Perhaps many of you have seen a post that has recently gone viral in the wake of the heartbreaking and senseless tragedy in Connecticut. The name of that piece is "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" and the author of the piece is self-described "anarchist soccer mom" Liza Long. (Contrary to normal policy at this blog I am not linking to this piece as I do not want to give this woman another forum to publicly bash her child and violate his privacy.) As the actual Adam Lanza's mother was killed in a horrible act of violence by her obviously troubled son, this is of course not an article that truly reflects the perspectives of the mother of a mass murderer - it is instead a relatively unknown blogger's attempt to capitalize on the tragedy that has befallen this family in order to tell a story about her own family. While it is impossible to say without knowing much about either Lanza's family or this woman's son what similarities do or do not exist between the two situations, it is obvious from a youth rights and a disability rights perspective that there is a great deal that is problematic within Long's family and a great deal of it has to do with Long herself. While it is easy for many people (especially parents) to sympathize with the perspective that Long endorses, reading the article while keeping in mind her son's perspective makes it obvious that Long's words about her son may be less than reliable.
The essay begins with what the author dubs an "affable, reasonable" request to dictate to her son that he wear the color pants of her choosing. When her son objects to this request, a request that most adults would find bizarre and offensive if made to them under similar circumstances, he lashes out at her in a way that she uses to bolster her claim that her son is mentally ill. She then proceeds to tell her son he is "grounded from electronics" and when her attempts to dictate his in no way socially unacceptable use of his property inspire further (I would say quite reasonable) anger in him, she chalks it up once again to her son being "mentally ill."
Before we analyze this article any further I would like my adult readers to contemplate for a moment that an arbitrary authority figure in their lives sought to dictate to them what color of clothing they could wear or when and how they could use their property in socially acceptable ways. For us, our belligerence would be deemed reasonable and appropriate but for this young man it bolster's his mother's claim that he is mentally ill. Clearly a sense of personal boundaries and a desire for self-determination is seen as a healthy sign of self-respect in adults but in young people like Michael (the name of the young man in the article) it is interpreted as a sign that he is off the deep end. (As the article continues, we even hear of the mother's taking her son to a mental hospital against his will.)
The article continues with the mother proffering more proof of her son's supposed mental illness. Some of this, if true, is compelling. For example, she states that at one point he attempted to pull a knife on her. She also goes on to state that various psychiatric and neurodevelopmental diagnoses have been tossed around, including Autism, to ostensibly explain her son's violent outbursts. This is where we learn that the individual writing this piece is operating from a place of not only ageism but ableism.
While it is worth noting that Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability/difference as opposed to something which makes people into mindless killers, Long states at one point that her son has a "sensitivity to sensory stimuli." This is common for many people on the Autism spectrum. I tend to think that it is quite possible that Michael is simply a bright young person trapped in an oppressive situation with a controlling mother that refuses to respect his basic autonomy, that takes away his only outlets for self-expression and letting off steam (like videogames), and that doesn't respect his needs for the kind of sensory environment that his disability may entail. In a similar situation, many of us would likely feel trapped and lash out too, perhaps even violently. Just reading this article makes it obvious that there may be more to the story than Michael being a violent, irrational lunatic as his mother portrays him to be. Certainly if my mother compared me to mass murderers and sought to impose arbitrary restrictions on my perfectly acceptable behavior, I could be reasonably expected to lash out.
Another obvious concern is the fact that, if Michael is as troubled as his mother claims him to be, it seems highly unethical for her to be sharing his psychiatric problems with the wider public at all, especially since she is not using a pseudonym for herself. If this young man is so imbalanced that he requires the type of psychiatric help she claims that he needs, surely he cannot be helped by having his mother compare him to mass murderers to a wide internet audience of strangers. Medical and mental health professionals are bound by a code of ethics to keep their patients' medical and psychological issues private. Certainly we should ask the same of parents dealing with their children's private emotional turmoil. While I can choose my doctor or therapist and choose to interact with them as more or less a free agent, I cannot choose my parents and therefore one could argue that the moral duty upon parents to keep their children's medical and psychiatric histories private is a duty even more incumbent upon them than it is upon doctors, nurses, therapists, and the like.
For all of this, the most damning evidence about the character and unreliability of Long comes in other posts she makes about her children, posts which have nothing to do with mental illness or the issues raised in "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother." In one post entitled "The Room of Doom" she begins by talking about the difficulties attendant in natural childbirth. The relevance of this is at first blush hard to determine except that it gives her one more occasion to rant about the grief the four children she chose to have have brought into her life. She tells prospective parents to get a puppy instead of having children because "the puppy won't grow up to be a teenager." You see, Long doesn't wish to accommodate the needs of an autonomous human being so she would rather have a dog. She goes on to bash her son (whether the same son she speaks of in the Lanza piece or another son I could not tell). She goes through his room, attempting to throw away possessions of his that he found to be of value and then speaks ill of him for his support of President Obama. Her patronizing attitude towards her teenage son is summed up in this gem of a quote: "Liberals,
by the way, are not silly. At least not the ones I know. In an election
season that is already shaping up to be one of the ugliest on record, I
think we all need to focus on bringing respect back to the public
debate. It’s okay for reasonable people to disagree about politics, and I
am grateful for the perspective my liberal friends share with me (but
you’re WRONG! Big wasteful disincentivizing government is not the
answer! Sorry, couldn’t resist. And yes, for the record, I stuck my
tongue out). Teenagers, however, are not reasonable people." You see, because her son is a teenager nothing he has to say is of value unlike the supposed wisdom spouted by Long's adult friends.
So, my friends, keep in mind as you look for essays and articles to help you make sense of the tragedy in Connecticut that this is not what Long is offering. She is instead a child-hater and a teenager-hater, someone whose words give one the impression she deeply resents having children and probably should not have had them, someone who does not wish to respect her growing children's autonomy, and someone whose underlying assumptions about disability are deeply problematic. She is a third rate writer and a fifth rate parent (as anyone is that publicly bashes their children on the internet) capitalizing on a tragedy in order to find a greater platform in order to bash her children some more (something she was doing long before the tragedy in Connecticut occurred). Don't give her this platform. While the Adam Lanza article touches on many important aspects of our nation's mental healthcare system (and this is definitely a conversation worth having as a society) certainly we can find a better catalyst to discuss these issues than an embittered individual who wishes to use a nation's horror at violence against children to vent her rage at her own.