‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’ – Incredibly Brave Woman Shares Her Story To Shed Light On Violent Youth

shutterstock_87516613When tragedies like the one in Newton, Connecticut happen, we all try to wrap our brains around how and why. At times this leads us to point fingers at the parents, thinking they must have done something “wrong.” I think it’s easier to cope when you can divide people into camps of “us” and “them.” This would never happen to “us.” We’re attentive parents. We’re a close-knit family.

Or maybe you just don’t have any mentally ill children.

We’re all scouring the coverage that is beginning to surface surrounding Nancy Lanza,the mother of Adam Lanza – who went on a violent shooting spree Friday, killing 27 people, most of whom were children. I guess we’re all trying to find some indication as to why this happened. Why was she the first victim? What was their relationship like? The New York Times quotes a friend who said of the mother, “She was really kind and warm but she always seemed a little bit high-strung.” “High-strung?” There’s always that little piece of information that leaves us wondering. I won’t even try to hypothesize about her life with her son – because I have no idea what it was like.

Which brings me to an honest, revealing story I read today. It is by a mother and writer from Boise Idaho, Lisa Long. She has a son who struggles with various mental health issues that seemingly have never been clearly diagnosed. “Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.”

The heartbreaking and frightening details of her story really expose what it’s like to be a mother trying to deal with a child that whose behavior is erratic and impossible to predict or control. She reveals that she has a “safety plan” for his seven and nine-year-old siblings, that would break any mother’s heart:

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

Imagine how many other parents this woman’s transparency may help at a time like this? I can’t imagine how terrifying Friday’s events would be to parents of violent children. Not only that, her story gives us a glimpse into what so many families deal with – and helps us be more empathetic with their struggles.

Most of all, she reminds us how important it is to address the problems of mental health in this country. Parents shouldn’t be left to deal with this alone. And they certainly shouldn’t be blamed for it.

(photo: ostill/ Shutterstock.com)



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  • Em

    This is heartbreaking, but bravo to mama. You are the strength children with needs are relying on to tell their story. Too often in my classroom do I see parents enable their children because their needs are the exception to quality help, Your struggle to keep your other children safe from their brother is beyond heart shattering, I applaud you for speaking up about mental health.

  • Siimin

    But I hope you are not keeping assault weapons in your home!

  • Siimin

    But I hope you are not keeping assault weapons in your home!

  • meg

    Her piece is interesting, but I hate how the narrative about “mental health/mental illness” at times of tragedy always turns into one about individuals who are violent and deeply disturbed. We don’t know about Adam Lanza’s mental health; everything we’ve heard so far is speculation. Meanwhile, Americans suffering from mental illness are much more likely to be *victims* of violent crimes rather than perpetrators, and that an incredible number of crimes – yes, even mass killings – are exacted by folks who are “healthy.”

    Yes, we should support parents dealing with kids who have serious issues. But equating mental illness with unpredictable and/or violent, which seems a common media meme at times like this, is extraordinarily deleterious to people suffering from mental illness who are NEITHER of those things. I.E. most of them.

    • alice

      i hate that narrative too, tenfold.

      part of me definitely wonders if i hate it so much because i’m also so anti-gun. but then i’m like: nahhhhhhh :)

      the impulse of this country to launch – mere minutes after the tragedy – into a headfirst “we need more mental health safety nets to catch these crazies” was absurd.

      one on hand, yes, you can always safely declare anyone who shoots 20 kids and then himself “a psycho with obvious mental health issues” but this national conversation was much more steered by the eerie speculative comments about “adam lanza was definitely disturbed…or something…he had like…autism or something.”

      really? since when does aspergers lead to violent mass murderous rages?

      i think it’s nice that people want to talk about the state of mental healthcare in our country, but to suggest we could somehow have a system in which we could “successfully predict psychotic breakdowns” is insane in itself.

