Mar 4, 2002
The tragic case of Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her five children on June 20, went to the jury for a decision last week. The state prosecutors are calling for a verdict of first degree murder, which can carry the death penalty.
The state of Texas says Yates is legally responsible: she is not so much a mother as she is a murderer. The prosecutors have argued she knew what she was doing and deserves the full punishment of the law.
If there were any doubts about what justice represents, the Yates case would be one to put those doubts to rest. This woman had been under treatment by a psychiatrist for severe depression for two years. She had already tried to commit suicide. One psychiatrist said on the stand at the trial that Andrea Yates was the sickest person he had ever treated.
Yet the court, and many people, argue that Yates was both sane and knew what she was doing when she drowned her five children, ages 6 months through seven years, one after the other, then laid them out on their beds.
Yates herself believed sometimes that she was Satan. During the trial, a psychiatrist testified that Yates said, “My children were not righteous. I let them stumble because I was evil. The way I was raising them they could never be saved ... They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell.”
And this sick woman is being accused of being completely sane, able to tell right from wrong, and responsible alone for what happened. And plenty of media attention has been paid to her unfortunate husband, who is also accused of being a bad parent because he supposedly let this tragedy take place.
What happened is exactly the proof that we live in a world where nobody except parents give a damn about what happens to children. We live in a society that provides no kind of family assistance in any form that is real and gets at the problems parents face.
You don’t have to be in the Yates family to know the problems of raising children. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to understand how tired and frustrated parents get, even as they struggle to raise their children well.
Our society places the blame for everything that could possibly go wrong with children first and foremost on the mothers. Fathers are also certainly blamed, but mothers are expected to do the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of their lives, without rest, without help, without complaint, without a break. Yes there are joys in raising children. But in a society which puts all the responsibility on the parents, there are immense pressures. Some people crack.
Andrea Yates had at least one problem that is common to hundred of thousands of women. She suffered from post-partum depression after the births of her fourth and fifth children. This is a problem affecting millions, yet medical research is overwhelmingly focused on men. So it scarcely recognizes the problems of birth or knows how to treat it.
Yates suffered from severe depression, which again affects millions of women and is treated with drugs. Sometimes, for reasons that honest doctors will admit they scarcely understand, the drugs work and other times they do not help.
Andrea Yates was one of those who cracked under the pressure. The Yates children paid the ultimate price. There will be other children in the future, as there have been in the past, who will pay this same price – precisely because this capitalist society does not devote its resources to its children.