No one else’s mother

By Richard Masoner (Light bedtime reading) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Warnings: This post mentions last Friday’s tragedy; mental illness; parenting; and that horrible article, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.”  It’s also very long.  You might need some popcorn and a Coke.

Disclaimer: I have my son’s express permission to discuss his ADHD and our relationship.  I don’t have my daughter’s permission to write about her, though.  Her exact words: “I don’t want you to talk about me.  But if you’re talking about Jack, make sure you tell them he has a sister.”  I love that girl.

As a parent of a child with a diagnosed disorder, Liza Long does not speak for me.  She doesn’t speak for Adam Lanza’s dead mother either, although she seems to think she’s entitled to do so.

I’m not quite sure where to begin.  There is so much wrong with that blog post (which I will not be linking to; you’ve all seen it on Facebook and Twitter already, and I refuse to give her more traffic).  When I first read it, I was confused.  Then I started thinking about it and reading what others were saying, and I grew more and more upset.

Before I begin, I need to clear something up.  I keep seeing people

who are (rightly) upset over the article saying that those of us who are caregivers for people with diagnoses have no right to have feelings about it.  I’m sorry they believe that, because unfortunately, that attitude is what keeps caregivers from seeking help themselves before they break down from exhaustion.  Yes, we who live with people whose brains are wired differently have the right (and responsibility) to feel things about our roles and to learn how to deal with those feelings.

Additionally, I know that ADHD is “mild” compared to, say, a major psychosis.  However, ADHD comes with its own set of associated issues, including (in some children) violent outbursts and difficulty in controlling anger.  While my son doesn’t generally have violent tendencies, he is extremely impulsive and sometimes has trouble managing his temper.  This results in screaming, crying, and lashing out at us.  What the blogger describes is similar to behavior we’ve seen in our son.

That said, here is my take on that article:

She uses the tragedy to vent her feelings about her own child.

I understand needing to talk about the frustrations of being a parent.  It’s tough on a good day with children who have never received any kind of diagnosis.  It’s even harder when you have a child whose needs are different from your other children.  But the problem here is that this woman used the shooting as a platform for her own family issues.  I don’t know what she was intending to get out of it, but I didn’t see anything remotely resembling compassion for the families who lost their children.

She posted under her real name.

If one is going to write about personal things, it ought to be do

ne under a pseudonym.  Even though she changed her son’s name, it would be possible to find out who he is.  This is one reason I don’t discuss my kids’ personal problems without their permission.  They are old enough to decide if they really want Mom blogging about them (see my disclaimer above).  I think there is value in expressing ourselves and learning from each other.  Both those with diagnoses and their caregivers need to connect with others who have been in the same position.  But it really should be anonymous or used by permission; otherwise, you’re telling someone else’s story and not your own.

Her child is a problem to be solved, not a person.

Speaking from experience, it’s not easy to live with someone with different hardwiring.  Is it frustrating when it takes him 45 minutes to complete a 10-minute task?  Yes.  Does his impulsivity frighten me at times?  Yes.  Do I think twice before taking him to the grocery store, because I know he’s going to insist on pushing the cart and try to ride it, nearly knocking into other shoppers?  Yes.  But those are behaviors, not who my son is.  We work on specific things, not on changing his personality.  We sit with him for homework and offer incentives so that it takes less time.  We set

things up to keep him safe when he’s active and rein him in when he’s impulsive.  I take him to the store only for short trips where I don’t need a cart and give him specific jobs to do.  But I don’t try to make him less distracted, impulsive, and active.

Seeking help for her son seems to be for the purpose of getting relief.

I know it’s hard to parent kids who behave in atypical ways.  When we decided to have our son evaluated, it wasn’t so we could fix him and get on with our real lives.  We wanted to accomplish two things: Make sure his needs were met and learn how to help him.  Having a diagnosis of ADHD wasn’t so that we could go, “Aha!” as though it explained everything in a nice, neat package tied with a bow.  In fact, it made things more complex.  That’s a good thing.  Sure, having the right tools in our box helps us to feel more relaxed as parents.  But part of that is having a kid who now understands himself and his needs better.  The whole point here is for us to become more loving and better at caring for him, not to have some way to make him be

a better boy.