      And at this juncture, with quasi-official information that lanza was only diagnosed with aspergers, I don’t see why anyone is still hemming about how we need better mental health care as a solution.

      It’s like overnight, we’ve all become mental health experts. “Oh no, he may have been diagnosed with aspergers, but he definitely had something else [that was overlooked due to our lax mental healthcare, and whatever else it was, it could’ve definitely been identified earlier and, whatever else it was, it would’ve defniitely been a marker for imminent violence and therefore he could’ve been kept away from guns/computers/society and this tragedy averted.”


      not to mention, while we’ve been overnight medical experts, the *real* mental health experts are coming out in droves to caution everyone against linking this tragedy to autism.

  • Disheartened

    Lisa Long’s story is more than just a tale of bravery. This is a desperate cry for help. Kids like Adam, “Michael” etc. need intervention, society needs these kids to be helped, otherwise they are proving to be walking time bombs. Does sedating them work? Is there a university study somewhere that tries to find out what goes on in their brains? Is it time for NSF or NAMI or whoever to fund a branch of psychiatry and psychology that studies and helps violent-prone individuals?

    This woman’s family life is a psychological hell. If “Michael” was an adult, he would probably be charged with DV and mandated to undergo anger-management counseling. Anger-management training has to expand to help these people, because in a sense “Michael” is an Abuser (albeit a youth), and Lisa and her other children are a battered family. Which is terrible, since Lisa is “Michael’s” mother…

    Maybe the computer gaming industry has to pay a special tax that will go towards funding these kind of studies. By turning the youth into trigger-happy virtual world zombies, too much computer gaming messes up already vulnerable brains and turns gamers into wild real-world snipers, as it seems to be the case with Adam Lanza. I think this is a societal plague that needs to be addressed. Although it will probably take decades (hopefully not centuries), just like it took forever to defame the tobacco. I don’t know you, Lisa, but I am hurting for you.

    • Iva T

      Thanks for the insight, Jack Thompson. I’m going to go out on an anecdotal limb here. I play video games, some very violent, some not. I am mentally ill. I am a college professor who often serves the role of social worker in addition to teacher. Needless to say, I haven’t killed anyone.

      There is little by way of peer reviewed studies that really links an increase in violent behavior to violent video games. There are many cultural issues at play, but the bottom line is that violence is not wholly preventable. In the wake of mass-shootings, folks always start conversations about gun control, mental illness, and violence in the media (often game media). These conversations are usually pretty fruitless. What we need to focus on is the militarization of our culture and how we got where we are. Our mental health systems need reform in that our national health care needs reform. We as a society need to make sure that each and every member of our community has access to total, person focused care. We need to give everyone access to the resources to care for their minds and bodies.

      Society needs to change, to point to things like video games and gun control in times of crisis is myopic. Deep seated societal change and healing is what’s needed. Our culture is sick.

  • Diana

    He’s 13. Too late for him I guess? Better write him off as a future serial killer and have done with it.

  • Kat

    “Oppositional Defiance”. And I have I-don’t-fucking-feel-like-getting-out-of-bed-today. Poor me!

    • torako

      oppositional defiance disorder is a real diagnosis, you know. just because you like pretending that mental health issues don’t exist doesn’t mean you’re right.

    • Kat

      I didn’t say it wasn’t a real diagnosis. I am aware that real people are diagnosed with it every day. In my opinion though, it’s a ridiculous idea. It’s a disorder that primarily affects children, characterized by acting like a child? Meh, sounds to me like the new ADHD, complete with even more excuses for inexcusable behavior. I don’t know how that implies that I don’t think mental health issues exist, and I definitely never claimed to be right. And just to save time, let’s clear this up: No, I was never spoiled, privileged or even cared much for. My mother was an abusive alcoholic, my dad was gone, and I stayed in trouble. Lots of it, of all sorts. Maybe I was in emotional turmoil, but I was also a selfish teenager. It’s just not an excuse to be an ass.