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Judging Shaquan Duley

Last week, Shaquan Duley suffocated her 2 and 1 year old sons in a motel room, strapped them into their car seats, drove 10 miles away and back the car into a river with their lifeless bodies still inside.

Today, she sits in jail on murder charges.

For most people familiar with the story, it seems an open and shut case. She’s been called a “fat piece of trash” who should be “hung from the nearest branch”. She’s a cruel, heartless monster. She has to be, after all, right? I mean, how could a mother look down at her two children and willfully smother them? The truth is, it’s easier than most people realize or want to admit.

There is a dark side to motherhood that nobody ever talks about. There is a reason that women are given 1-800 hotline numbers routing them to a crisis center in their discharge papers after delivering a baby. People were never meant to raise human beings alone, and caring for a perfect stranger (which is what your baby is) can be a daunting task. Some women love their children immediately they exit the womb; most have to grow to love them. ‘Single mother’ is not a title most women ascribe to – it’s an unfortunate situation that many find themselves in. Consciously making the decision to be a single mother is the career equivalent of running full tilt off a cliff in the Grand Canyon…every day. Raising and caring for children is truly the hardest thing one will ever do. It’s mentally taxing, physically exhausting, and spiritually draining. As a stay at home mom, I can say with honesty that I would rather spend my weekdays on tour in Iraq than contend with my four children. I, like other moms, am rewarded with 2 things: the moments of joy that motherhood brings, and the knowledge that my children will eventually have to leave my house.

If you ask a woman who is honest, she will confess one of two things. She either knows someone who has thought of hurting her kids, or has thought of hurting her own herself. The overwhelming majority OF COURSE do not, which is why Duley’s case seems so abominable. Though you may have the urge to wring little Junior’s neck, your “mom bone” (the organ that stores your unconditional love for your child) keeps you from doing it. I have a cousin who told me that she was so depressed after her son was born, she thought about smothering him with a pillow in his crib as he slept. I heard a stranger  say she has contemplated taking her kids to the mall and walking away. I myself have been driving and looked longingly at the side of a brick wall or a ditch and envisioned myself crashing my vehicle into either one, consuming us all in a fiery inferno. Some days, it just gets to you.  And like most women raising children in America today, Shaquan Duley did not have much help. We don’t live in Mayberry anymore.

What she DID have was a nagging, overbearing mother, drilling her about being “more responsible” for her kids. No one needs a harpie re-emphasizing the obvious. Having recently lost her job, I’m sure Duley was very much aware that she unemployed and single. Combined with the noise of her 2 small children, I can only imagine that her mother’s utterances (no matter how ‘well intentioned’) could not have been very soothing. If you poke a person long enough, eventually they will snap. From what I read, Duley was an oak tree; strong, steadfast, accommodating to a fault, a little too rigid and a little too self reliant. But to survive motherhood, you have to be a willow – You have to bend when the storms of life come your way so that you WON’T snap.You have to ask for help, and keep asking till it comes.

In hindsight, many people in her town and those closest to her now opine and say they would have helped her with her kids if only she had asked. Really? Think about how many times you, dear reader, have asked a friend for something as simple as a ride only to be given the run around? Everybody knows a single mother needs help. It’s not rocket science. Shoot, I have a spouse and I still don’t see how I’m going to make it through the day. The wages of motherhood is death, and those wages are taken in the form of the passing away of a woman’s former life. For Duley, it seemed she sadly tried to resurrect that life by taking those of her poor two sons.

I don’t excuse Shaquan Duley for what she did. It was horrific, and it was wrong. She is distraught over it, just as Susan Smith is, I’m sure. What I don’t do is rush to judge her. She is not the pillar of strength society would have all mothers to be. She gave in to a moment of weakness, and now she must pay for her actions.

When I was a child, I once saw a mother hen peck her newborn hatch-ling to death. It was born feeble and probably would never made it past 3 days on its on anyway. My grandmother helped me understand that animals kill their offspring if they are born flawed and cannot care for themselves in the long run. Basically, defective young make the job of parenting too hard. Of all life forms on Earth, human babies have the longest time frame of dependency on their parents. Cases like Duley’s force us to ask ourselves how much higher than animals we truly are.

PS: Do something nice for a mother today, whether she appears to be struggling or not. She’ll never say it, but she needs some help.

This article has 12 comments

  1. sangima

    Preach sista! What you have said is so true under a new light. Even with a spouse things are not always easier but being single mom is a task within itself.

  2. anibas48

    You’re an awesome writer! I’m neither a wife nor mother but when I do become one and/or both (hopefully sooner than later) I’ll be glad I read all of this. Thanks for the honesty. 🙂

    • Malaka

      Thank you!

      Motherhood and marriage are awesome, BUT let no one confuse you: it’s work and a life long commitment. You have to get your mind right. It’s not a party that you leave when the fun is over. Here’s to a happy union to you sooner rather than later! 🙂

  3. Nana Ama

    A most thought-provoking and sobering insight into motherhood in the so-called western ‘civilisation!’ Many thanks.

