Parenting in Mass Shooters, Super Bowl Stars, and the Rest of Us

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How has psychiatry affected the role of being a parent? What makes a good parent?

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PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

Many years ago, I wondered and wrote some about whether our society should require some sort of license to have children. After all, why do we require a license for driving a car, but not for raising a child? How to operationalize a parental license was an obstacle, as well as the realization that this would likely not make me too popular among the public and perhaps tarnish psychiatry. I stopped talking about it.

Along the more or less same period, and especially during my training years in the early 1970s, organized psychiatry tended to be unduly critical of mothers. That was illustrated, for instance, in the presumed causative role of being “refrigerator moms” in causing autism by emotional coldness, and additionally in being a schizophrenogenic mother by double-binding contradictory messages to their children. The annual American Psychiatric Association (APA) meeting was often even scheduled over Mother’s Day weekend. Fathers were sort of ignored.

Fast forward to our era of mass shootings. The father of the July 4, 2022, mass shooter in Highland Park, Illinois pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct charges in early November of last year. There was a history of his buying firearms for his son 3 years before the massacre. This purchase came after reports of concerning behavior in his son, including that he attempted to die by suicide via machete.

On Tuesday, a Michigan jury convicted a mother of involuntary manslaughter. Her son killed 4 when he was 15 years old. On the morning of the mass shooting, November 30, 2021, school staff showed the parents their son’s violent drawing of a gun, bullet, and wounded man, but his backpack with the gun was not searched, nor was he taken home before the shooting at school a few hours later. Below the drawing has been these words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.” No psychiatric treatment was apparently ever sought by the parents. The father, who bought the handgun, is yet to be tried.

In contrast to the legal verdict in Michigan, we have “Mother Kelce,” who is the mother of 2 sons who have become football stars. Impressive is little public indication of any problematic sibling rivalry, even though they played against each other. Last year, after the Super Bowl when Travis’ team won, she discussed her mothering strategy in a February 14, 2023, article for CNBC titled “Donna Kelce raised 2 Super Bowl-winning brothers - here’s the No. 1 parenting rule she used.”1 That rule was: “Once you start something, you have to see it through.” The reason for that was commitment to their teammates and leaders. Perseverance went along with that: “you push harder and you find out how far you can stretch yourself.” This year, only the youngest, Travis, is in the Super Bowl and “Mother Kelce” has received much positive attention for embracing his superstar girlfriend, Taylor Swift, into the family.

Both these examples illustrate the importance of parental responsibility to push for the best development of their children, while not ignoring the warning signs of trouble. These 2 cases provide some specific models of what to do or not to do. Psychiatry has come to better understanding of the etiology of mental disorders and the positive value of mothers as well as fathers.

As a society, we do have to consider missed opportunities to provide needed mental health care to those who later become mass shooters. We also must provide necessary help and support for parents as they are raising their children. Parents are their children’s keepers.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

Reference

1. Huddleston T Jr. Donna Kelce raised 2 Super Bowl-winning brothers—here’s the No. 1 parenting rule she used. CNBC. February 14, 2023. Accessed February 8, 2024. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/14/donna-kelce-parenting-rule-for-nfl-sons-jason-travis-no-quitting.html

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