I have to say that whenever I see an article in the newspaper about a mother who went ballistic and killed herself and/or her children, I feel sad of course, but while everyone else vilifies her, demonizes her and recoils in horror, I think, "I can see how she would get to that point."
Sounds shocking, I know, but the fact of the matter is that, as I already discussed on my guest blog, "It Takes a Village", there is absurdly little help from the larger community for parents. Instead, there is a tendency to isolate and bully mothers with silent condemning looks that don't say, "Wow, it looks like you are having a really hard day, how can I help?" but, instead say, "Look at THAT woman! She is obviously not a very good mother. She should discipline those kids or they wouldn't act like that." We have this block that says that we can't cross that invisible privacy fence that surrounds each individual nuclear family and forces the members to deal with crises with their own energy and resources.
"How many children could we have saved if the mothers of those families had just reached out to someone?" That's what we say after the fact, when the shocking reality of violence has gripped our attention. When the woman in question has become the epitome of the role-reversed maternal figure. Then we point and shake our heads at the tragedy of it all and wonder futilely if we could have done something different.
I can tell you right now. YES! You could have done something different and I am here to tell you how you can prevent another tragedy in the making.
Child rearing in this country has been made to be a very isolating and often disrespected endeavor. We judge parents daily but do very little to help them make their lives better. The workplace has a disturbing history of discriminating slyly against women, and specifically mothers. Then we turn around and put down people, especially mothers, who are on public assistance implying that they are having children to avoid working. After we have cut women off from the pride of income production and then shamed them for accepting needed help, we then silently berate them in public for having a bad day with their kids and yet fail to step in and respectfully help out. If someone in a parking lot looks like they are at the end of their rope and yelling at their kids, it is somehow more acceptable to shoot them a sideways glare than step in and assist. And that goes both ways, most mother's don't want someone to step in, even when they so desperately need it, because in America it is shameful to admit you may not be the ideal mother all the time.
Now we add the final piece. Depression. Here is the insidious thing about depression. The worse it is, the less likely the person is to show you. The more depressed they get, the more they are going to pull away, shut down offers to help and the more they are going to maintain the front that everything is fine. And here in America, God Bless us, we are so tied up in the idea of the precious nuclear family, that we are perfectly OK with letting someone do that.
Now we have a depressed person who may or may not have a job, is stressed out, feeling judged, having nowhere to turn and feeling overwhelmed. So after examination, perhaps these stories are not so shocking after all. Maybe, just maybe, the woman in these stories is not the devil, but someone we chose not to see until it was too late.
Don't be afraid to cross a line. If it seems like someone needs help, don't second guess, just act. Show up and offer to alleviate some of their burden. Prepare yourself for objection and respectfully navigate it. Stop and tell the kid screaming in the Target cart, "Hey sweetie, let's give your Mom a break today and calm down." Will it make a difference in the child's behavior? Maybe, maybe not. But, what it will do is tell that particular mom, "Hey, this is not your fault and it is OK. I understand parenting is tough and everyone has those days."
We need to stop paying lip service in this country to family values and start actually looking at how we can value parents and in turn make them feel valued. And then we might even be able to prevent the worst from happening.
Have you ever seen a mother struggling? What did you do to step in and help?