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Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

Are Mothers Held to a Higher Standard in Cases of Child Abuse?

I know we hold mothers to a higher standard of parenting in so many different and often irrational ways, and although I’m a proponent of shared parenting and hands-on fatherhood, I find I’m also a hypocrite.

Every time I read about a story of child abuse involving a man as the perpetrator and the news report or court documents state the mother claims not to have known about the abuse, sometimes for years and years, I’m always undeniably skeptical. Right or wrong, forward-thinking or completely stuck in the dark ages, disbelief is my immediate reaction.

I do hold mothers to a higher standard. I expect a mother to be able to pick up on the nuances of her child in emotional pain and certainly to recognize physical injury. I don’t cut any slack to mothers who spout denial and unknowing and gasp in horror at a revelation only when confronted with it. How does a mother not know, for example, that her boyfriend broke her child’s bone, molested her son or daughter for years and years or routinely beats her 5-year old? The news is full of these kinds of stories. After all, we’re still a country that has to claim our statistics…4 children die every day of child abuse and neglect.

Of course when I get over my gut-level response, I can intellectually process that many mothers are also being abused and don’t have the personal power to stop and reclaim their own lives so it’s unreasonable to believe they have the power to reclaim the lives of their children. In my mind I can categorically go through what I know about the psychology of abuse, I can connect the dots and create logical arguments, yet in my heart I’m often unable to make that reconciliation. Do you do the same thing, or do you have a more forgiving heart than I do?

What if the mother isn’t being abused but still doesn’t recognize the symptoms her children are undoubtedly manifesting. Do you hold her to an even higher standard? I do…right or wrong, I do. And then there are mothers who are so powerless, so completely paralyzed by fear and life peril they don’t have the power to save their children even when their children are being abused right in front of them. Take this case for example…

DALLAS, TEXAS - Three Children Severely Emaciated and Abused.

Police said they learned about the case earlier this month when the children’s mother, Abnersis Santiago, called officers to the Budget Suites Motel on Stemmons Freeway. She told officers she was afraid of her husband and wanted the police there while she took the children and moved out. But after seeing three of the four children aged 5, 10 and 11 year old, officers said they called Child Protective Services instead. They said the children looked like they were being starved. Police described the case as one of the worst cases of child abuse they’ve seen. Court documents describe just how badly the children were abused.

A doctor reported they were horribly emaciated, underweight and malnourished. He described their nutritional status as life threatening. He also said there was a history of severe, ongoing physical, emotional and mental neglect, the documents state. All three were hospitalized for more than a week.

According to court documents, the children also told officers their stepfather, Alfredo Santiago, forced them to sit in the bathroom all day. Both Alfredo and Abnersis Santiago are now in jail.

Police said the mother did not commit the abuse, but she didn’t do anything to stop it. “It’s definitely her responsibility to see to the welfare of her children. She bears extreme responsibility, more so than anyone else,” said Sgt. Warren Mitchell. Police said the couple also had a baby together. That child was healthy.
All four children are now in foster care.

(Action Alert from Children Without A Voice)

What does your heart scream? Do you hold mothers to a higher standard, and should we? Does a higher standard perpetuate fear for mothers who want to come forward to save their children, but the wrath of society adds an additional layer of burden?

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8 comments to Are Mothers Held to a Higher Standard in Cases of Child Abuse?

  • I think I am with you on this BUT I would have to say that when I think about it, I believe that we need to hold EVERYONE at a high level of responsibility … mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors, etc… We have become so called independent and private that more children are suffering! Or are we all just so ‘busy’ to see. As a society at large we need to stop and see and help each other!!
    Amy @ Six Flower Mom´s last blog ..Wordful/Wordless Wednesday – Red and Spiky! My ComLuv Profile

  • Tricia

    Amy, I agree!! People are so absorbed in our own lives, we don’t pay attention, it’s true. And, I don’t think it’s “right” that I hold mothers to a higher standard, but something inside me has a terrible time making peace with it.

