see his own children, while the perpetrator mother continues to be given regular visitation by her friends who have custody. Courts think that is just fine.

Bottom line it is appalling to me that the Media and the Feminist Movement is always so quick to explain mothers killing their children as a psychologcal problem that needs treatment and sympathy, while fathers who haven’t killed anybody and are less likely to abuse their kids anyway are demonized at every turn and systematically kept away from their children by mothers and courts.

To my knowledge not a single media outlet has even tried to reach and interview the father of the three children who were murdered by their mother in Newburgh, NY. The New York Times article quoted in this blog piece about what a “good mother” the murderer was did not even contain the usual line about how the father did not respond to efforts to contact him. That is journalistic code for: “who the hell cares what the father whose children were just murdered is feeling.”