The mad housewife is a reliable comic icon, her trials trivialized as boredom and cabin fever. It’s hard for most people to accept that mothers ”” even maybe their own mothers! ”” can be unloving, and sometimes unsafe. Which helps explain why killings like those ascribed to Ms. Schenecker, among some 200 American mothers who kill their children every year, always seem so surprising.
It’s easy to write these cases off as freak results of severe mental illness. But most of these women’s stories also include a lot of ordinary stress and social isolation, the fallout from divorce and the dispersal of extended families. Increasingly cut off from real-time conversations, mad housewives find solace in e-communities, where “life” is so much more soothing and predictable than dealing with teenagers. While news reports say Ms. Schenecker was seeking help from real-life counselors in the weeks before the killings, her Facebook page, with its pretty family photographs and homilies, is a portrait of polished denial.
Amid the debate about whether social networks are depriving us of healthier, non-virtual encounters, a University of Texas study last fall claimed that Facebook was not supplanting such interactions. Perhaps that’s true, but one thing I’m sure of, from my own lucky odyssey, is that all the poking and tagging in the world can’t compete with a pair of real-time eyes when it comes to noticing that someone needs more help than she’s getting.