Posted by: Kate | September 17, 2008

A Failure to Parent

Yesterday, I got a call from the social worker at a local elementary school.  She spoke in that bright, happy, yet somehow soothing voice that sounds carefully developed to calm and encourage me and just makes me want to tip over a desk, just for the hell of it.  A nice enough woman, I’m sure, just a touch too precious, somehow.

Anyway, she called with a true and legitimate concern.  She was just leaving a meeting at the school, attended by a 10-year-old student, the girl’s mother, several teachers and other associated staff members.  The school had requested the meeting because they were concerned about the girl’s safety.  She had apparently been talking, to friends and to staff, about how depressed and scared she feels at home, and there was concern that she might be thinking of harming herself.

Thus, the meeting was convened, and the social worker explained why they were all concerned. 

“Oh,” said the mother, sounding surprised.  The school had never met her before, as she didn’t find it necessary to attend any of the meet-the-teacher nights or Open Houses.  She had arrived late, with no reason or apology, and seemed to have no idea why they had asked her to come in.  “Well, sure, I knew she was depressed.  We have a lot of problems at home right now.  We’re living with my parents, and there’s a lot of conflict, and I’m trying to move to another state, but it’s slow, so I don’t know.  But yeah, she’s sad, I knew that.  She tried to hang herself with a belt over the summer.  We just never thought it was that big a deal.”

The school assured her it was that big a deal, and collectively they worked out an agreement whereby the student would complete the school day and then be brought to the emergency room for a safety assessment.

Now.  It takes a lot for me to lose my temper (unless you happen to be my daughter, in which case there seems to be a direct line from calm to ears-bleedingly-frustrated).  In my job, I need to be able to keep it together.  I need to not cry at the sad stories, need to not get angry at the parents who are useless or even dangerous, need to not give in to the frustration at a system that is barely functional.  I can process through those things later on, but in the moment, I need to maintain a professional distance. 

But for this woman, I was willing to make an exception.  For this stranger, this person I had not yet met, I was willing to get pissed off. 

Because she is, to be quite simply and painfully blunt, a failure.  You can define parenthood in any number of ways, and there is an incredibly broad stretch of approaches to discipline, attachment, philosophy, that I will accept as reasonable.  For the most part, you need to do one thing, and aside from that I’ll leave you alone to do it.

You have to keep your kids safe.

Not safe from the evils of television, immunizations and Republicans, or whatever other questionable and vague things you might point out in the world as potentially dangerous to their souls.  But physically safe from harm, emotionally safe from permanent scars. 

Just keep them safe, and do your best at whatever it is you do, and I’ll leave you be. 

But this woman?  I don’t care how much turmoil there is in her life, I don’t care how damaged and ill she might be, herself.  When her child attempted to hang herself, and she didn’t see that as reason enough to follow up with some sort of evaluation or even a simple acknowledgment, she failed.

Can you imagine how incredibly much psychic noise must surround this woman’s life, such that her child thinks that the only way to be heard is to try to kill herself, and for that to not be enough? 

Let me clarify, too, that I know, 100%, that it is not always the parent’s fault, and it’s not always preventable.  Sometimes people hurt themselves.  Sometimes they die.  Sometimes those around them were doing everything right, and they just weren’t clairvoyant enough to prevent the worst from happening.

But in this case, she was given a loud and clear message, and she ignored it.

I spent the whole day obsessing about this woman, getting increasingly angrier. 

And then she never ended up bringing her daughter in for an assessment.  The school is contacting the Department of Children, Youth & Families today, and the mother will be investigated on charges of child endangerment. 

And I remain angry.



  1. And I am angry with you.

  2. Beyond anger! This mother needs a sharp whack to get her attention, and that shouldn’t be her child’s death.

    Some people should NOT be parents, but will the state take this child out of the danger zone and get her help?

  3. “…not that big of a deal.”

    I’m angry, too.

    At this point, is there cause to remove her from the home?

  4. Not that big a deal!!!!?????

    Whoa, how can ANYONE say that?

  5. Amazing, isn’t it? I wish I could be shocked by this story.

  6. Rightfully angry, I’d say. That’s just horrifying.

  7. Unbelievable.

    The mother didn’t bring the child for the agreed upon assessment which leads me to believe that she must believe that *other* people are also as negligent and uncaring as she?

    Holy crap, she’s a freaking moron.

    My heart goes out to that child. What guidance will she have through life if this is her mother?

