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Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Response to "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother"

   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.

25 comments:

  1. I just wanted to say one thing about the pants, as I have read the original article. The school only allows him to wear black or khaki pants. He was not allowed by the school to wear the pants he wanted. It wasn't his mother making that dictation. Public AND private schools both have uniforms here as well. If my children went to school not wearing the proper color pants or shirts, they would get sent home. If they get sent home 3 times, they get suspended....regardless of age or grade level. Do I think it is fair, no, but it is the way it is.

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    1. So if i respect my child I first talk to him about going to a school that has that requirement. Does he agree to it? If not (which I bet anything he doesn't and wasn't asked) I wouldn't send him there. If he did agree and then changed his mind I'd discuss the outcome of his not wearing them and let him make that choice. We have choices each step of the way. No one is listening to this kid! Everything that seems to be done to him is like gasoline to his rage issue. (I'm not suggesting that he doesn't have challenges) but they are being exacerbated I believe by his mother's and school and probably mental health worker's disrespectful out of touch ways. What I'd really do is take him out of school and keep him close and have all sorts of wonderful things that he's excited about doing available to him.

      BTW, I couldn't find Liza Longs past posts. Can you link to them?

      Thanks for this blog.

      Signed, Mother of 13 year old boy

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    2. I made a conscious decision not to link to the posts (despite doing so for all other posts mentioned on this blog) because I did not want to generate additional publicity for someone who is so clearly oppressive and abusive towards her children and has violated their privacy in such an invasive way. However, they should be easily Googleable given the information in this piece. Thank you so much for your kind words and I hope you continue to read the blog! I appreciate it!

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    3. 1redhead, I don't agree with dress codes but in some places there isn't really a choice. If every school in your area requires them, what are you going to do? I agree with the rest of this article.

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    4. The dress code requirement at that level is unconstitutional against the 14th Amendment requirement of substantive due process. Mrs Long should have challenged it in court, if she's such an anarchist.

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    5. http://dese.mo.gov/schoollaw/freqaskques/studentdress.htm

      "As to Blau’s claim that the dress code violated Amanda’s substantive due process rights under the 14th Amendment because the code prohibited her from wearing blue jeans, the court disagreed noting that there is no fundamental right to wear blue jeans to school."

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  2. Great post. I ran across your blog from Wendy Priesnitz of Life Learning Magazine's Facebook share. I'm an unschooling parent and will be subscribing; thanks for this response to such a negative piece. We have a lot of child hating in this country right now (I've seen several cars, for example, with "My dog is smarter than your kid" bumper stickers--what do these even accomplish?) and I appreciate you voicing what should be obvious, especially to parents.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it.

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  3. You go Kathleen!! What a thoughtful article and proves the point I was already making about youth knowing the way! You got it! I was explaining that this child was not being listened to nor helped by the medical establishment - who have pretty much the same views, as you have stated here, that his mother has.

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  4. Thank you, sincerely, for writing this article.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and for reading it.

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  5. Bravo to you. A friend of mine also sent me a link that goes hand in hand with yours. http://sarahkendzior.com/2012/12/16/want-the-truth-behind-i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-read-her-blog/

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing. One reason I have not allowed comments to be posted defending this mother is that I think she completely lacks credibility on these issues given the vile tone of the rest of her blog. I am not unsympathetic to the fact that some parents, through no fault of their own, may deal with deeply disturbed children and feel that their options for helping their children are all bad. After reading additional material generated by this writer, I think she is deeply abusive and not at all representative of other parents who may be dealing with emotionally disturbed children, hence why I do not feel comfortable with defenses of her words that may be more compelling were the rest of her blog of a different character.

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  6. Thank you. Thank you. I thought I was the only one who could see the abusive behaviour of the mother.

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    1. Thank you. I appreciate your comments. Please come back and keep reading the blog!

