Are Mothers Really More Likely to Kill Their Children?

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

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About Cam Martin

Cam Martin is the editor of the Good Feed Blog. He has written for the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, ESPN.com, mediabistro, and Barnes & Noble Review. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/CameronDMartin

Comments

  1. While you claim people do this for sensational reasons (which some do) I still wonder that if moms are more likely to kill their children than fathers because moms spend more time with children then why is it that when something like this happens law enforcement and the court of public opinion like immediately reach for dad first?

    And if I didn’t know any better I’d say you were offering this spend more time with the children explaination to excuse their behavior.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think it’s necessarily biological, like one sex is always more dangerous towards children than the other. I think there is something to the fact that the ones who spend more time with children are more likely to feel overwhelmed. The people in more contact with children are just mathematically more likely to do them harm, all things being equal. If one parent can walk away more easily than the other, then there’s going to be a different likelihood of hurting the child.

    I suspect that mothers are more likely to feel overwhelmed than fathers, if mothers are more in charge of childrearing. My fear is that somehow, because of this, men will receive all the blame for murderous mothers, that even when a mother is a murderer, it’s ultimately dad’s fault. (IMO, there’s plenty of blame to go around. No reason they can’t both be blamed, even if it’s not equal blame.)

    A minor point here: “Mom with her crazy lunar cycles”? Please tell me you were being poetic here and not literal. Don’t tell me there are still people who believe that the menstrual cycle is driven by the moon. Perhaps mothers are so dangerous because the world is flat? Maybe the invisible murder fairies hang around women more?

  3. 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.

    That is an excuse, not an explanation. Plenty of teachers deal with demanding children throughout the day, yet they do not commit that much child murder. Likewise, single fathers face the same stress, if not more considering they lack the social support afforded to women, yet they do not commit the same rate of child murder proportional to their population rate. Therefore, stress alone cannot explain why women murder and abuse children more often than men.

    • silvereys1945 says:

      Mothers spend far more time with their children as the primary caregivers and are more likely to get custody in a divorce. Considering this fact, the numbers of mothers who kill their children are actually quite low with the amount of time spent with children. OTOH, the number of fathers who kill their children is WAY OUT OF PROPORTION WITH THE AMOUNT OF TIME SPENT WITH THEIR CHILDREN. In our current economy, a lot more men have lost their jobs than women. A lot of men are left caring for their kids while mom works. I don’t think it’s coicidence that child abuse rates have risen now that dad is spending more time with the kids. Also, single fathers are far more likely to have social support in the form of dad’s girlfriend or the paternal grandma. They are also more likely to remarry and stepmom becomes the primary caregiver. Also, here’s something interesting:

      “But the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in a report covering 1976 through 2005, said that of homicides involving children 5 and younger, 31 percent were killed by their father and 29 percent by their mother.”
      http://hamptonroads.com/2009/02/stats-moms-who-kill-their-own-get-more-press-dads

      That is the truth in a nutshell!

      I’m so sick of people

      • No it’s not! Stop making excuses! Women are just as violent, or more so than men but just use different methods to abuse and kill!

        • They are also pitied and treated like children when they commit these atrocities; men are not.

        • Its sickening. Woman are abusive in general. We live in a society where you do not touch a woman wile she slaps the daylights out of her husband and kids. People need to start holding woman accountable. They wanted eqauility than we need to give it to them right on down the whole picture.

      • Jared G says:

        I love how people resort to making excuses for women when they murder their children but for guys its b/c were all meanies. Please! Take that nonsense somewhere else. And no silvereyes thats not true at all. Look at research on child abuse percentage out of 100% total ie not when dads aren’t around or some other crap. This statistic you cant just explain.