There’s no evidence this woman’s son will become a killer.

Her willingness to easily equate her son’s behavior with that of a man who murdered children is quite strange.  Perhaps the trouble is that we don’t know him personally, but the examples she shared sound pretty much like what we deal with in our house (minus the threats of self-harm).  My son has lashed out at us physically, and he’s had unreasonable meltdowns about things like clothing.  Her reactions seem over-the-top and her fears about what her son will be like as an adult appear unfounded.  I find it appalling that a parent could look at her child and think, “He could be a mass-murderer one day.”  If the problems are really that bad, then they’re evident to people other than herself.  I have never heard of a situation where a child was out of control in which the school didn’t see the same behaviors and take steps to help.

Does she really want to destigmatize mental ill

ness?

There are several things wrong here:

  1. The conflation of mentally ill and violent crime
  2. The lumping of all mental illnesses into one broad category
  3. The inclusion of autism with mental illness

There is no existing link between mass shootings and mental illness.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  People who are mentally ill are far more likely to be victimized than to be perpetrators.  It doesn’t help remove the stigma of mental illness if one continues to reinforce it.

What is “better” care?

There isn’t one kind of thing that will work to treat (not “fix” or “cure”) every person.  Even for people with the same diagnosis there can be vastly different experiences among people, and the same person can have varying degrees of appropriate care over a lifetime.  By saying we need better care and more access to care for the mentally ill, she isn’t being specific enough about what is needed.  Not only that, she only talks about getting help for people in the context of preventing crime.  She says nothing about getting help so that people have better quality of life.

She’s only her own kid’s mother.

I don’t even want another parent of a kid with ADHD speaking for me and claiming, “I am Jack’s mother.”  No, you’re not.  This woman is not Adam Lanza’s mother.  She doesn’t know what it wa

s like in his household or how he behaved as a child.  She doesn’t know that about the other boys she claims, either.  She doesn’t know what those mothers would or would not say about their children, or what their experiences were.  She is appropriating someone else’s life for her own purposes.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It hasn’t been an easy road with our son; he was intense from minute one.  Yet we’ve discovered that having a brain that works a little differently is a good thing.  Out of stubbornness comes tenacity; out of drive comes perseverance; out of energy comes stamina; out of impulsivity comes creativity; out of distraction comes multi-tasking.  We love our son exactly the way he is.  I would never wish that ADHD didn’t exist or that he didn’t have it.  More importantly, Jack likes who he is and looks forward to each day in his own body and with his own brain

.

I know that those who pass that blog post on mean well.  The conversations about how we treat mental illness are important.  But in this case, it’s not helpful.  It does nothing to reduce the stigma if we continue to act as though children with behavioral problems all have the potential to be killers and the mentally ill are responsible for the senseless shootings and other violent crimes.  Please stop spreading these lies by passing on a blog post that does nothing to help and only serves to hurt those who need help.  If you really want to help, then please find a way to do it that doesn’t reinforce stereotypes or appropriate other people’s experiences.

For another great post on this, read You Are Not Adam Lanza’s Mother.

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One thought on “No one else’s mother

  1. Ms. Long’s experiences correlate with what I have seen working in ER’s that are regional “access points” (more like clearing houses) for people with psychiatric emergencies. Children AND their parents do not get the help they need because vital services like inpatient child and adolescent psychiatric services, for all practical purposes, do not exist. Instead, children and adolescents are housed in a counter-therapeutic environment, residing for over a week on an ER stretcher until, for lack of availability of further treatment, they are returned home until the next violent/homicidal/suicidal episode.
    If parents are not able to speak up about their experiences, if they are judged for disclosing their child’s “problem” to the world, how will anything change? Part of removing stigma about mental illness is breaking the silence. No, not all people with mental health diagnosis exhibit violent behavior, but some do. Obviously Ms. Long is concerned that without proper treatment her son could commit unspeakable violence. Who am I to say her concerns are unfounded?
    Parents of children with severe mental health conditions are judged constantly. I’m sure Ms. Long is used to it by now.

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