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  7. Thank you for posting this! Relieved to read it, as I just saw it posted on a conscious parenting website and thought why on EARTH is this being endorsed? Truly, it terrifies me to read this as you can see where this might end up. Start up with punitive/behavioural approach and no connection or respect for autonomy... end up interacting with mental health/criminal justice system. It does not have to be this way if we listen to and respect our kids. One thing.... I don't like to say that she is a "fifth rate parent" or to shame her the way she has shamed her son. I believe that we are all doing the best we can and while I deeply deeply dislike what she is doing, demonising her is not the answer... finding ways to connect to her might be.

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  8. Thank you, I found her post to be deeply triggering because her behaviour reminded me of my mother who labelled that fact that I wasn't an empty shell content to be exactly as she envisioned as "hateful" and "anti-family" behaviour. I was even accused of hating my family because I enjoyed drawing.

    Parents often forget in their rush to defend people with kids from criticism that those of us made uncomfortable by such posts have reasons for find them discomforting. It's easy for a parent to label their kid's behaviour as bad and present it as such, especially since it will often be taken far more seriously than the child's viewpoint which is completely discounted entirely.

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  9. So many people are forgetting about the fact that her son is a person who will face consequences of her writing and actions. His pseudonym will not save him from people who know HER. So this is what I am saying today:
    "Let's all take a moment to think about her son, her 13 year old son, who is going into school today, and whose classmates know his mother compared him to a mass murderer because they know who she is and she used her real name, even if she changed his. It won't protect him from the people who know the mother, not even a little bit, and if you think she's going to let him stay home, I think you seriously misread the dynamic in that household. He'll be at school, or she'll escalate it until she's "forced" to bring him back to that mental hospital. Take a moment to think about the son of the woman who wrote "I am Adam Lanza's morher." He's a person, too."

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  10. I would like to address just a few points on here: 1) she didn't arbitrarily decide to force her son to change his pants - it's a school policy from which no child can be exempt. 2) She took away his electronics as a punishment for calling her a "stupid bitch," which I should think any parent might believe was an extreme form of expressing displeasure because he couldn't wear the pants that, presumably, he already KNEW were not allowed. 3) How many people (especially children) with true mental illness do you truly believe, should they know their destination, would NOT fight, argue, bargain and cry? It's a scary thought for anyone to contemplate, especially for those with a mental health issue.

    Was this woman right to publicly link her child to mass-murderers? NO! The fall-out stemming from this article could prove to be painful for everyone in that family, and as such she should have considered writing under a pseudonym. But, and this is admittedly just my opinion, it seems to me she was not comparing him to the final acts of those she named so much as she was comparing them to the ill young men they were prior to their despicable deeds.

    Regardless of whether you think Long was in the right or the wrong, however, there is one very important thing to take away from her article: that being the fact that this country needs to address mental health problems more than has been seen previously. If her son's social worker did indeed recommend getting a young teen sent to jail in order to get him the help and professional medical attention he needs, it's an indication that our country as a whole is more inclined to try to shove things like mental health problems in a dark closet, under the rug, away from the eyes of the public. And it's NOT okay.

    Would I personally have acted the way Long did toward her child? I don't know - because I've not been what she allegedly has. But, having grown up with an older brother with developmental and mental health problems, I can definitively say that there is no way that anyone on the outside looking into her situation can truly comprehend what she's going through. However, believe her stories or not, the point that mental illness is an ongoing problem in this county is STILL something that should hopefully be addressed by those who read it. And if they do, I'll call it a win, regardless if I support the writer herself.

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  11. Thank you, thank you! The I am Adam's Mom blog totally didn't feel right to me, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and please continue to check back as I post frequently!

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  12. I have great sympathy for both mother and son in the blog "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" because I grew up in a family replete with mental health issues ranging from depression to schizophrenia. While I've seen the terrible difficulties faced by parents whose children develop these diseases I agree that there is no excuse for telling this kind of story without using a pseudonym. It seems "mommy dearest" cares more for furthering her career than about the repercussions on her already troubled son.

