The Tsarnaev family is now nationally, even internationally, notorious. While investigators around the globe look into whether family members have any ties to terrorist networks, I’ve become fascinated with the family dynamics at work behind the scenes.
Although none of us harbors terrorists, many of us may recognize, if not actually relate to, certain family patterns on display in the now infamous Chechnyan family.
For instance, The Wall Street Journal reports a couple of years ago, the mom became concerned that her oldest son, Tamerlan, was losing his way. He seemed to be slipping into an aimless life of marijuana, girls, and alcohol. So like many a parent with a wayward child, she tried to give his life a little direction to get him back on the straight and narrow.
Some parents push their kids into the military, others get them into manual labor, and still others back to school. Mrs. Tsarnaev encouraged Tamerlan to reinvest in his religion, Islam.
She was so successful in her efforts, that Tamerlan soon was a new man. He quit drinking, he quit smoking, he started praying even more than the suggested 5 times a day. He became so adamant about his faith that he actually convinced his mom, who had been a cosmetologist at a spa, to not only quit her job but to cover herself up in tradition Muslim garb.
This move had immediate consequences within the family. The dad was outraged his wife was suddenly covering herself up. This wasn’t the wife he married. She insisted it was what Islamic men should want from their wives. He told her she was acting crazy.
Soon after, the marriage broke up, and the dad went back to Dagestan. A little later, mom returned to her homeland in Dagestan, but to reunite with her ancestral family, not with her husband.
With both parents now half a world a way, the zealous older brother no doubt became something of a substitute father figure to the impressionable, happy go lucky high-schooler Dzhokhar.
It’s no excuse for the teenager’s actions, but it’s easy to understand how a driven and determined older brother could sway a sibling seven years his junior. Dzokhar eventually caught Tamerlan’s “religious fervor” and the results were disastrous.
What’s striking is that the Tsarnaev’s particular family psychodrama is not especially unique. I suspect most families are in some way dysfunctional. The shame is that this relatively small family drama had consequences writ so tragically large.