Mothers Who Kill Their Children: Considering Patterns, Prevention and Intervention

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Filicide, or the crime of killing one's children, is as old as human society. Even a brief consideration of written history confirms this. It appears in the Old Testament. It is written into Roman law. Filicide is not new, and yet, because it undermines some of our most cherished myths-that mothers are unfailingly altruistic and that nuclear families are safe, happy, and loving havens-society tends to react to stories of filicide with shock and horror.

The most certain way to prevent filicide is to understand its genesis. When considering contemporary cases of maternal filicide, in particular, a surprisingly clear set of patterns emerges. These patterns reflect specific cultural norms and imperatives, both unwritten and written, that govern practices such as motherhood, family, mental health, and violence in contemporary life. In the discussion that follows, we will explore these norms, illustrating the manner in which they shape contemporary maternal filicide cases, as well as the broader spectrum of child abuse and neglect.

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