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Don't Blame Adam Lanza's Mother

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We're still reeling from the Newtown murders. But pain and shock don't justify generalizations about mental illness, and neither do they justify more mother-blaming.

Yes, it's ridiculous and dangerous to teach one's kids to shoot assault rifles. Yes, Mama Lanza did that. Yes, apparently she was a "prepper," ready and waiting for disaster to strike, house stocked with tinned foods.

Now she's dead. And it's not the time and place to criticize her as an anomaly, some sort of freakish survivalist, when in fact she was a participant in a broader gun culture that should be getting our serious attention.

It is considered axiomatic that mothers are always the ones responsible for their children's problems. Renowned clinical and research psychologist Paula J. Caplan has spent much of her career analysing the phenomenon of mother-blaming.

Caplan first became interested in this topic while working at a clinic evaluating families. She writes, "I noticed that no matter what was wrong, no matter what the reason for the family's coming to the clinic, it turned out that the mother was always assumed to be responsible for the problem" (Caplan 2007: 592). If you are looking for an example of mother blame today, google "Adam Lanza's Mother."

You'll notice the gun lobby has been silent on the Newtown situation -- heads down, Facebook pages down, very quiet. It's in the interest of the gun lobby for us to focus on narratives of bad moms, paranoid delusions, violent video games, and unstable kids. Apparently, the Asperger army is coming -- despite the fact that Asperger's syndrome is not linked to violence.

In the New York Post, Frank Rosario, Pedro Oliveira JR. and Dan MacLeod assert, "Adam Lanza's mother created a monster."

This claim, however, obscures the truth. No mother shapes her child alone. Mothers of individual children work within a much broader community. Children are also influenced by fathers, extended families, teachers, friends, and neighbours, by what they see in the media, and of course, by the laws and values of the society in which they live. So what would happen if we focused instead on the larger pathology of America's love affair with gun violence?

Adam Lanza's mother raised her son to believe what many politicians, lobbyists and every day folk in America are willing to shout from the rooftops to this day, "The constitutional right to bear arms is sacred!"

Millions of parents across the US teach their children to internalize and celebrate this constitutional right and go so far as to keep guns in their homes. In each one of these situations, there is the potential for a child to wake up one morning and decide to use one of these weapons to commit a crime, with tragic consequences.

When such shootings happen, however, it is far easier to blame one individual woman for being a "bad mother" who created a "monster" than to acknowledge that some aspects of society in general might be bad and in need of changing. Where does the real instability lie?

In times of crisis, it is easier to find a scapegoat than for a society to admit that perhaps some of its own structures are broken. In this case, every American who does not actively support gun control is in fact somewhat to blame for a young man's easy access to legally-acquired firearms.

The sooner people stop scapegoating the mothers of figures such as Adam Lanza, the sooner we might realize that it is everyone's responsibility to examine the society in which they live in order to create a safer world wherein guns like assault rifles, and the horrific, instant violence they can facilitate, are not everyday objects.

As my friend Christy Shake, mommy blogger at Calvin's Story, says, "if you can't hunt without an assault weapon you're an effing shit-ass hunter and you might consider taking up needlework." And as Bill Moyers points out , the NRA's "anti-freedom" rhetoric merely enables senseless violence. There are an estimated 300 million guns in the USA.

So perhaps we should be talking less about bad mothering of children on the autism spectrum and rather more about bad government, bad lobbying, bad marketing, and the asshole army of the NRA.

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