Sometime over the weekend folks circulated an essay titled something like, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” – I’m not linking to it because I’m not sure I want to generate more traffic for her. The post described a mother’s fear and sense of helplessness in the face of her son’s violence and mental illness. The suggestion was that Adam Lanza’s mother may also have felt this same overwhelm, and that the “real” problem is our nation’s inability to properly attend to mental illness.
Then, there was a second round of sharing – this time another blogger’s criticism of the first, accusing that writer of being cray-cray herself and pimping her child out for media attention.
Then people shared counter arguments and rebuttals, and so on – the Internet OCD of Refresh and Comment, which has become our culture’s response to tragedy.
I found the whole thing disturbing, as a mother and as someone who works with mothers. On the one hand, I felt, and feel compassion for any mother whose beloved child is so ill that she simply cannot cope with him, especially when there aren’t resources to meet his needs and protect the rest of the world she’s brought him into. Yes, yes yes yes yes, we need to do much better, as a country, when it comes to mental illness. Yes.
But what really bothered me was how many people shared the original link not just to say “we have a broken system and people like Adam Lanza can fall through the cracks!” (which is true). I felt, reading all the “shares” and the comments that went with them, that too many people seemed to identify with this woman’s plight, as though they were saying, “my kid (or my friend’s kid) scares me too and I relate to how frightening it would be to be the mother of a mass murderer!”
I bet that Adam Lanza’s mother was afraid of him, sure. But – what mother – ever, anywhere – hasn’t ever feared her child? Being a parent is frightening. At first, it’s frightening because babies are entirely helpless. Later it’s frightening because they aren’t helpless – they’re smart and savvy, and ultimately, you realize, they’ll be able to overpower you mentally, physically, emotionally … and what if they do?! Fear is a sign you’re paying attention, not a sign that you are raising a murderer. Statistically, whoever your kids are, they are so much more likely to be killed by gun violence than to be mass murderers.
I worry that in imagining and then identifying with Adam Lanza’s mother, we are taking the normal fears that mothers have in raising regular, or even unusually difficult children, and equating them with something that’s not just more intense but categorically different. The goal isn’t to never feel afraid, it’s to learn some tools that help you cope with fear and raise your kid well.
However, if you are overwhelmed by your child and fear that he may be violent or that you can’t handle him – whether this is just part of the normal range or because your child is mentally ill in some way: apart from whatever else you do, you should not have guns. Because if you do not have them, he can’t use yours.
And because there are evidently people who don’t have the judgment to grasp that, we need better laws to protect the rest of us.