There is a national conversation now underway in response to the horrific events of Friday, December 15, 2012, when a young man, a 20-year-old, murdered his mother and then, for reasons we may never know, entered a nearby elementary school armed with semi-automatic weapons and ended the lives of some 20 children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old and six adults in that school building. It seems now that the national conversation is revolving around three main points: Gun control, mental illness, and parenting.
In the days immediately following this provocative incident, one particular article has been circulating the social media networks, entitled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” written by a woman (obviously, not his mother; she was murdered) who is the mother of a young boy with intense needs. Her purpose for penning this article was to focus a light on mental illness and the plight of parents in particular. And, while I applaud her courage for speaking out, I do take some issue with the content of her article, which you can read, if you haven’t already, by clicking here.
This is my response:
Understanding that it’s easy for me to say from my perspective, I would have handled this situation with “Michael” differently.
The reality is that children, special needs or not, are powerless, and they know it. The very least we can do, if nothing else, is HEAR them and be truthful with them. In this example, saying, “You can’t wear whatever pants you want to” and “You…can’t call me a stupid bitch,” well, these things are just not true. He *can* and he did! The point is not whether he can; what’s important to him is how he feels about having that choice removed from him. How frustrating that is, how disempowering. And, how it might feel to say hurtful things out of anger to someone he loves very much. It’s important for the mom or the caregiver to shift the focus to THAT, and not to engage in a power struggle, which no one will win.
People who are heard can more easily let go of things than those who are not. And, this is true whether there are “special needs” or not.
In this example, the mother is culpable in this meltdown because she was not holding space for “Michael.” She, as the adult and the one without special needs, had a greater capacity to do this, and perhaps could have been diffused the situation before it got frightening. In a way, she engaged in a power struggle with him, which caused him to feel trapped and desperate!
Were he being heard (in the later example), he *perhaps* would not have needed to go to the hospital and he may not even need medications. He would still be special needs, and I’d still keep the sharp objects and AK47s out of reach, but he’d be less likely to see those things and suicide as his best options for feeling better.
Parents need better training. All people need better training on how to be with each other. With a better understanding of how to hear people and help them not feel so powerless, I think this world could be a safer, happier place.
Please understand that I am not saying this mother is a bad parent! This mom is clearly doing the best she knows how to do! And I honor that. But, that does not mean there are not other ways of handling situations like this that can have a much better outcome!! I am saying that we all need better tools in our interpersonal tool-kits that we reach for first. I hope that makes sense.