        “American government agencies report numbers that are more objective, not as subjective as
        those Jeff White selected. In the US in 1999, 70.3 percent of perpetrators of child abuse were female parents acting alone or with others. Out of an estimated 826,000 victims of child maltreatment, nation-wide, 1,100 were fatalities. Their perpetrators break down as follows:

        PERPETRATOR RELATIONSHIP [3]

        31.5% Female Parent Only
        10.7% Male Parent Only *
        21.3% Both Parents *
        16.3% Female Parent and Other
        1.1% Male Parent and Other *
        4.5% Family Relative
        6.1% Substitute Care Provider(s)
        5.7% Other
        2.7% Unknown

        * “Male parent” in that context most likely is just about anything but a natural father.

        That means that, acting alone or with others, female parents were responsible in 69.1 percent, and male parents in 33.1 percent of cases of fatal child maltreatment.

        http://fathersforlife.org/articles/report/resptojw.htm

        • silvereyes1945 says:

          Your right Jared G. You just can’t explain away the statistics!

          Of all children under age 5 murdered from 1976-2005 —

          31% were killed by fathers
          29% were killed by mothers
          23% were killed by male acquaintances
          7% were killed by other relatives
          3% were killed by strangers
          Of those children killed by someone other than their parent, 81% were killed by males
          http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/children.cfm

          Fact: “Children living with their only their mothers experienced maltreatment under the Harm Standard at a rate of 26.1 per 1,000 children. Children living with only their fathers: 36.6 per 1,000.”

          Fact: PHYSICAL ABUSE: Children living with only their mothers: 6.4 per 1,000 children. Children living with only their fathers: 10.5 per 1,000 children. “When specific types of abuse under the Harm Standard are examined, it is apparent that the findings described in the previous paragraph stem from the disproportionate incidence of physical abuse among children in father-only households…”

          Fact: NEGLECT: Children living with only their mothers: 16.7 per 1,000 children. Children living with only their fathers: 21.9 per 1,000 children.

          Fact: EMOTIONAL NEGLECT: Children living with only their mothers: 3.4 per 1,000 children. Children living with only their fathers: 8.8 per 1,000 children.

          Fact: SERIOUS INJURIES: Children living with only their mothers: 10.0 per 1,000 children. Children living with only their fathers: 14.0 per 1,000.

          Fact: MODERATE INJURIES: Children living with only their mothers: 14.7 per 1,000 children. Children living with only their fathers: 20.5 per 1,000.

          Fact: ALL MALTREATMENT: Children living with only their mothers: 50.1 per 1,000 children. Children living with only their fathers: 65.6 per 1,000.

          Fact: ALL ABUSE: Children living with only their mothers: 18.1 per 1,000 children. Children living only with their fathers: 31.0 per 1,000.”

          Data from The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (1996). Also see http://dastardlydads.blogspot.com/2009/09/another-look-see-at-nis-3-or-what-do.html and http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/statistics.html

          • Outlawzero says:

            Dot coms in general are poor sources to cite, especially blogs, especially ones with names like “dasterdlydads”, I am not questioning you statistics quite frankly I do not care if anybody’s source in this forum is accurate or not, merely pointing out that if you planned to properly argue your point you should have looked for the original source of the information on that blog, and if that blog is the original source then it should be omitted, dot coms and dot orgs have no fact checking requirements and make weak source information discrediting your argument.

      • The statistics bandied around her are flawed, and i am not sure if it is purposefully so. The 31% of fathers include, step fathers OR MOTHERS BOYFRIENDS that they bring into their childrens lives. The 29% are probably biological mothers and most of 31% of fathers are most likely the mothers boyfriends after a divorce/ breakup.

        • And that is why I alwys try to find the source of things as they are almost always taken out of context when cited. Bravo for finding this out.

    • I didn’t think people would actually come up with excuses for killing children.

