I’m going to tread very, very carefully here, but the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” essay published by Boise State University’s The Blue Review, and reprinted at Gawker, Huffington Post, and many other outlets, might be the single most horrible parenting decision a mother could ever make, for one simple reason – author Lisa Long proudly identifies herself, and includes a picture of the child “Michael” (not his real name) she is calling a monster.
You can read the piece yourself (it first appeared on her personal blog) – I won’t try to parse through what sounds true and what may be untrue, because frankly that doesn’t matter. Even assuming that everything Lisa Long says is the god’s honest truth and her young son is horrible and that she’s a perfect uber-mom struggling against a system that’s not supporting her, Long’s “crime” is presenting a one-sided, personal betrayal of her child’s privacy and potentially his future.
As I was working myself up to take Long to task for betraying her child’s privacy I found that Hanna Rosin in Slate had already taken up the case against Long:
She is the mother of 13-year-old “Michael” (whose name she changed but so what, since her own name is public), who she describes as belligerent and mentally ill, so much so that “he terrifies me.” The pure sympathy phase for Long after her essay went viral lasted about 24 hours before another blogger, Sarah Kendzior, pointed out that Long had written a series of “vindictive and cruel posts about her children” and was not to be trusted. This morning, Long and Kendzior made up and issued a joint statement about “the need for a respectful national conversation on mental health” and declared that they were not interested in perpetuating a “mommy war.”
Good for them. “Michael,” meanwhile, has a long life to live, during which his neighbors and teachers and future employers will know that his mother regularly called the police on him, committed him to a mental institution, and considered seriously accusing him of a crime so she could send him to jail. (She didn’t because jail would exacerbate his “sensitivity to sensory stimuli,” she writes, a cold clinical rationale that in her piece passes for maternal sympathy.) People who meet “Michael” in the future have a good shot at finding out that his mother thinks he is the equivalent of a man who just shot 20 schoolchildren point blank, and that she once listed her son’s name in the pantheon of greats. (“I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother.”)
…One reasonable conclusion is that Long is in the middle of one of those lunatic divorces where the kids get sacrificed to the altar of parental hatred. Another is that she has some kind of mommy blogger Munchhausen syndrome, where she creates narcissistic fantasies in which she stars as the long-suffering mother. (Note the high tragic cadence of “I am Adam Lanza’s mother.”)
Or a more disturbing conclusion: In this era, when we worry about whether we need to keep a closer eye on the dangerous and mentally ill, “Michael” is not the one in that family we should be monitoring. Because this, from one of her older posts, is not the musing of a sane person:
Safety is never anything more than a pretty illusion for any of us, at any time. We are all just one car accident, one cancer diagnosis, one unimagined catastrophe away from death. But what makes this situation bad—no, intolerable—is that someone, somewhere, for some reason, is actively seeking to destroy me.
A boy wielding a knife perhaps?
And Sarah Kendzior, before she was part of that joint statement, made the point even clearer in a follow-up post:
Parenting is the hardest thing a person can do, and every parent feels frustration and anger towards their children at some point. But most of us do not blog about it using our child’s picture, under our real names. Her child’s privacy and reputation have been irrevocably damaged. If he gets the help he needs, he will still have his mother’s cruel words following him online for the rest of his life.
I hope this family gets compassion and support. I hope Long’s call for better mental health services and understanding of the pressures parents face is heeded. The points Long made in her post were important. But she did not need to hurt her son to make them.
Over the past few days, we have had a number of calls for “national conversations” – about guns, about mental health, about safety. We need to have a national conversation about the online privacy of children. Mothers should protect their children, not exploit them for media attention.
The Long family deserves help and understanding, but above all, her children deserve privacy. Long seems to have little interest in this and is embarking on a media tour tomorrow. I hope she changes her mind for the sake of her son.
And her is Long on her media tour, telling her story to the Today Show, further publicizing herself…
There’s probably more to Lisa Long’s story – maybe we will find out more, maybe we won’t. The situation Long describes sounds very bad, and countless (anonymous) comments have been left on the various publishings of the story from people in similar situations. I am in no way trying to minimize the struggles that Long (and other) have described, but the difference between Long and those cheering her telling her story is that those commenters children are still anonymous and won’t be subject to “Googling” for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately for “Michael,” (and to a lesser extent his other siblings) is that their anonymity has been destroyed by the person charged with protecting them. “Michael” now not only has his illness to deal with, but his mother’s betrayal of his privacy.
If that’s not a form of child abuse I’m not sure what is…