We joke about it now, but when my wife and I were brand-new parents and my daughter was robbing us of much-needed sleep with her incessant crying, my wife once snapped, “Shut up! I don’t even want you!”
Those words might seem callous and cringe-worthy—to anyone who’s not a parent. But for men and women who’ve experienced the challenges of dealing with a newborn baby, those moments of exasperation are indeed recognizable. Show me a parent who hasn’t thought (or said) exactly what my wife did and I’ll show you a parent who outsourced childrearing.
This incident came to mind when I came across an interesting story about parents killing their children. A warm and fuzzy topic, no? Following the recent incident in New York in which a woman drove herself and three of her children into the Hudson River, drowning them all, MSNBC wrote a story Monday that had the headline “Moms killing kids not nearly as rare as we think.” Its subhead, which really caught my attention, read, “Experts say more mothers than fathers kill their children under 5 years of age.”
This is supposed to be shocking, the idea that a mother could possibly be of greater danger to her cubs than big, bad Dad. But the article, which discusses many of the factors that might drive a woman to kill her children—mental illness, financial difficulties, a feeling of isolation, stress—never actually gets around to addressing the question of why more mothers than fathers kill their young children. The explanation, however, seems obvious enough: Because women are overwhelmingly the primary caregiver in any household, and thus more likely to dealing with demanding children throughout the day. If you couple that with being a single mother, the stress is that much higher. How many single fathers do you know? Suffice to say you probably know more single mothers, and it’s not even close.
The issue of parents killing their children should not be taken lightly. But when you see a sensationalist subhead that reads, “Experts say more mothers than fathers kill their children under 5 years of age,” you’re hard-pressed not to say, “No shit, Sherlock. I wonder why that is?” Is it because we’ve been wrong all these years—roughly 10,000 or so—and dads are actually better nurturers than shifty ol’ Mom with her crazy lunar cycles? Or is it because Mom’s job often involves corralling the impulses of demanding, exasperating children?
Whenever I bring up that evening when my wife snapped at my infant daughter, “I don’t even want you!” (and believe me, it’s always brought up in jest, because I know the truth), my wife correctly points out, “I may have said it, but you were thinking it, too.”
And she’s right, I was.
—Photo Ambient Damage/Flickr