Liza Long, a Boise, Idaho-based mother, is catching both praise and heat for an emotional blog post she penned in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The title of the entry, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” quickly cues anyone with a pulse into the fact that the contents of the piece are controversial, emotionally-drive and heavy.
First, Long is not Lanza’s mother — instead, she’s addressing the similarities her own son shares with the shooter, and the difficulties of dealing with his behavior and getting help.
While some have pointed to Long’s statements in the piece as brave and much-needed, others accused her of exploiting a tragedy, while sharing too much information about her son. The main thrust of the mother’s contentious article is to highlight the need for increased attention on mental health. To make this point, Long uses the recent shooting and personal experience coping with her son’s mental illness.
Here she is speaking about the story with CNN:
Long opened the article with a dialogue that purportedly occurred with her 13-year-old son just three days before Adam Lanza’s horrific attack on the Connecticut school. She wrote:
“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”
“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
And this isn’t even the worst of it. The rest of the post is intensely personal — and emotional. The mother, who refers to her teen son as “Michael” to protect his identity, details death threats he has waged against her. In a separate incident, Michael pulled a knife on her when she told him to return his overdue library books.
Long’s other children know how unpredictable their brother is, so they have a “safety plan” in place (they ran out to the car and locked the doors during the knife incident).
The mother also provided terrifying details, including her son’s hospitalization and a very personal admission that she needs help in dealing with Michael’s issues. While doctors have attempted to diagnose him, no definitive disorder has been pin-pointed. The blogger wrote that the “problem is too big” for her to handle by herself and that “there are no good options.”
Perhaps it is this portion of Long’s story that is most controversial — the section in which she compares herself to Lanza’s mother as well as the mothers of other individuals who have been responsible for past rampages:
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness. [...]
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people.
At the end of her article, Long pleas for a national discussion about mental illness, lamenting the current societal stigmas surrounding mental health in America and the prison system. While praise initially followed the article after it went viral, Long was soon derided by another blogger named Sarah Kendzior, who called some of the mother’s previous posts “vindictive and cruel.”
While the two women have now reconciled and come out with a joint statement that they hope will turn the controversy over Kendzior’s response into a positive discussion about mental illness, their initial spat is worth exploring.
After reading Long’s blog post about Michael’s mental health, Kendzior questioned Long’s own mental capacity, said that Michael’s reputation had been ruined and wondered if the mother is using what happened at Sandy Hook in an effort to gain sympathy for herself.
Kendzior initially wrote (read her full post here):
These children could be in real danger if [Long's] goal was to capitalize on the Newtown tragedy by creating a media campaign designed to give her sympathy. If I am wrong about this, I truly apologize. But there is a 13-year-old boy who has already had his reputation destroyed and who may be facing serious harm.
This “national conversation” on mental illness needs to include the mental illness of mothers and the online privacy of their children.
According to the blog, Liza Long is going through a bitter divorce and has violent and paranoid fantasies about her family. The father of the children is also portrayed as abusive.
Kendzior went on to provide numerous examples that she believed — at least at the time — called Long’s mothering into question. However, following the uproar over the critique, as stated, the two women came together to refocus national attention on addressing mental health. Putting the differences aside, their joint statement reads:
We would like to release a public statement on the need for a respectful national conversation on mental health. Whatever disagreements we have had, we both believe that the stigma attached to mental illness needs to end. We need to provide affordable, quality mental health care for families. We need to provide support for families who have a relative who is struggling.
We both agree that privacy for family members, especially children, is important. Neither of us anticipated the viral response to our posts. We love our children and hope you will respect their privacy.
Our nation has suffered enough in the aftermath of Newtown. We are not interested in being part of a ‘mommy war’. We are interested in opening a serious conversation on what can be done for families in need. Let’s work together and make our country better.
Rather than continuing to embrace viral chaos, it’s a positive development to see the two women come together and address an issue of great importance. Considering the overall debate and Long’s argument in particular — that it is easy to talk about guns in the wake of tragedy, but a conversation about mental illness is long overdue — what do you think? Let us know in the comments section, below.