  4. silvereyes1945 says:

    “Campbell, Anna D. Wolf Chair and professor at JHU’s School of Nursing, discussed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System. Of the 408 homicide-suicide cases, most perpetrators were men (91 percent) and most used a gun (88 percent). A 12-city study that Campbell conducted of these cases found that intimate-partner violence had previously occurred in 70 percent of them.”
    http://www.nij.gov/journals/266/murderfamilies.htm

    “Dads break or fracture the bones of their children far more often than moms, and they tend to inflict their abusive rage on infants younger than five months old, according to a study in Child Abuse & Neglect.”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071205190835.htm

    “But the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in a report covering 1976 through 2005, said that of homicides involving children 5 and younger, 31 percent were killed by their father and 29 percent by their mother.”
    http://hamptonroads.com/2009/02/stats-moms-who-kill-their-own-get-more-press-dads

    These are the facts! The only one making excuses is you!

    • wellokaythen says:

      Okay, let’s take the stats at face value. Yes, in these stats fathers kill more children than mothers do, but the difference is only two percentage points! The difference between 29 and 31 percent is pretty negligible. The best that can be said for murdering moms is that they are slightly less common than murdering dads. That’s hardly a decisive proof about gender differences.

  5. Why to make excuses for this .

  6. Smarter_Than_You says:

    Hey dipshit, can you not even get your own thoughts straightened out? Or is it your intention to mislead your readers in a very feminine “well, it means ALMOST the same thing….” way?

    […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. ]

    Now, if what you posted were true, how would you explain the general consensus that men are more dangerous to children than women?
    It’s sexism. Pure and simple.

  7. 100%Cotton says:

    Wow. I’ve had three kids, and never EVER once even thought “I don’t even want you”, much less said something remotely like that out loud to the Father of my children.

    I’m apalled. Truly.

  8. Bad_Propaganda says:

    What is it with you guys who have this deep need to cover the tracks of female psychopaths? Whenever the issue is men this or men that you twits are jumping on the ‘he oughta be killed/locked up/raped/ etc. bandwagon, but as soon as it’s a woman whodoes evil crap? Guys like you wander into fantasy land ( think your own weird thoughts about females whio sexually abuse boys, etc).

    Sad really, and not manly at all sticking uop for bad female behaviour–kinda cowardly too.

  9. Peter-Andrew: Nolan(c) says:

    Cam,

    Your article has just been brought to my attention.

    “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.”

    What a bunch of manhating crap. SOME men do not want the children that are born to them. Especially the ones who were LIED TO by women to get the baby. But that is in no way ALL men or even CLOSE to a majority. The MAJORITY of men I know would NEVER think such a thing let alone say it while the child is in their guardianship.

    I raised FOUR children and it NEVER crossed my mind that I would EVER say that I did not want these children…and two of them were step children. There was a time when I was frustrated with my wife that she was using the children as an excuse to abuse me and neglect me but I was NEVER so foolish as to blame the CHILDREN for my wifes bad behaviour.

    Men like you….presenting yourself as “everyman” are a disgrace Cam. Speak for YOURSELF and do NOT pretend to speak for those of us who had hoped and preyed to be blessed with children and who loved them and cared for them through all their illnesses and challenges.

    Now. AFTER my children were kidnapped and AFTER they were old enough to know better? I HAVE said that I am disgusted in how my daughters have acted and that the world would be a better place without them. And it would. That is an entirely different thing to saying that I never wanted them in the first place.

    By the way. Women kill MANY more children than men. THAT is why it is taboo to talk about it.

  10. Rebekah says:

    I stopped reading when you said that your wife yelled at her newborn “Shut up! I don’t even want you!” That’s some bullshit.

  11. Lcpl Banks says:

    Its true women are child killers its not fair to stereotype women as these nuturing and kind hearted people its dehumanizing to them

  12. This is like saying “there are more car crashes than motorcycle crashes.”
    Logical person: Well yeah… that’s because more people drive cars than drive motorcycles
    To say that that the explanation that more women are AROUND kids is an “excuse” is absurd. It IS an explanation. Men? Less likely to kill kids if they’re NOT AROUND KIDS.