  4. Theresa

    Your writing is very persuasive and I hear your point loudly and clearly. I am not a wife nor a mother at this point in my life, but I have seen first-hand many of the struggles both single and married mothers contend with on a day-to-day basis. However, I cannot go with this. I am not judging Ms. Duley, but there is always a way of escape (if people would just take a moment to see it) so that something like this would not happen. Ms. Duley had many people around her that she could turn to. If she wanted to go to the mall and just leave her children there, she could have done that. If she just wanted to abandon them in the motel room and jump on the next plane to Saint Tropez, she could have done that. To smother them, then to drive the distance that she did with their lifeless bodies in the car and then run the car into the lake…disturbing and disgusting. She could have left them on the steps of local Children & Youth building if she felt that she could not ask anyone for help. There were so many options…murder was not one of them. Ms. Duley is in prison, but her two little, innocent boys are DEAD! Never to grow up to realize their potential. No matter of eloquent writing can explain this away. Thank you.

    • Malaka

      Theresa, I’m not trying to explain anything away. I was merely saying that while I find her actions reprehensible, I understand them. The fact is, Ms. Duley did not have the mental faculties to handle her situation properly. Why do people do anything they do? Why do they engage in unprotected sex when HIV/AIDS is very real? Why do people snap at and go off on the waiter when he/she forgets to bring lemon for the water? Why do soldiers come back from war and go berserk? Why did that guy in California kill his 5 kids, his wife, and then himself when he lost his job and 401K at the beginning of the recession? I don’t know, but I for one believe people are inherently evil and have to be taught good. This case was an unfortunate testament to that fact.

      The fact is, she DID as her mother for help, and her mom refused. She couldn’t hop on a plane to Saint Tropez because she was UNEMPLOYED. Like you said, she could have dropped her kids off at the mall and left them there, but she didn’t. Perhaps she is mentally ill, I don’t know. But come back to me and lets talk about it again when you become a wife/mother and let me know your thoughts then. Hopefully, you will have a strong support system and never truly know first hand what I’m driving at. If you’re not that fortunate, then I pray the best for you, because raising kids with no help IS A HELL YOU CANNOT IMAGINE. More women have contemplated smothering their kids, even briefly, than you know. Few will admit it though. The difference between them and Duley is that they have the strength and presence of mind not to do it.

  5. runrettarun

    Hey girlie. Long time, no chat. It is definitely reprehensible what she did to her children and what happens to many children everyday. It is NEVER ok. And obviously she was not 100% all there to have killed her own children. Being a mother is freaking difficult. I want to hide from my boys OFTEN. I find it rather interesting that someone who has never had children have an opinion on the difficulty of motherhood.

  6. Donna

    Beautifully written. Very sobering. And full of truth. I don’t condone what happened either, and I surely can’t explain it away, but I can see how she reached that point of utter hopelessness. God bless them all.

  7. Malaka

    hey RRR! Long time for real. Like you said, its NEVER ok. Explaining motherhood to someone with no kids is like Einstein explanation quantum physics to a kindergartner.

    Donna – well said. God bless them all.

  8. connie walker

    i did not have any kids until i was 42 when i voluntarily took custody of my 1st cousin’s beautiful son (right from his hospital bed). I never knew struggle until i had to raise this baby who is now going on 7 yrs old (in august). Let me just take a moment & i agree with all who take the non-judgemental stance because God is the only one who sits high & looks low. Let me also add that GOD is a forgiving God! I know exactly what it feels like to have your own family be apathetic & indifferent about lending a helping hand, because after my mom passed, I have NO ONE else that I can depend on to help raise & nuture this child in a positive way (with the exception of one older male friend)! However, I have never thought about killing him NOT ONCE! With that being said, I can honestly admit he has angered me to the point that I have considered & almost came close to striking him in the face with my fist! I kid you not – Shaquan’s stress level gauge had completely malfuction & she snapped & gave in to pressure. It does sound as though she did not have any real & genuine support system. Anyone- family and/or friends– can come forward after the fact and, out of guilt and/or shame, pretend that they would have been there for this young woman had she solicited their help. I agree with the comment(s) mothers (especially single moms) should not have to ask but rather members of the community, particularly MEMBERS OF HER FAMILY OR HER’S (OR HER MOTHER’S) CHURCH. It has often escape me as to why a good number of our black churches have gone into the business of making money rather than reaching out & investing their money back into the community (i.e. helping working, single moms find and pay for dependable child care, even if this means paying some of the so-called “christian” women in the church to take on the role of caregiver. WE REALLY NEED TO DO MORE IN TERMS OF REACHING OUT & SUPPORTING EACH OTHER, ESPECIALLY IN OUR BLACK COMMUNITIES.

  9. connie walker

    i sincerely pray that she asks god for forgiveness!

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