Mothers killing kids can't
turn into old news
Dawn Turner Trice
Published March 18, 2002
When Ellen Feinberg was charged with
stabbing her two young sons, one fatally, in the family's Champaign home
late last month, the story flared, then soon petered out.
news coverage surrounding Feinberg has paled in comparison to the early
coverage of Marilyn Lemak and Andrea Yates, both convicted of killing
their young kids.
Champaign, it's probably fair to say that Feinberg, a former pediatrician
who took a field trip with her 5th grader on the same day she allegedly
stabbed him and critically injured his brother, hasn't received the same
kind of water-cooler attention as the other women.
Perhaps much of
this is because of timing. The Feinberg case occurred right in the middle
of the Yates trial, and we were already immersed in that tragedy. So as a
coping mechanism it's probably natural that we felt immense sorrow for the
Feinbergs, then the need to click the remote or turn the page.
I wonder how much of this is because we're becoming a bit more shockproof
when it comes to women killing their kids. How much of it is because
there's been this solemn raising of the bar and now unfortunately a case
with multiple dead kids trumps that with one?
Consider how we view
school shootings after Columbine; the Oklahoma City terrorist attack after
the ones on Sept. 11. Among the things we desperately want to know is: How
many people perished? It gives our grief a kind of watermark.
beyond the numbers watch, we've heard so many heinous details involving
mothers killing their kids that they may no longer stun the bejesus out of
Consider the cases of Amanda Wallace, the Chicago woman who
hanged her son and later killed herself; Lemak, who drugged, then
smothered her three children in their Naperville home; and Yates, who
drowned her five little ones in the family's bathtub and on Friday was
sentenced to life in a Texas prison.
Our perspective indeed may be
changing. But this doesn't mean that we view these cases as being any less
horrific or that they have become any more fathomable. They are not and
they have not.
It also doesn't mean our hearts don't still ache
when we look upon the photographs and the faces of the dead
It's just that we now have entered into a realm where our
first reaction isn't necessarily to demonize the mothers. These
high-profile cases have allowed us to connect the dots, and we now look
for the all-too-familiar pattern. We expect that most of these
cases--most, not all--will fall within a distinct paradigm that helps us
wrap our minds around the unthinkable.
We look for a woman who is
possibly suffering from some level of mental illness and depression, often
We look for someone who is socially isolated and has
fallen victim to an overwhelming routine of rearing her children. Though
understanding what is happening here doesn't necessarily strip these women
of their culpability, the next step is to ask: What have we learned from
Are we doing enough to help women in need before they
reach the point of killing their children?
co-author of "Mothers Who Kill Their Children: Understanding the Acts of
Moms from Susan Smith to the `Prom Mom,'" recommends that we rethink the
"it takes a village to raise a kid" model.
Exact figures are
sketchy, but the FBI estimates that every two to three days, somewhere in
this country there's an incident of a mother killing her child.
kids die from abuse, neglect, infanticide as well as at the hands of
mothers who passed their breaking point. The mothers are black, white,
Hispanic. They live in places ranging from ghettos to upscale
Yes, we've grown weary of hearing about the cases. We may
feel helpless to do anything about it. But perhaps it's far too soon for
fatigue. There are many cases of mothers killing their children that
should command our attention no matter the number of kids dead.
sad fact is that for every case like Ellen Feinberg's, there are hordes we
don't hear about at all. And if you equate hearing about something with
caring, then add that to the growing
Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune