When normal leads to murder

I’ve gotten extremely mad at my children.  They’ll have said something rotten or defiantly disobeyed me, and I’ve gotten so mad that I’ve had to separate myself from them.  I’ve yelled at them, I’ve said words that I would never allow them to repeat back to me, I’ve slammed whatever I was holding on the table just for the satisfaction of the loud noise it creates.  It’s not how anger is generally handled in my household, but it has happened.  And on many of those shameful occasions, the anger that I’ve felt has been a result of mouthiness from one of my lovely children.  And nine times out of ten, when I’ve lost control and started acting like a banshee rather than handling the situation in a calm manner, I am met with amused looks from my angelic cherubs – only infuriating me more.   But in the same token, just as much as my kids make me see red, I love them with intense furiosity.  Even in my most blinding anger, love still remains underneath.  And my biggest frustration is capsuled by the thought “If you could only know how deep my love is for you, how everything I do is for your own good…perhaps you wouldn’t be behaving this way.”

Let’s face it, though.  Kids can be little jerks.  I don’t know a mother out there who hasn’t, even for just a moment, silently wished for her life pre-kids, when she could live selfishly for herself instead of for these brats that just don’t seem to understand all the sacrifices that have been made for them.  And in that, I get the extreme anger that a Florida woman named Julie Powers Schenecker experienced when her two teenage kids were repeatedly mouthing off to her, and how she must have felt helpless in the situation with a husband stationed overseas and two kids who were taking a stand against her. What I don’t understand is her course of action that she took as a result. 

She killed them

Julie Powers Schenecker was arrested Saturday for the murder of her two teenage children. AP Photo/The Tampa Tribune

But Julie Schenecker didn’t just kill them in a moment of rage, she actually planned it.  She went and bought a gun.   5 days later, she was found on her back porch drenched in blood, having just killed her 13 year old son when he mouthed off to her on the way to soccer practice, and then returned home to kill her 16 year old daughter who was studying at her computer. Her original plan also included taking her own life.  But the authorities found her thanks to a tip from her concerned mother, and she now sits in a cell, shaking uncontrollably as she’s haunted by the children who will never mouth off to her again.

Did she realize in that moment that she would never again see her children if she pulled that trigger?  Did she really hate her children more than she loved them?  What is going on in her mind now that she is free from their mouthiness forever?

Reports are just coming out that there appeared to be some signs everyone initially missed.  Julie’s daughter had reported that her mother hit her two times in the past year.  Julie’s own mother told of her daughter’s depression.  And just days before the incident, Julie was in a car crash – and the officer stated that she appeared to be in a drugged-up stupor.  But more than the negative reports, there were reports that Julie’s children seemed polite and the parents extremely supportive of their kids and their activities.  In fact, the biggest reason the killing was such a shock was because the family just seemed so….normal.

Calyx Schenecker, age 16 (Personal photo)

But the thing is, mouthiness in teens IS normal.  Teens talk back.  It’s kind of like their job to push limits.  They test their parents’ sanity through consistent belligerence.  Guess what?  It’s just a fact of life.  We did it to our parents.  Our parents did it to theirs.  And so on.  Our children are only following in a long line of back-talking, sneaky, sassy, delinquent teenageness that has been going on for years.  And with the way their hormones are raging, their growing wings itching to stretch farther than the confines of their home, and the sudden realization that they have more freedom than they ever knew they had…who can blame them?

And being pissed at your kids, that’s normal too.  Parents get mad, sometimes madder than mad.  After having spent years dedicating their lives to these children, making numerous sacrifices and letting their heart expand to growths so large it seems to radiate outside of their bodies….their child is sassing them back and acting like they’re owed something.  They’re smoking pot in the backyard.  They’re staying out way past curfew while their parent paces the floor.  They’re ignoring the list of chores set out for them, or returning the car with an empty tank of gas.  They’re giving their parents the middle finger in everything they do.  The sweet little two year old that would have once followed their parent to the ends of the earth suddenly changes into a giant, pimply, hormonal teenager that thinks their parent is the most moronic being in the world. And this can send a dedicated parent over the edge of sanity into the realms of madder than hell.

