The parents of alleged Boston bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been called “awful,” “crazy” and “deluded” ever since they’ve begun speaking publicly about their “very nice” sons. But their utter disbelief and denial, according to experts in parent-child dynamics, is far from unexpected.
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“If you were to see your child and all their deficiencies, it would be very painful,” Renana Brooks, PhD and director of the National Institute for the Study of the American Unconscious, told Yahoo! Shine. “You really can’t see your children as evil. Almost always you have to see them as being framed, unless you decide not to love them anymore.”
In other words, she said, “How could you think you raised a monster and not have noticed it?”
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The brothers allegedly were "self-radicalized," and were motivated to kill by U.S. wars, according to news of Dzhokhar's admissions. And this week, a U.S. team is heading to Russia to shed light on that by speaking to the suspects' parents. As reports of the brothers and what others thought of them have been emerging since Friday, it’s become pretty clear that many saw Tamerlan as mean, angry and disruptive. Their uncle Ruslan called them “barbarians,” saying that their father Anzor “lost control over that family quite a time ago.” A cousin, Zaur, told the Boston Globe, “[Tamerlan] was always getting in trouble. He was never happy, never cheering, never smiling. He used to strike his girlfriend. ... He was not a nice man.” He was also reportedly shouted out of a mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston, after disrupting a service by calling the speaker a hypocrite.
But, according to father Anzor and mother Zubeidat, the boys were good-natured, and more importantly, innocent of any real crime. “The police are to blame," Anzor told reporters. "Being cowards, they shot the boy dead. There are cops like this.” He believed his sons were "set up" by authorities and targeted because of their beliefs. In a separate interview, Zubeidat also came to her children's defense. “My sons would never keep a secret,” she said.
Considering the mounting evidence, his parents' statements strike many as suspicious, or at least delusional. "In every interview, Anzor claims to know exactly what his kids have been up to, though he hasn’t seen them since he moved back to Dagestan a year ago," wrote Slate's William Saletan, in an essay road-mapping the family's "lies and excuses."
This type of parental denial isn't uncommon, according to Brooks, particularly in reaction to troubled children. “You never can really see the whole problem,” she explained, “because [if you did] it would be your fault as well.”
“Children are an extension of yourself—of your values, your family beliefs, your cultural beliefs,” added Alan Entin, a Richmond, Virginia–based psychologist in private practice and former president of the APA’s division of family psychology. Admitting one of your own could be a criminal, therefore, “Negates everything you might have thought about for your family. So there’s a disconnect between their beliefs and the reality of the situation.”
Which leads to another reason for Anzor and Zubeidat’s insistence that their sons were framed (beyond the complex Chechen political baggage as broken down recently by Buzzfeed). “I believe they’re protecting themselves,” posited Michael Mantell, who was chief psychologist for the San Diego Police Department for more than a decade. He told Shine that, by Anzor claiming his sons were “angels,” he’s essentially saying, “I raised a good child, and I have no responsibility at all.” It could be his true belief, Mantell said, or it could be “rhetorical disbelief,” expressed to cover what he might really feel—that his sons could have done it.
Or, Mantell added, “They may simply be lying. They are part of what’s going on, and they feel responsible, like, the jig is up.”
When the uncle speaks out against the boys, he added, “He’s not protecting himself as a parent figure. Parents can care more about their own image than their kid.” After all, “The father said he is coming to the U.S. to seek justice—not to take care of their son,” he noted. “That struck me.”
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