We are all Adam Lanza’s mother yet none of us are. A few reflections on motherhood in the context of the Connecticut mass shootings

First I feel that I should point out that I am not an American I am Australian mother. When I am talking about society and culture with in this blog I am talking about western society unless I specifically mention otherwise.

I would like to reflect on a culture of victim blame. Recently Australians we moved by the tragic death of a woman named Jill Meagher. She was allegedly attacked raped and murdered after having drinks with workmates in a middle class neighbourhood. Many pundits began to blame and shame the memory of Jill Meagher including drawing inferences about her relationship, her dress and her social life. These uniformed offensive views were gleaned from the most dubious of sources, including Facebook photos placed by others.  Rightly women, especially those who identified with the feminist movement, defended Jill Meagher and all women who have experienced violence by demanding an end to victim blaming behavior. Unfortunately we have not seen the same defense of the only person who could ever claim to be ‘Adam Lanza’s Mother’, Nancy Lanza.

Why is it that it is so natural for the left to defend on victim of murder and not another? I wonder if it is because we have seen new reports that say Nancy Lanza in fact owned the guns used in the shooting rampage? Is it because we have an objection to a culture that we see as glorifying and promoting the ownership and use of guns designed to kill people? Is it because we identify “prepping culture” with right wing misogynist ideology? And even if the answer to all those questions is yes does it excuse a mentality that blames victims for crimes that are committed by others? 2 

In Australia, well as the US, the person most likely to kill a woman is a man she is either intimate with or a male family member. So by this reckoning the murder of Nancy Lanza by her son is hugely out of the ordinary for a murder. However what is unusual is the fact that Adam Lanza then went on to kill a large amount of people who he wasn’t associated with. If Adam Lanza had not taken the lives of others would this have been so easy to blame or partially blame on Nancy Lanza’s mothering?

I think it is this context that the blog piece “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” 1 appeared. I do believe this was a genuine expression by the writer. Whether it was predicable that it would go viral to the extent it did. Whether Lisa Long could have predicted the reactions to it are really questions that cannot be answered. But we can reflect on our own reaction. Many reactions have been to write off the blog completely as an attention seeking exercise or a call for punitive measures against the mentally ill. Very few have discussed that in a violent misogynist culture how is it we raise our boys?  I don’t mean in the narrow context that one blogger reacted by instructing Lisa Long to proclaim the “much more powerful and brave message to say: “I will not provide my son with a similar context. I will not participate in my country’s love affair with guns. I am not Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Michael’s mother.”2

This reaction, aside from being the ultimate in victim blame, narrows down the responsibility of those who are struggling to raise children with tendencies towards violence. The son’s of Lisa Long and Nancy Lanza are not solely there own responsibility, they both live in a society where help for those who are have behavioral issues is extremely hard to come by for the majority of the population.  Outside the criminal justice system much of the behaviour management of minors is left to parents. Here is the elephant in the room not all parents are functional, not all are well resourced, not all are in touch with a wide network of supporting people and not all have dealt with their own emotional demons in a healthy way. This does not let society off the hook for the health and functioning of their children.

As you may have noticed I am not commenting on the issue of mental health. Not because I don’t think that many people need more resources to deal with mental health but because I believe the issues that lead to mass killings are behavioural and social rather than they are linked to an illness. A society that glorifies killing, teaches it’s young men that to carry a weapon that is only designed to take the life of another (namely automatic and semi automatic weapons) is a right – even in some cases is heroic and that makes sections of it’s society less than human is bound for trouble.  For those in our communities who do not suffer or understand mental illness it is all to easy to say, “he must be sick” because we can’t imagine a set of circumstances where a person would or could behave in the same way. It allows us to make Adam Lanza and his mother (who has also been “accused” of being mentally ill) into “the other” people who could not be us or those around us.  The flip side of the very powerful logic of making people into “others” is that we strip them of the human dignity and respect that we hold dear. After a horrific crime people who are mentally ill, and those who are close to them, brace themselves for the knee jerk reactions the crimes. The most common of which targeted at people with Schizophrenia. While the wild accusations are going on and the politically convenient attacks happen against some of our most vulnerable, parents of children with behavioural problems are left without answers and some fear to look for them in case their child becomes one of “the others”.

This debate is not about gun control, mental illness or doomsday prepping it is about how our societies function. Internalised hatred and dehumanisation of others is a powerful combination. A far deeper discussion will need to take place than the polarised “mental health” verses “gun control / gun culture” discussion that is taking place now.  A discussion that looks at a society not simply places blame at the feet of a mother.


1 http://thebluereview.org/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother/

2 http://www.news.com.au/world/nancy-lanza-may-have-triggered-son-adam-lanzas-gun-rampage/story-fndir2ev-1226538321098

3 http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jon-paul-fiorentino/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother_b_2322973.html