  • Kit

    I, too, hold the Mother’s in these case scenarios to the higher standard that you describe. I don’t think it should be referred to as a “higher standard” though. I think that it should be “The Standard” for mother’s, father’s, siblings, grandparents, etc. etc. I do understand the fear-factor that’s used as the reason for having allowed the abuse to continue; however it’s not a reasonable excuse! Isn’t it a basic human instinct to “Protect” or is there something missing in the emotional makeup of those who don’t move to stop the abuse?

  • Tricia, you know my story and it has definitively influenced my opinion on this…I hold mother’s to what might be an impossible standard for sure. As a survivor whose mother lived in denial and ignorance failing miserably at protecting her children and now myself as a mother who is hypersensitive to every change in mood, behavior and without a doubt physical appearance of my own kids – I have a difficult time rationalizing any reason for a mother to abandon her child is such a way. I know the statistics, I know my own mother’s story (very young, no resources, afraid, clinically depressed and on and on) but I still cannot fathom being so disconnected that you knowingly (overtly or not) allow your child to be abused, to suffer, to not do everything within your human capability to protect them – it is beyond imagination for me yet it happens everyday, everywhere. It is heartbreaking, maddening, sickening and unacceptable that we have not rallied behind the victims. And I applaud your efforts to educate and inform. This is the only hope that many children have – awareness raised to a level of recognition and action by whomever necessary when their own mothers will not or cannot protect them.
    Danielle´s last blog ..Our Local Harvest My ComLuv Profile

  • Be

    The thing in this story that I find interesting is that she called the police for help to leave this guy. Had she finally had enough and screwed up the courage to do something about it? What did she learn about standing up to control – that when she does she will wind up in jail (more control)? Hmmm – there is more to this story.

  • Jessica

    My father and brothers were violent towards me and taunted me severely growing up. My brother threatened to beat me up 10 years ago, when I was thirty. I did not see him for 6 years. When I did, he started raging at me. My mother blames me for everything. She covers up everything. And yet she also loves me. It’s confusing and enraging. My mother is addicted to male love and can’t handle that she has three sociopaths and she may be a sociopath, too. But I don’t come home when my brothers are home and she is always mad at me and blowing up at me about it. The abuse in my family never resolved itself in part because my mother has created an idealized story. I don’t bring it up any more but ignore her when she rages at me. Mothers are very much to blame when there is abuse in the family. Most are psychologically addicted to their mates and wouldn’t give them up no matter what they did to their kids. It literally takes police intervention and then their story is “I didn’t know.” Riiight. No, they know, they just are so addicted to the man that they wouldn’t turn him in for anything.

  • Christina

    There is so much more behind the story of the mother who from the observers point of view sits back and allows her child to be abused or to witness abuse. The psychology behind each person is unique and individual, and the outsider is often incapable of comprehending why they allow such abuse to take place within their lives. I often wondered the same about my mother, and she still wonders. But knowing her individual situation, we are able to comprehend the masochism that she succumbed to for many, many years, and allowed her children to witness. She is still working through the guilt and comprehension, but it is us, as the outsiders, that need to look at these victims through a different lens. Can we be so judgmental without the entire story? This does not mean that I condone this type of behavior, but so many humans are placed in situations that they did not request, and they know what they have been taught. If they have never had the opportunity to learn or experience what love and safety consist of, then how are they to emote that form of behavior? We need to remain critical of assumptions.

  • I am a grandmother who watched in horror as my 28 year old daughter sent her 4 children back to their fathers until such time that she has her life straightened out. I see now that it was a blessing in disquise. The oldest girl aged 9 went to her stepmother and told of the sexual molestation that her mother’s boyfriend inflicted upon her. The stepmother told the father and he immediedtly told authories including the child portective services. They are in Kansas while my daughter is here where I live in Texas. They had just moved home from Wyoming where the “last” incident occured. Her father took her to the Dr. who confirmed that she had been molested with full intercourse as the damage was there of ruptured hymen and trauma and scar tissue inside the vaginal vault. He then noticed she was extremely underweight as she weighed only 40 lbs at the age of 9. After just a couple of months at her father’s home she is now up to nearly 60lbs. I am at the point that I not only want the perpetrator to go to prison but I want my daighter to for allowing her child to become malnourished and so underweight. What should I do…..wait and let the authories who are slower than molasses in January figure it out or expedite at least one of them getting arrested quicker while they work on the other aspect of the case?????someone help me……

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