When 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.