    Let’s talk about the fact that women are held to a higher standard than men. They are held more accountable for the safety and well-being of their own children than are men. If a woman’s boyfriend kills her child, a woman may very well be prosecuted and convicted and serve equal time to the man who actually took the child’s life. A few months ago a little boy was mauled to death at the Pittsburgh zoo when he fell over a railing. Everyone wanted the mother to face criminal charges. Um. The father was right there as well……. Nobody thinks to wonder why the father was neglecting his parental duties to keep his offspring safe.

    I don’t believe the statistic that more women kill children than men. It’s just that the media hypes up the occurences in which women do because there’s NOTHING more shocking and appalling than a woman who goes against her nature as caregiver. A poll found that more people hated Casey Anthony than Osama Bin Ladden. That tells you how seriously society holds women accountable for the safety of children and the RARE instances in which they fail at that “duty,” they will be crucified much worse than any man would. I also reject your “findings” that women are just as violent as men. What is the first thing a doctor will warn you if you ever receive injections of testosterone? “May cause aggression.”

    • Jeremy74 says:

      I have been to that Zoo many times. The enclosure with the wild dogs has a barrier as well as nets that stretch out probably close to 6-8 feet. There is no way the child who weighed less the 30 lbs fell, bounced off the net and into the pit. They were pushed…

  13. wellokaythen says:

    I see at least two kinds of unfairness here. First, mothers who kill their children get more press than dads who kill their children. That’s because, second, the press acts like moms killing their children are much rarer than dads killing their children. In reality, in absolute terms the numbers are pretty comparable.

    Both of these things are unfair to both men and women in different ways.

    I’m somewhat uneasy about where all this analysis will lead. If mothers kill in equal numbers primarily because of their traditional childrearing role, then that means that getting more men involved in childcare will increase the numbers of children getting murdered. Keep men away from children as much as possible — is that where the conclusion is going?

  14. In depth study from the UK showing very different statistics, 80% of homicides were of biological children and 58% of those who killed a biological child were men (I calculated that from the stats they showed where 195 of the killings were men, 59 of the 60 non-biological killings were men and the 235 of the 295 total killing were a biological child). Over 70% of infants were killed by a man. I found it really interesting that the majority of deaths by women were of teenagers. At least in the UK men are far more dangerous to young children.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404184446.htm
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0058981

    I’m a mum of a young toddler and can say that at night time at one of many many wake ups in a row I’ve said many things I didn’t mean and yet I have absolutely no doubt that I will never hurt my child. If you have experienced more than a year of broken sleep and managed to never verbalise your frustration then you are clearly a very strong person but I think that kind of strength is pretty rare. I truly doubt the statement from 100%Cotton that they had 3 children and never thought negative thoughts about their child at any point during infancy, they may believe it though, memory can be very selective.

  15. Hmm, I misunderstood the graph on the distribution of deaths at different ages. The distinction between teenagers and infants was whether the parent killed themselves afterwards not male or female. So the 70% figure I quoted was incorrect.

  16. Just another view says:

    Wierd. Hard to decide what to believe as this website which has links to the Department of Health and Human Services, clearly shows a huge inclination on the mothers committing the crime of Neglect, abuse and Murder. 70% for Mothers and 29% for fathers. http://www.breakingthescience.org/SimplifiedDataFromDHHS.php

    Also a New Zealand Police report that says the same thing http://www.the-spearhead.com/2012/09/26/new-zealand-police-report-mothers-most-likely-to-kill-children/

    Just from my experiences, you hear/see/read far more stories where the mother is the perpetrator then the father… The studies I have included are more recent then the ones Silvereyes, so purhaps the trend has shifted… However I wen to the links supplied and I am having a hard time finding that data. I did find data in regards to percentage of homicide of children under 5 where the offender was a parent, however it didn’t distinguish between mothers or fathers. I am going to have to take a look more closely to the data…

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