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When parenting kills

Published: 
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
This is a photo of Daniel Pelka—the four-year-old boy who was starved and beaten to death in Coventry, UK. His mother and stepfather were sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison for his murder. Daniel was abused and tortured in the months before his death and he had been beaten and left to die in an unheated cell-like room. AP Photo

When I saw the story about the sentencing of the Polish mother and stepfather of four-year-old Daniel Pelka who was starved and beaten to death in London in 2012, I was moved to tears. It could have been because I was already torn up by my own life occurrences, but I’m certain that the child’s trauma spurred me to the broken dam. The judge sentenced both guardians to a minimum of 30 years in prison for murder, citing their conduct as “unimaginable acts of cruelty and brutality” and “callous disregard” for Daniel’s suffering. We won’t know what Daniel suffered or escaped in death, but I do hope one day we’ll be able to get a glimpse of the mental (in)capacity or wholly evil hearts which caused the guardians to murder him.

 

As a mentally-incompetent mother, struggling through seemingly insurmountable emotional, socio-economic, and psychological trials, I could never imagine killing my child. I wished I could have had support in raising him, but I didn’t. What he may have been made to endure, consequently, may remain disquieting as he fashions his existence. Or not. “The impact of parental mental illness on family life and children’s well-being can be significant. Children whose parents have a mental illness are at risk of developing social, emotional and/or behavioral problems. The environment in which children grow affects their development and emotional well-being as much as their genetic makeup does.” (www.mentalhealthamerica.net) “Despite these challenges,” the Web site continues, “many children of parents with mental illness are resilient and are able to thrive in spite of genetic and environmental vulnerability.” 

 

 

The cruelty meted out though, was too extreme for four-year-old Daniel. I’m the last of eight children, born to my father at age 52 and my mom at 36. By the time we realised what was happening, I was 16, Daddy was 68 and Mommy, 52. What fresh hell I must have brought to their lives with my infirmity, but they never reproached me for that, instead supporting me the best way they knew. It must have been inconvenient to have a child somewhat off-balanced and coming in the late part of their lives but I never heard them complain. And even though my dad and I didn’t always get along—the generation gap accounted for much of that—we had opportunity to talk about stuff before he died. My parents were mostly normal so we got through it. It must be equally complicated for a child to endure parenting from one charged with creating order from a garbled existence. Daniel’s death prompted me to explore the abuses and injury children experienced and survived at the hands of mentally-incompetent parents. Here are some excerpts from internet forums where child abuse is discussed. 

 

By JCFantasy23, 2008 
“My mother had a bad case of post traumatic stress disorder. When it struck her when I was young she had to disconnect from us emotionally and became very angry. She was unable to work and the house fell apart and she was in therapy for about ten years, in and out of hospitals sometimes. It was very hard in the situation and as a long-term effect I would say I have messed up sleeping patterns, bad reactions to yelling... Also I have messed up eating habits that never improved and poor hygiene habits that I have been dealing with and finally have under control, all except my teeth.”

 

By notfainthearted, 2011
“Not having a mother who offered comfort or compassion was difficult. Being called an animal because you wet the bed was difficult. Wetting the bed when you were a teenager and your mother making sure everyone knew, wasn’t difficult. Who had the energy to become emotionally invested in what other people thought when getting through the day was difficult. “Your mother cocking a gun and holding it focused on your back with her finger on the trigger because you didn’t know where she had hidden the postage stamps was difficult. …Worrying that this time you upset your mother to the point of driving her to suicide was difficult… Never being allowed to show any emotion—happy or sad—was difficult. Knowing from a very early age that your mother didn’t love you was difficult.”

 

By erikvliet, 2011 
“I feel I was born in the darkness, and wonder around in the darkness up till this day. I am not sure how I will handle my current quest for liberation, but everything is better than this ultra craziness of my parents. I worked myself up from the trash to a university degree, but I was very unhappy on my graduation… “I cannot understand how this normal world works, I just can’t, I’ve always wanted to, I want to have fun too, have a girlfriend but I can’t, it makes me depressed that I can’t… All my anger goes into myself. Both my parents have betrayed me, I would have been even very happy if only once they would have stood up for me, never did this happen.” 

 

Sources
www.psychforums.com/child-abuse
www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/bibliographies/mentalhealthparentchildabuse
www.mentalhealthamerica.net