In our culture we lump motherhood along with God, country, and apple pie under the umbrella category of all that is good, pure, and virtuous. Though we don’t think of mothering as a simple act, we normally construe it as an unfettered outpouring of love, caring, and support. This view, of course, reflects a cultural stereotype that bears no resemblance to everyday reality. One of the startling shocks of new parenthood is the discovery that parenting can be aggravating, boring, even painful, and can generate anger and depression as well as happiness or contentment. Even full-fledged devotion to one’s children, under given circumstances, can generate destructive behavior toward third parties seen as inimical to one’s offspring, e.g., teachers, neighbors, bullying kids, nasty relatives, etc. I’ve been struck by this with a spat of recent news stories in the Cincinnati Enquirer which seem to point to an epidemic of loving mothers running amok. Here are a few instances.
What can be more tender and devoted, for example, than the act of breastfeeding one’s infant. Well, just tell that to Genene Compten, 39, of Harrison Township who was recently arrested and charged with child endangering when she was breastfeeding her child and talking on a cell phone while driving. Like any good mother would be, Ms. Compten was outraged by the police’s accusations. She let them know that she is not the sort of mother who would ever deprive her child when it is hungry, whatever the circumstances. And she defiantly claims that she will feed and drive whenever her baby requires it. The police argued in vain that the problem was not public breastfeeding but placing the child’s health and safety at risk, but Ms. Compten would hear nothing of it.
For many moms, sticking up for one’s child extends into young adulthood and beyond. Deidra Roget’s 22-year-old son Dmitri, like any red-blooded kid might do, got involved in a fight at Annie’s nightclub, took a shot at the other guy, and then pointed his pistol at a policeman. The police officer, in response, fired 11 times at Dmitri, shooting him in the butt and the foot. Appearing at the courthouse in her son’s behalf, Ms. Roget went berzerk, and she wound up being arresting for assaulting a police officer, obstructing official business, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. Despite this mom’s loving and heartfelt efforts to support and protect her son, an uncaring judge sent him to prison for 13 years anyway.
Mothers don’t just give emotional support, but they often need to provide material resources as well. When one’s finances are limited, being a good mother may require actions that society would otherwise frown upon. A good example is the recent case of Patricia Clottingham, 48. Charged with stealing $45,000 from her health care employer, Mrs. Clottingham got a new bookkeeping job in order to repay the stolen cash. She succeeded in making the repayments by stealing $1.2 million from her new employer. Mrs. Clottingham was imprecise about where the money went, but her lawyer said much of it was for miscellaneous things, such as limousine rides for her children and renovation of her children’s homes. We might wonder about Mrs. Clottingham’s methods, but no one can dispute this bottomless fount of maternal love.
Embezzlement is a preferred technique when you can do it, but, if one doesn’t have ready access to a pile of cash through their job, devoted moms need to resort to more direct methods. A local area mother, Barbara Jolly, 68, of Middletown gained considerable press attention, if not acclaim, when she was convicted for a string of bank robberies in Warren and Butler counties. Because her 39-year-old son Christopher had lost his job, she sent him a total of $200,000 from her and her husbands’ retirement savings. When her husband finally balked at this, Mrs. Jolly turned to bank robberies. Mr. Jolly explained, “She is a loving grandmother who simply could not say ‘no’ to our son’s pleas for more and more financial help.” Prior to taking up bank robbery, Mrs. Jolly’s main avocations were stitching quilts for the homeless, attending church, and volunteering at school festivals. To date she has been sentenced to sixteen years in prison. I hope she will be nominated for Prison Mother of the Year.
Sometimes mother love can even create conflict with one’s life partner. The extremes of good motherhood made front page news when Cheryl McCaugherty, 44, called 911 to report that she had shot her husband Robert between the eyes, apparently while he was sleeping. Robert was the likable V.P. of a medical supply company, Cheryl was a successful advertising executive at the Enquirer, and they were generally regarded as a perfect couple in their wealthy Fort Thomas community. The prosecutor claimed that Ms. Cafferty had absconded with thousands of her husband’s money to pay for her daugher’s modeling lessons. Ms. McCaugherty’s lawyer, on the other hand, said her husband had threatened to kill their 12 and 15 year old children, and that her action was a case of self-defense and protection of her children. The jury, swayed by Ms. McCaugherty’s maternal devotion, found her guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter.
What are we to make of this? It’s always a little discomforting when mothers need to lie, cheat, steal, stab, shoot, and murder in order to promote their children’s well-being. But it’s like the old book title says, “Love is Not Enough.” We need to recognize that the world is a complex place, and that mothers, to defend and nurture their little ones, sometimes have to engage in actions that may have less than desirable side effects upon others. I myself feel a bit of relief when I realize that my mom probably would have murdered a few people for me if the need had arisen.
-JML (8-12): Hey Dad, Here in new orleans we had a case last year in which a 15 year old got into a fistfight while playing basketball. He went home crying to his mom and she gave him a handgun with instructions to teach them a lesson. He then proceeded to shoot one of the bullies to death. She's now in prison for accessory to murder.