I was out running a couple of errands this morning, by myself since BabyO’s mom offered to stay with all the kids for a little while, and I turned on a news radio station. The Andrea Yates jury was filing into the courtroom with a verdict while I was parking the van, so I sat and listened. As you probably know, they decided that she was not guilty by reason of insanity. I was, well, certainly not happy to hear that, but I was relieved.
It’s hard to explain, but I have hoped from the start,
when I first heard some of the details of her life, that this would be
the outcome. I absolutely do not condone her behavior. Obviously. A
couple of days ago I was listening to a news report of the trial while
I was driving to the doctor and I could hardly see the road for all the
tears. It took me months of bathing my own children to not immediately think of how she killed hers. The story struck me and stayed with me.
There is just a part of me that understands her. That understands many of the women who hurt their children. But, not all of them. I wish I could say that I’ve never been at all abusive toward my kids. I can’t. I’ve yelled and spanked. I’ve picked them up or set them down harder than necessary. I’ve forcibly buckled them into car seats and on one occasion, held a favorite toy over the garbage can, threatening to throw it out unless the behavior stopped. Maybe that all sounds pretty mild to you, or maybe it sounds awful and you think I’m an unfit parent. There are so many ways to interpret what is abuse and what isn’t.
The part of me that understands women who harm their children is the same part of me that has been so blinded by anger toward my own kids that I’ve thought, briefly, how satisfying it would feel to punch them. Or kick them. Or toss them out the front door.
Awful. I know. I feel terrible for ever thinking those things. But, I imagine that I’m pretty normal for thinking them and even more normal for never doing them. And that’s the thing; I’m basically normal, mentally, so I have adequate tools and filters in place that make me realize a millisecond into thinking about hurting my kids that I need to walk away, get a grip, and calm down.
I don’t think that Andrea Yates killed her children out of anger. I probably don’t even know enough about what happened and why to be writing about it. However, I believe that she was mentally ill in a way that negated her primal instinct to protect her kids. I think she was totally detached from, well, from herself, if you know what I mean. And I feel sorry for her and more sorry for her children. I do not think she should be put to death or sent to prison. I think she should be institutionalized, probably permanently, and I also think instead of calling for her punishment and death, people should be reaching out to overwhelmed and depressed mothers and offering help. A mother of one can be overwhelmed as justifiably as a mother of seven, and every mother needs people to assist her. I know I sure as hell do.