  8. Wow, wow, wow. You must be astonished at the lack of regard from this woman. What a shame. I hope this woman comes to her senses and gets help for her child ASAP. That’s such a serious sign of a cry for help!!! I lost my maternal grandmother and grandfather to suicide at different times and a cousin who was 18 too. I now have 5 & 7 year old boys that I keep a very watchful eye out for, as a parent should. I truly believe it takes a village to raise a child and if anyone was concerned enough to take notice and try and help, it should be welcomed with open arms. RED FLAG for sure. Of course there’s a lot of conflict at her parents house, they probably disagree with her parental ways. I hope Child Svcs see the severity of the problem and acts accordingly. My prayers are with the little girl that she find the help she needs so desparately at this time. God Bless!!!

  9. This child is LUCKY that the school took over. It’s also very clear that this mother needs help as well. She’s so obviously tired, confused, unable to deal. Sometimes when life gets that overwhelming, it’s easier to ignore everything — including the people you love the most. She needs some help parenting, as it’s quite possible she’s clinically depressed herself. If she is, she will be unable to give her daughter (and anyone else who relies on her) what she needs to survive emotionally and physically. It’s easy to get angry at her, but you should also remember that her behavior, like her daughter’s, may be a cry for help.

  10. Also, before I get slammed, I’m not defending her actions — just providing possibilities. As a mom and a teacher, I want to protect every kid I see. It just sounds like this woman (I hesitate to call her a mother) simply can’t.

  11. Very lucky that the school intervened so often out here, cases like this do not get spotted and sometimes with disastrous results. Mommysrant has a point, I recently posted about a suicide caused by depression and realised that so many people suffer from it but either don’t acknowledge it or hide it very carefully. I’m glad they’re following up. No 10 year old should feel so sad and unsafe.

  12. Hmmm…. I suddenly feel much less guilty about the fact that my kid had fast food for lunch….

  13. I have red flashing lights going off. She tryed to hang herself but we didn’t think it was serious? Holy baby jeebus! I would slapped that woman if I had been there. Snap back to reality bitch(you know I rarely speak this way) and look at your child. She wants to die, get attention, be important to you.

    I cannot go on. I’ll start screaming.

  14. You know I felt like an idiot explaining my cancer situation to my kids teachers so that “they had a clue of what was going on at home” and the rest of our life is SANE!!! This Mom didn’t think that MAYBE it could be important to tell someone at the school that her daughter attempted suicide? As I see it the best thing that could happen would for this mother to allow temporary custody to someone who can assist this girl in getting the treatment she needs.

  15. OH. MY. GAWD.

    She didn’t think her daughter’s suicide attempt was that big of a deal? Angry? Beyond angry – and also horribly sad to the point of tears for that little girl. She deserves so much more.

  16. I followed a link that Karmyn left.

    I don’t know what to say….wow.

  17. I, too, followed the link from Karmyn.

    And all I have to say is – You have more self control than I do, sister. I think I would’ve backhanded that braod right then and there. What a selfish woman. What a horrible mother. I sincerely hope that little girl gets the help she needs.

  18. I am saddened by the situation. Unfortunately, as I teach seventh grade, I have seen this before. Parents are so involved in their own lives that their children become unimportant and non-existent.

  19. I , too, come from Kamryn.

    And all I can say is…wow. And I think I’m a bad mother.

  20. I am so sad for this little girl, who is talking and reaching out for help to anyone she can. I am glad the school is following up on it.

    And what is wrong with people??

  21. I didn’t come from Karmyn’s but from the wordpress home page. I have read Kamryn’s blog before, and the three or four people who came from there.

    I am very angry about it also and what angers me most is that it is not an isolated incident. I am sure this is happening way more than any of us would like to believe. There are so many kids in foster care because people have children and can’t or won’t parent them. It is a sad state our society is in. I hope the girl gets the help she needs.

  22. I was directed by Karmyn too.

    I am saddened by this as well. No 10-year old should
    have to feel that way. I pray that she gets to a safe place
    and that she gets help. I hope my own kids know how
    much they are loved AND valued.

  23. As I emailed you off site Kate about the girl here we are trying to help in the Foster Care System who probably won’t live out the year because she is self destructing. Kids all over are falling through the cracks screaming for help and supposedly everyone’s hands are tied. Why is it kids pay for these stupid adults selfish and hurtful ways?

  24. This brought tears of rage to my eyes.

  25. […] or three days to have her seen at a regular appointment. (Can you imagine? A parent who is actually concerned and proactive? Amazing.) Meanwhile, there is a 60-something man waiting at the emergency room, in four-point […]

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