Nancy Lanza-Return of the Refrigerator Mother?

Since last week’s massacre in Newtown, CT, I have taken several phone calls from concerned parents (of my clients). All the Moms who have called me have expressed concern about what the fallout would be, seeing as the regular media and social media were quick to point the finger at Aspergers. My thoughts to them right after the shooting: We’ve experienced a setback as far as the public opinion of autism and Aspergers. And we’ll just keep pushing on, breaking down those stereotypes.

But now that more time has passed, my concern for the possible fallout for the autism community is waning. But one area of concern is growing. Because I feel like I am witnessing the biggest spectacle of “Blame the Mother” that I’ll ever see in my lifetime.

rest in peace sign

There were 20 school children, 6 school personnel. Everything you see is “26.” The bell tolled 26 times when the moment of silence happened one week later. The international do-gooder phenomena is being called #26Acts. 26. 26. 26. That’s the number you see.

But Nancy Lanza was victim 27.

Who was Nancy Lanza?

But Nancy Lanza was killed, she would make 27. Seeing as it appears she was sound asleep in her bed when she was killed, how is she not also a victim? Is it that one phrase about her in the papers that we keep seeing? How she lived the “gun lifestyle?” Who even knows what the gun lifestyle is? Do I believe she had any reason to own the amount of weapons that she did? Hell no. But not one piece was illegal. So if you’re angry at her for that, let’s start talking about misdirected anger. But we also don’t even know the credibility of the person that said it, let alone their relationship to Ms. Lanza. I was very saddened to read that only about two dozen people attended her funeral (though it may have been done that way on the family’s request, I don’t know). Did she really not have any friends or family, or are people distancing themselves from her, even in her death? Either answer is very sad.

adam nancy lanza

Do I think she had any business owning those weapons, in a household with her son? Isn’t hindsight always 20/20? Do we all really believe that Nancy Lanza threw caution to the wind, and owned them anyway, if she had any hint that what happened might happen? I don’t think so. Is it unreasonable to have a mother who didn’t believe her son was a mass murderer? Did she see signs and ignore them? We’ll never know. But I would think she’s at least reasonable enough, that had she seen this coming she would have done something to prevent it.

Do we feel that she owes us a responsibility to predict the future? Should she have known? Is that why we’re angry? Because she didn’t know, didn’t warn us? I haven’t read any smoking gun reports. I’ve read nothing other than the fact that Adam Lanza was a social outcast, and that his Mom was seeking a potential group-home situation for him. I have yet to read that he threatened his mother or anyone else prior to December 14.

Return of the refrigerator mother?

It was Kanner, back in 1943 who first wrote that parents were possibly to blame for their children’s autism or schizophrenia. Interestingly, in his report, he noted that it was lack of warmth from both mothers and fathers, but it was mothers who took the brunt of the blame. Several years later the term “refrigerator mother” was coined. It was a widely held belief well into the 1970s and 1980s that it was mothers who actually caused autism, schizophrenia and mental illness.

But this recent event has me wondering if perhaps these “Refrigerator Mother” concepts hadn’t really dissipated, we just got better at hiding them.

Are we blaming Nancy Lanza? Do we just want to forget about her? Are we afraid we are her? And therefore, if we stick our heads in the sand, distance ourselves from even thinking about her, forget about her, then it won’t happen to us.

What about dads?

By all accounts, except for parenting a child with special needs, she was living the dream. Nice house in a nice neighborhood, with an ex-husband paying her over $280k a year. But wait, why was Peter Lanza so agreeable to paying her so much money, to raise two kids that were pretty much grown? Was it a type of go-away money, so that he didn’t have to deal with Adam?

I’ve read reports that Adam did not want to see his brother or his father and both had not seen him in years. A 20-year-old that doesn’t want to talk to his dad–not very unusual. But that makes Nancy Lanza’s world awfully isolating, doesn’t it? If she can’t even talk to her co-parent or her other son, or have them in her home. If she can’t lean on the two closest members of her family, who can she lean on?

Look, you can speculate this out a zillion ways, I’ve just brought up half a dozen or so. But my point is, I find it very sad and tragic that the bulk of society feels that Nancy Lanza is not even worthy of a bell toll or a random act of kindness. While I understand some of the anger and wanting to blame someone, blaming the mother is not the best option. It hurts all mothers.

We need to be able to come together, try to understand, try to help other mothers that are also raising a child with these needs. Turning our back on her, and therefore other mothers, does not prevent this from happening, much as we’d like that to happen. We want her to have done something wrong, that way if we don’t do that same act, it can’t and won’t happen to us.

What did she do wrong?

But it doesn’t look like that is what took place here. Other than having the guns at a very easy access for her son, it appears she was just like any other mother. (and while his mother made it easier for him, it appears he was so intelligent that he would have been able to find the guns another way) I’m sad for her, because I think like most mothers, she thought she was doing everything she could. She home-schooled him for a while (not at all uncommon for kids with social issues). She took him to see specialists, she was pursuing a group home setting in another state where they could get a fresh start. My guess is this. She thought she was protecting him by keeping him at home, and seeing what I see from families, can’t say I blame her.

I hope we do get some answers. But I’m not optimistic. We’re not going to get the “if only you do this, this will never happen again.” And that’s why we have to band together. We can’t do just one thing. We have to do everything. New gun laws, better mental health system and on and on. And as mothers, helping each other. It does take a village, and by all accounts, it appears that Nancy Lanza stood alone.

This was originally written shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting but has been updated.



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