Beau Schenecker, age 13 (Personal photo)

And yet, to the outside world much of this isn’t seen publicly.  Kids are polite and respectful (generally) to those outside the family.  Parents talk calmly to their children as if they never get mad at all.  For appearance’s sake, they are the perfect little normal family.  And anyone of us who has been guilty of yelling at our kids, or god forbid, spanking them, or screaming at them in moments when we’ve lost control – we’re left to feel like we’re failing, and even ruining our kids. 

But it’s normal to feel out of control once in awhile when dealing with mouthy children who are BEYOND YOUR CONTROL, to feel insane with fury over your own child.  However, it’s NOT normal to kill your children because of it.

Obviously Julie suffers from some sort of mental illness.  That’s the only explanation I can think of to even begin to understand how she could plan and carry out the murder of her two teenage children.  And even empathizing with the frustration and fury she felt over her mouthy children while coping as a depressed single mother, I can’t excuse this.  My heart just hurts.  And while I hope this woman gets the help she so desperately needs, I’m angry.  She should have sought out help long before this. SOMEBODY should have noticed and done something.  But that’s the thing about appearing normal on the outside.

Nobody noticed anything because there’s nothing noticeable about normal.

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5 thoughts on “When normal leads to murder”

  1. The system failed this family. These children had reported being slapped by their mother. The same mistake was made by the authorities as you have made-physical action is not acceptable and neither is the assumption that “mouthing off” in an aggressive manner to a parent, or anyone, is normal.
    Mom needed help, all three are victims of an unobservant or absent father and a lax public health system.

  2. This is a terrible tragedy, and, as you said, the woman obviously had something going wrong in her head. A statement like that is all too often a closed-minded, snap reaction and refusal to look at a situation from another person’s perspective, like ‘That woman who’s child got injured let her child have a dirt bike? Well, she must have had something wrong with her brain.’ or ‘She took her children to a hippie festival at which some people were naked? She was clearly crazy and should have had her children taken away.’
    …but in this case, I think it can be agreed upon that the claim that she was crazy is more than opinion or censure…it is a fact. Normal mothers don’t do that. It isn’t (obviously) a case of different family values or bringing them up the way she was raised, it is a case of something was tragically wrong inside her head and sadly, no one knew. The mothering instinct normally makes a mother (of any species) fiercely protective of her offspring. Occasionally, however, a mother with postpartum mental issues will attempt to hurt her child. But mental compromise is the only reason I can even imagine for a mother to choose to commit an act such as this.
    I am very sad for her children, for her family…but I am also sad for her…I can only imagine the anguish she is either feeling now or will be feeling if they are able to fix the problem and she absorbs the fact that she murdered her children.

  3. There are drug dependency issues to consider, too. Coupled with mental illness, often “self-medicated” by those who develop a dependency, the crash associated with drug use leads to a profound disconnect with any triggers to the opposite of self-loathing. Her instincts as a mother were perhaps completely eclipsed by these feelings. In a way she was killing herself, her entire life. That’s just a theory and in no way excuses what she did. I’m angry, too. Mostly I’m angry that we, as a society, have to fear being able to intervene. There were warning signs, as you say; and I would argue since one involved a vehicular crash and possible impairment, local law enforcement could have gotten social services to do a welfare check. All the antecendant factors were present; depression, family deployed overseas, pre-teen children testing limits, laws broken. We have to seriously, as a society, one that becomes more of a tight-knit community with every child lost, every life cut short, look at ways to spot these things and try to make a difference, even if it’s in schools where we, God forbid, train children to spot these things in their own parents, or simply give LE and social services more power to intervene. I know the words are pure anathema to speak aloud, but there are lives in the balance. I just don’t know what else can be done. If only they could have run. Both of them. So many. Too many. RIP, dear ones.

  4. This is kind of why that Tiger Mom thing freaks me out. There’s a fine line between abuse and “discipline”. We are pushed to be these perfect parents with perfect children, but the reality is that we can’t achieve that. Doubly so as a single mom when there is no one else around to “relieve” you or help you navigate yourself away from blow up moments.

    i understand the feeling of utter helplessness when your kids defy you. The feelings of failure and frustration. I have swatted butts many times. But those feelings of rage dissipate so quickly when things calm down, and all we’re left with is regret and hurt for mean words or actions of the moment and the kinds of emotional bad karma we may have left in our wake.

    Being a parent is sure hard sometimes.

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