Skip to content

Motherhood and Apple Pie


Sage Insisght (28.08.10) has referenced an interesting paper by DeGue and DeLillo on animal cruelty and family violence.

As I read their abstract, it provoked a welter of connections. Far too many to deal with save in the most cursory manner. But cursory is all you are going to get from me today!

These included:
– Animal cruelty as a predictor for arson and family violence
– Shallow, transient and exploitative maternal affect and the origins of psychosis
– Pets as proxies for aggression and torture
– Cycles of maternal neglect – the case of Baby P
– The psycho-social antecedents of arson
– The abused parent and the abusing child.

A year ago, at the time of the investigation into the death of Baby P, there was a frightening interview in The Observer with Nula Connelly – the grandmother of the baby who died in this much-publicised child abuse case. Her story was a classic tale of abuse, violence, alcoholism, attempted murder, multiple pregnancies, resentful and careless parenting.

What stood out for me was the central role of women – as failing mothers and transgressors, as well as their more usual depiction as victims. That is not to say that men are blameless in this mess, far from it, rather that their role tended to fall into step with their stereotype: the abused/abuser or the policeman/judge.

At a time when men are finding that, as fathers, they have a decreasing right to a role in the upbringing of their offspring, it is proper that we examine the utterly toxic contribution that some mothers make to the development of their children.

A key feature of the research on the psycho-social antecedents of arson is the lack of maternal affect in the childhood of arsonists. Often, where present, it is shallow, transient and exploitative… three aspects which are also highlighted in the Andrew Anthony interview with grandmother Connelly.

In November 2008, Martin Narey – Chief Executive of the children’s charity Barnardo’s – posed the uncomfortable question whether, had he not died, we might not have expected to encounter Peter Connelly, some years down the line, as a criminal or abuser in his own right?

As Narey pointed out, we know so much about the harmful effects of violence and neglect upon children and how it impacts upon their development and later life, that it is time that we intervened more effectively.

I was always told that behind every great man is a good woman. A lovely thought but a bit too definite for me.

Perhaps – in recognising the inter-generational connectedness of poisoned families – we ought to say the reverse is true: behind every bad man there is a twisted childhood and a failed mother.

Anthony, A.; (2009). Baby P: born into a nightmare of abuse, violence and despair, he never stood a chance; The Observer; 16.08.09.
Bowcott, O., (2008). Damage to Baby P could have turned him into a yob, says Barnardo’s boss; The Guardian; 26.11.08.
DeGue, S., & DiLillo, D. (2008). Is Animal Cruelty a ‘Red Flag’ for Family Violence?: Investigating Co-Occurring Violence Toward Children, Partners and Pets; Journal of Inter-Personal Violence; 24:6; pp.1036-1056.

From → Children, Crime, Research

  1. A Note of Clarification.
    In this blog, when I refer to animal abuse, I do not intend to make any connection with the entirely legal activities of research laboratories or those those engaged in scientific endeavour.
    Animal abuse, in the context intended, refers solely to individuals engaging in the mistreatment, torture and abuse of domestic and agricultural animals for their own entertainment or amusement.
    An internet search on the terms ‘arson’ and ‘animal abuse’ lists seemingly endless cases of animal rights activists who have caused enormous pain and suffering to human and non-human animals by setting fire to homes, laboratories and businesses.
    One has to question what has caused these misguided individuals to behave in this manner…

  2. And, please, Neil, where is the father??

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., Physician, author

    • Abba, where art thou?
      You ask a central question for which there is no simple answer.
      For the children in this post, there is little likelihood that the father was around as a positive influence for very long. There is a greater expectation that the mother will care for her children and this is not only a social construction, it is also linked to the physical act of childbirth, although there are all sorts of exceptions in terms of puerperal psychosis and rejection and so on.
      I think the role of the father has been increasingly sidelined in recent years, which has been an unnecessary consequence of some aspects of feminism.
      For example, of course it is a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, something we all fought for in the 60s and 70s… but then that can mean that she chooses not to have a father around at all. (“Just the semen, thank you.”)
      As this and a myriad other changes diminish the role of fathers in families, we have to re-think what we expect from them… and also revise the value-free approach we have recently taken to women’s rights wrt the family.

  3. Neil,

    When I was young, I thought about men mainly as sperm providers, I admit. Now having raised two children, one with an absent father, and one with a present, caring father, I have learned that a child needs two views of the world – if only to come up with his own, third view.

    Sometimes, it can’t be helped. But we should become aware that two parents is the desired form.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: