This post — “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” — is all over the internet today.
There’s certainly a discussion that needs to be had about parents, especially single parents, who are raising and caring for children by whom they are physically overwhelmed or threatened and the way in which our society does not offer accessible or affordable resources for those parents and children to deal with those troubling domestic situations.
This story, despite how heart-wrenching it is (this reads as if this mother is in crisis), makes me incredibly uncomfortable because it is about her 13yo son who is a passive player in his mother’s story and whose side we never get to hear. It is unclear if this child has consented to having his story blasted across the internet. I understand these lines are fuzzy because she is also telling her story. But he will never be able to remove this story from the internet and he will never be able to disassociate it from himself as long as someone can connect him to his mother. She paints her child in a light that is not positive and I just hope hope hope that he is okay with that being out in the world.
[note: I am not sure how most parent bloggers handle the issue of consent and if anyone has relevant posts about this particular subject, please leave them in comments because I'm extremely interested in this topic. I thought about this issue when I wrote about my son on this blog the other day, I think about it when I tweet his words out into the world, and I'm especially aware of it when I put his picture up on Facebook or a video of him on YouTube. There is no easy answer here and I certainly don't have one but this topic is especially pertinent in regards to the phenomenon of this particular post.]
This issue as well as five other reasons that this post is problematic are addressed here: “You are NOT Adam Lanza’s Mother.”
I appreciate the motivation of people to send this article around because I think it stems mainly from a desire to view Nancy Lanza through a more empathetic lens and I agree with that sentiment. I know that is why people like this post: it offers a clue as to how a parent can be around a child who is sometimes violent (or who threatens violence) and who then appears, from the outside, to have not done enough to handle the situation. But the truth is that we still know almost next to nothing about Adam Lanza or his motivations or his own personal situation, and we seem to know even less about Nancy Lanza. So much of the information coming out of Newtown has been initially incorrect, sometimes just flat out wrong, completely unrelated to any actual truth. I await official confirmation from the people in charge of the investigation before we start claiming that Adam had some sort of diagnosable behavioral problem or mental illness (those are not the same thing). Same with how we determine the kind of parent or person Nancy Lanza was (and I’m mainly thinking of all the negative descriptions of Nancy that I feel like are everywhere).
For now, what we know is that Adam Lanza shot his mother, Nancy, multiple times in the head with her own gun in her own house.
Whether her relationship with Adam mirrors Liza Long’s with her son in that post linked up top, we will just have to wait and see.
UPDATE #1: Lindsay Beyerstein has a wonderful post about this on In These Times. My fear in writing this post was being seen as vilifying the author of the original post, “I am Adam Lanza’s mother.” No, I don’t like her choice to publish an account of her son’s life that doesn’t give her son’s side or that he hasn’t clearly consented to (Beyerstein and I disagree about this). At the same time, I think this conversation about the struggles of living with a difficult child should be happening even as I have no idea how to do that without telling these children’s stories without their expressed consent.
What I DON’T think we should do is judge the parenting of the author or try to dissect whether she’s sincere or calculating. My default is to trust mothers. That’s where I stand on that.
ASM is afraid that her son might be violent. She had the courage to voice her fears. Now she’s being vilified for trying to prevent another tragedy. Total strangers, again with no evidence, are lecturing her about her own son.
A mom just can’t win.
The lack of empathy for her son isn’t just in the post itself; it’s in the decision to get the post syndicated everywhere, and then go on a media tour, while granting certain outlets the right to use his picture. Honestly, if any part of this sudden microfame were unintentional, if thinking that she might have accidentally hurt her child played any role in her decisions, if it was just a blog post that got big despite her intent and she didn’t mean for it to have consequences for her son, that’s what it comes down to: Upon realizing how popular the post was, she would have taken down, not spread, his picture. That hasn’t happened. “Michael” has been dehumanized so far that he’s not even a crazy scary demon alien any more; he’s just a prop, a springboard, something we can use to talk about how tough Liza Long’s life is. To “start a conversation” he didn’t control, and didn’t ask for, and doesn’t enter into, and that almost certainly will harm him more than it will ever stand to help him.
Yes, Liza Long should be able to share her story. But this isn’t her story. It’s the story of someone who’s completely dependent on her, and has no ability to meaningfully resist her or speak for himself.
At the top of Liza Long’s personal blog there’s now a joint statement from her and Kendior asking the blogosphere to cease and desist from the cyber free-for-all. It carries this preface from Long: “Many of you have seen Sarah’s excellent blog in the past few days. I think she makes some important points about children’s privacy. We have been in contact, and I am truly impressed with her professionalism and her concern for children.” That strikes me as a response of uncommon grace – and a good reminder that we’re all far more than the stories that define us.