The parent trapped
By Katherine Ellison, New York Times
In Print: Tuesday, February 15, 2011
I want to believe I have little in common with Julie Schenecker, who
police say confessed to killing her two "mouthy" teenagers.
Schenecker, who was indicted on charges of first-degree murder
on Thursday, lives in Tampa Palms and is married to an Army
colonel. I live near San Francisco and am married to a newspaper
She, blond and tanned, drove her children, Calyx, 16, and Beau,
13, to soccer and track meets. I'm brunet and sun-deprived, and
drag two sons to violin lessons and Hebrew school.
We most likely never would have been pals, even on Facebook, where, poig-nantly, Schenecker has 394 "friends."
And yet what haunts me even more than the terrible photos of her being led off by the police, her eyes rolled back
like those of a spooked horse, is what we've shared: a frightening record of anger toward our children.
What strange evolutionary quirk makes adolescents evoke such powerful rage in their mothers? Alone, like
Schenecker, night after night with my argumentative sons while my husband was working away from home, I've felt
that fury rising from the soles of my feet, at the sight of a carefully made meal thoughtlessly dumped in the sink or,
worse, a little brother scratched and bruised.
While my older son, who has both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, is
something more than the usual adolescent provocateur, let me be clear that not even in my wildest dreams have I
ever imagined shooting him. Still, pushed to my limits, I've done things that I know full well have been dangerous and
harmful — mostly yelling, but also, during a few explosive fights, pushing and slapping. And abundant research on
family violence shows that I'm far from alone.
It chilled me to read that the police questioned Schenecker for slapping her daughter three months before the
killings — behavior that I've unfortunately shared with millions of other American parents.
Even as corporal punishment is declining in social acceptability, about 7 in 10 Americans agreed, in a 2004 survey,
that children sometimes need "a good, hard spanking." This came despite mountains of studies establishing that
such tactics do children much more harm than good, increasing the risk of anxiety, depression and addiction.
My husband and I oppose corporal punishment, which helps explain why my blunders alerted me that I needed help. I
ended up devoting a year and thousands of dollars to getting such help, from therapists and honest friends.
I spent much of the year learning about ADHD, a condition I soon realized that I shared with my then 12-year-old son.
Among its classic symptoms are conflict-seeking and hot-headedness. Humbling as it was, I ultimately heeded friends
and professionals who encouraged me to shed my fantasy of being the victim of a raging, impossible child, and own
up to the ways I was contributing to our fights.
The mad housewife is a reliable comic icon, her trials trivialized as boredom and cabin fever. It's hard for most
people to accept that mothers can be unloving, and sometimes unsafe. Which helps explain why killings like those
ascribed to Schenecker, among some 200 American mothers who kill their children every year, always seem so
It's easy to write these cases off as freak results of severe mental illness. But most of these women's stories also
include a lot of ordinary stress and social isolation, the fallout from divorce and the dispersal of extended families.
Increasingly cut off from real-time conversations, mad housewives find solace in e-communities, where "life" is so
much more soothing and predictable than dealing with teenagers. While news reports say Schenecker was seeking
help from real-life counselors in the weeks before the killings, her Facebook page, with its pretty family photographs
and homilies, is a portrait of polished denial.
Amid the debate about whether social networks are depriving us of healthier, nonvirtual encounters, a University of
Texas study last fall claimed that Facebook was not supplanting such interactions. Perhaps that's true, but all the
poking and tagging in the world can't compete with a pair of real-time eyes when it comes to noticing that someone
needs more help than she's getting.
Katherine Ellison is the author of "Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention." © 2011 New York Times
MMead Feb 15, 2011 6:29 PM About 3 days ago Only suitable for minors?:
Schoolchildrens' "spanking" related injuries (WARNING - These images may be deeply disturbing to some viewers.
Do not open this page if children are present).
Reasonable and moderate? You decide.
(WARNING - This sound recording may be deeply disturbing to some listeners. Do not open this file if children are
within listening range).
People used to think it was necessary to "spank" adult members of the community, college students, military
trainees, and prisoners. In some countries they still do. In our country, it is considered assault and battery (sexual
battery at that) if a person over the age of 18 is "spanked", but only if over the age of 18.
Reply Report Abuse 0 0 MMead Feb 15, 2011 6:30 PM About 3 days ago Recommended by professionals:
Plain Talk About Spanking
by Jordan Riak
The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
by Tom Johnson
NO VITAL ORGANS THERE, So They Say
by Lesli Taylor MD and Adah Maurer PhD
Most current research:
Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems
Use of Spanking for 3-Year-Old Children and Associated Intimate Partner Aggression or Violence
Spanking Can Make Children More Aggressive Later
Spanking Children Can Lower IQ
Reply Report Abuse 0 0 MMead Feb 15, 2011 6:30 PM About 3 days ago Just a handful of those helping to raise
awareness of why child "spanking" isn't a good idea:
American Academy of Pediatrics,
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
American Psychological Association,
Center For Effective Discipline,
Churches' Network For Non-Violence,
United Methodist Church
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps,
Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
In 31 nations, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN
member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US also has the highest incarceration rate
in the world.
The US states with the highest crime rates and the poorest academic performance are also the ones with the
highest rates of child corporal punishment.
There is simply no evidence to suggest that child bottom-battering instills virtue.