Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Will NOT Be Adam Lanza's Mom

"I wouldn't be shocked," I said to a staff member at the Chicago Public Schools on Friday when news broke that Adam Lanza had also killed his mother, "if I am one day killed by my son."

I've spent the weekend replaying that conversation, in disbelief that I've said this out loud to someone other than my therapist who hears it nearly every session. But I'm not the only member of my family thinking this. Just today, an immediate family member asked me, "Do you think this is something your son could do someday?"

Our eyes met, knowing the answer.

My eight-year old son has seven locked-down psych ward hospitalizations under his belt for being a danger to himself and others (namely, his mother). He has fought his way through life so violently that he has endured multiple injections of Haldol (a chemical restraint used in prisons), physical restraints to a bed, physical restraints by six armed guards at once, hundreds of physical restraints by therapists and counselors, medications that could tranquilize an elephant but somehow can't always tranquilize him, and excruciating time wailing in the so-called "Quiet Room" in the psych ward.

He is a child who snaps, who can become clinically psychotic and utterly dangerous.

But this is only one small, albeit loud, aspect of my beautiful child. He is also a child who took the candy canes he received from St. Nick to school so that he could share them with his classmates. He is the child who loves his brother so much that he offered to share his bedroom, even though there are two. He is the child who looks out for kids that bullies pick-on, and stands up for what is right. He is the child who hates imagining the day his parents are dead and gone because he loves us so much. He is the child who pines for his friends who no longer attend his school. He is the child with the purest of hearts, but a mis-wired brain.

"God gave him to us," said my family member. "He is our responsibility. It is our responsibility to him and to society to make sure this will never happen."

I looked at this family member all sorts of funny. As if I, or anyone, can stop a person in the height of a crazed, violent episode! Having been simultaneously the victim and the "first responder" during raging, dangerous situations, this idea that somehow it is my responsibility to ensure peace seems audacious at best, and utterly impossible in reality. 

But it is just this sort of thinking that will allow another Adam Lanza to strike again.

It is my responsibility to keep my son subdued as I have managed to do these many years. And do you know what? It's your responsibility, too.

Rather than insisting that we mourn and not talk about gun control today, we must talk about how to keep firearms and other deadly weapons from the hands of the mentally unstable...not only for their safety but for our own.

Rather than not uttering Adam Lanza's name so as not to provide him any more infamy, we must talk openly about how mental illness manifests in people...not only for their safety but for our own.

Rather than distancing ourselves from "the crazy people" in hopes that they don't bother us, we must understand how to help them...not only for their safety but for our own.

Rather than imprisoning people who are mentally ill, we need to provide them effective treatment...not only for their safety but for our own.

Rather than stigmatizing people who see therapists, we need to positively support them for getting the help they need...not only for their safety but for our own.

Rather than bashing psychotropic medications and focusing on their negative side effects, we must encourage people who need these medicines to take them...not only for their safety but for our own.

Rather than dismissing alternative medicines as quackery, we need to praise people for searching for help...not only for their safety but for our own.

Rather than secularizing the daily lives for those who are faithful, we need to foster the ideals of the that all of us who pray may lift up those who need it most.

Imagine, for a moment, being the parent of a child who lost their lives at the hands of a shooter. It is a no-brainer that you would give away all your worldly possessions just to have your child back. If these lives are so precious to us, then we must be willing to help fund treatment and research for mental illness. Why not take that extra $5.00 in your pocket that you'll spend on a cup of personalized coffee, and give it instead to a charitable organization serving the mentally ill?

As for my responsibilities this week, I'm meeting with a special needs attorney, an at-home behavioral consultant, my own therapist, my son's therapist, and a state agency that provides support for those with mental illness...all so that I will NEVER be Adam Lanza's mom.

As for your part, please, I beg you, take responsibility.

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Christina Shaver is the founder of Hopeful Parents.


  1. What a beautifully written piece
    Such an important message
    hugs Christina

  2. Thank YOU for sharing this!
    It is a very insightful and thought provoking.
    I have been thinking and saying the very same thing.
    Mental illness needs to be addressed better!
    Although I don't have your experience I have seen this also play out in the lives of other families and it is very difficult sitution.

  3. Thank you for writing this very moving piece. Big hugs to you and your son.

  4. This post and call to action is so beautifully written I believe it will ignite people to take action instead of just thinking of doing so. Thank you so much for sharing such a personal, important message.

    I will keep your family in my prayers.

  5. I hope your journey on behalf of your son fares well.

    Ours hasn't gone quite the way we hoped, after 33 years. We do remember those days. 16 hospitalizations, and nobody to listen when we asked, then demanded help. I remember my husband and I sleeping in shifts, so he wouldn't hurt our other child or us in the night. Even door alarms didn't help. Courts and DCFS told us no, we were at fault for his behavior, but nobody would allow us to discipline him or even give him the structure he needed for his safety. If it had not been for our attorney and our psychiatrist, I think we'd be dead now. We tried everything we knew and things others suggested. No luck.

    I don't know if there weren't the resources in the 1980s and 1990s, or if it was just a time when people didn't realize, but our now-grown son now lives in another part of the country. He has no idea where we live, exactly, and it has to remain that way. He works in an industry where one might expect people with problems to work, and he works regularly from spring through late fall. He lives with his girlfriend and has two children. I pray for them!

    Our son wanted contact with me last Christmas, mostly to get a copy of his birth certificate. The friend who helped him, an older guy, couldn't understand why we wouldn't give him our son our phone number, or even friend him on Facebook. We are raising our grandchildren from our other child, and we simply can't put them at risk, let alone ourselves. Our son's friend didn't understand, because after all, our son didn't behave that way around the friend and his family! Perhaps not. That doesn't mean the danger isn't there.

    God bless you, honey.

  6. What a beautiful piece. I have an autistic son who was so aggressive he had to be hospitalized for almost a year when he was nine years old. He is stable now, thank God. Together with two other families, my husband and I started a group to support this population - EASI Foundation: Ending Aggression and Self-Injury in the Developmentally Disabled ( I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in your fight to eradicate these terrifying rages. Have you considered ECT?

  7. Thank you for sharing, and all my best to you in your challenge to do the right thing by your son, and all of us as well.

  8. Thank you for this, Christina! Beautifully stated and exactly the type of conversation we as a nation should be having right now. Prayers and hugs to you and yours.

  9. You go girl! Thanks! Spreading this around too to keep the conversation going!

  10. Wow. Honest, and beautiful at the same time. Your love for your son shines through. You are right, it is all of our responsiblity.

  11. Well done. A great post.

    It's our responsibility and our privilege as parents to help our kids to find alternative ways to express their anger and to deal with the problems and unfairness that life often hands them.

    Thank you for taking such negative feelings from the Internet and converting them into something so positive.

  12. Huge hugs Christina. You have always been so honest and open about your life and I am so grateful for all that you've shared with us.

  13. I hope you are right, and you never will be Adam Lanza's mom. Unfortunately, sometimes doing everything "right" still doesn't prevent tragedy. I hope I'm not Adam Lana's mom someday, too.

  14. Beautifully written & I'll b sharing with as many as I can.

  15. You were very brave to share your sentiments. Too many online commenters immediately after the tragedy in Connecticut blamed bad parenting, the discontinuation of prayer in public schools, legalized abortion (???), the media and liberal politicians for what happened. They failed to address the pathetic state of mental health care in this country and the frightenly easy access to assault weapons. Until something is done to address those issues there will be more deaths. Sad but true.