Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Enabling isn't love - an important takeaway from the Newtown report

I am not a parenting expert, and make no claims to be one. The only "expertise" I have is that I have raised two extremely different young people to the ages of 17 and 20, and that "Q & A", an animated interview between my then 12 year-old son and me at StoryCorps has over a million views on YouTube, so it's obviously struck a chord with a few people.

When I read the Summary of the Final Report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting by Stephen J, Sendensky III, State Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury, I was overwhelmingly struck by one thing - the degree to which Nancy Lanza enabled her son.

Parenting is hard work at the best of times. It's a constant balancing act between giving your kids the unconditional love and support they need while still providing consistent discipline so they know that there are limits and values by which they are expected to conduct themselves in the family and in wider society.

As the Talmud advises: "push away with the left hand while drawing closer with the right hand" (BT Sanhedrin 107b).

When you're parenting a child with special needs, that balancing act is even harder. You feel like one of the Wallendas every day, trying to figure out if you're making the right decisions for your child; fighting the school system for services, fighting insurance companies for services, being criticized and/or second guessed by family members, by people in the grocery store, by well-meaning friends, and worst of all by yourself.

I can't tell you how many times I've cried in the shower, cried to my therapist, cried to my son's therapist, cried on my doctor's desk, cried to friends, cried in the car while driving, cried to my Rabbi, cried to anyone who who might listen, because I'm worried that I'm doing the wrong thing by my son - sometimes by pushing him because I think he can do things that others say he can't, or because I feel like I've failed to give him the right supports, or for any of a million other reasons. (Same with my daughter, but for different reasons).

But one thing I have always worked very hard NOT to do is enable him. I've messed up sometimes - no one is perfect - but when I read the Newtown report I could not believe the degree to which Nancy Lanza enabled her son, presumably under the notion that she was doing it out of "love".

Example 1: Doing his laundry. If her son was 20 years old and had OCD and felt the need to change his clothes several times a day, why the hell was she still doing his laundry? Why didn't she teach him to do his own laundry - especially since he was unwilling to help himself in any way through medication or therapy. If "the shooter" was capable of learning to drive a car and shoot any number of types of gun, he was bloody well able to learn how to operate a washing machine and tumble dryer. This is enabling, people. It's not love.

Example 2: Allowing him to living in her house for a year only communicating by email? If your son is exhibiting that kind of disrespect and anti-social behavior toward you, why are you putting up with it? Tell him that he goes for inpatient treatment, or he talks to you with the respect any human being - and particularly his mother - deserves. Again, how is this love? Allowing your child to act in increasingly anti-social ways isn't love. It's enabling. And twenty-six innocent lives were lost because of such enabling.

Example 3. Don't even get me started on the guns. Your son is exhibiting all these clearly antisocial behaviors, including only communicating with you by email in your own home, and you are not just training him to use guns, but giving him money to buy a gun as a present?

It's entirely possible - indeed it's desirable - to give your children the room to express themselves and grow, loving and supporting and respecting them while still expecting respect from them.

It's like when my son told me he was now an atheist. I said, "Okay. But when I light the Shabbat candles, I expect you to put on a kippah and let me bless you. Not out of respect to G-d, if you don't believe in him, but out of respect to me, your mother, because it's important to me."

I see enabling all over the place in the town I live in. Like typing their kids' applications for Ivy League schools. What's going to happen if the kid gets in and Mommy isn't there to actually do the work?

Enabling isn't love. It hurts your child, rather than helping them. And sadly, in the case of Nancy and Adam Lanza, it resulted in the deaths of 26 innocent people.

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