    The writer reminds me of my own mother, a registered nurse, who loved to regale friends and family with tales of her children. Were they stories of the various things she was proud of and loved about us? Sadly, no. She would tell anyone who would listen how "the girls" were lazy, rude, and cruel to their "poor, disabled brother" (our younger, autistic brother). She fulfilled her desperate need for attention and approval by taking my sister to several child psychiatrists trying to get her diagnosed with ADHD and anger issues, none of whom agreed that this was the case. As for me, I was brought to many, many unnecessary doctor's appointments and she even managed to have three allergy shots administered to me, three times a week for over two years. She had the allergist convinced that the shots were "really helping" when all they were doing was raising angry, itchy, red welts on my arm every single time. When a new allergist replaced the old one at the (military) hospital we went to he immediately discontinued the regimen and told my mother it never should have continued for longer than three months. You can imagine that she was in her glory when, at age nine, I was hit by a car and bedridden for three months. I cannot tell you how terrible it was to be under her direct control day in and day out during that time.

    Although we received near perfect grades, did almost all the housework, and went to church three times a week we were never good enough. Any move towards autonomy in clothing choice, hairstyle, or free time (ha!) activities were quickly crushed. Add to that the daily verbal abuse from my mother ("this family is sucking the life out of me") and physical abuse from my dad, who would come home and beat all three of us kids with a belt almost every day (after my mom told him lies about how "bad" we had been). Is it any wonder that we began to display genuine symptoms of psychological distress?

    As we entered our teenage years my sister became more and more angry, while I sank into a deep depression and eating disorder. My brother had to be removed to a group home at the age of 16 because he began to hit my mom and dad (can't imagine why, they had only been hitting him with a belt all those years and modeling how to get what you want). My mother carried on her campaign to malign us to anyone who would listed, so she could be seen as mother of the year. Any time a doctor, psychologist, or family friend would begin to realize the truth they would be dropped out of our lives and replaced with a new audience.

    All this of course had repercussions far into adulthood but now, in my 30's, I'm part of a loving community and finally learning what relationships between people are supposed to be like. I have a seven year old girl, and would never dream of denigrating her in the way the blog author has her son. Like any child she has her challenges, but we focus on the positive and work on any behavioral issues that arise in a non shaming way.

    When you see a parent who is great with their kids until those kids start displaying their own personalities and desires, when you see people who use "tough love" as an excuse to make their kids lives miserable, when you hear parents slamming their kids to anyone who will listen - that's when you know you've met someone who only "loves" what they can control. That's when you've met an abuser.

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  13. Kathleen Nicole,

    Thanks for writing this as I appreciate the dialogue about how much this mother is trying to pigeon hole her child into a particular thing that she decided that he needs to be- ie. some sort of conformist republican who just acts like everyone else that she's ever met. The one thing that I do want to say is that as much as I agree that it's incredibly problematic that this young person's mom decided to smear him all over the internet as "similar to a mass-murderer" and that is certainly NOT ok, I do want to push back about the piece around "HIPPA" violations and how parents need to guard their talk about their children's "conditions". As someone who is bipolar and who was born to a family full of people who are also bipolar one of the hardest things of all was how much people didn't talk about this being a part of their life and tried to sweep all of it under the rug and not talk to other people about it. The "hush-hush" attitude about the medical and mental health struggles that people are facing makes the whole situation a thousand times worse, and its particularly bad when it comes to parents of children experiencing mental health struggles. I think that the most revolutionary thing that we can do is to start to talk about medical and mental health struggles the same way that we share information about recipes that we like to cook or vacations that we enjoyed because it's the only way to start changing the minds of those who have stigmatized people struggling with these things. I think more than ever parents often have a million dreams and wishes for their child and when they have a child who is struggling with any variety of different things but particularly mental health things/invisible disabilities it makes them feel so ashamed that they will do anything to cover it up which only leads that young person feeling shameful of what is happening/who they are. I think that this woman is clearly someone who is COMPLETELY ashamed of her son and he is responding to her (even more than usual) intensity about conformity and rules but escalating. This woman is someone who more than anyone needs to have her son's "peculiarities" normalized to her by hearing other people talk about their children who act similarly to her son as if there's nothing unusual about their differences the same way that some kids have brown hair even when their parents have blonde hair. Obviously this woman is a "child/teenage" hater but still she could use a solid dose of normalizing for other parents who have children who may be labeled as "on the spectrum"

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