Mr. and Mrs. Lanza and the Rest of Us: Parenting in the Trenches

I know every person who reads this is wondering, just like I am, how to make sense of a twenty year-old boy-man who, in his anger or contempt of his mother, did not speak disrespectfully to her but shot her in the face, and in his anger or contempt of society, did not write a diatribe letter to the editor but massacred its young, and in his despair of the state of his own life did not choose to repent but made it permanent in suicide. While we rightly focus on supporting the victims and their families, the refrain pounding away in our brains is why, why, why?

What happened in that young man’s life to make a path with such an unthinkable destination? What could have stopped it? Was it beyond his parents’ ability to effect?

These questions matter so much to me, because I, too, am the mother of a twenty year-old son.

Twenty is when a person’s parents are pretty well done with hands-on parenting. Twenty is when a person is responsible for his own actions and direction. Twenty is accountable.

But twenty is near enough to the unaccountable childhood time of Mom and Dad teaching, training, directing, and instilling to make every parent tremble at the possibility that their offspring could become that terror. Of course, we would not dream of it. And yet.

And yet, because every diligent parent knows in his or her heart that the differences between the exemplary person and the criminal are not, in the end, so very great.

Usually, it is just a bunch of little things that matter. Little choices about what will be allowed and what will not, little moments of catching a bad attitude before it gets ugly, nuances half-noticed in the bustle of everyday that give us pause and make us look at our child with fresh eyes and renewed determination to address negative tendencies and raise the trajectory of his life’s purpose.

Sometimes it feels like we are figuring it out moment by moment in this hardest of jobs. With certain kids, the challenges come thick and fast, leaving us breathless and worn out and wondering how much more we can take, how much more we can give, how many more times we can talk them back into heart-softness. Some of us, because we believe God is the ultimate Parent, the one who knows us better than we know ourselves and gave us a Guide to help us figure ourselves out, some of us who believe in that God keep at it because we believe we have brought into the world a soul whose choices in this life have eternal consequences. Some who do not believe in God still work very hard. I think they believe in working for the good of mankind and feel the weight of responsibility to bring their offspring to an adulthood that will do good instead of harm to others. Others give up. They do.

Am I saying Adam Lanza’s evil heart is the sole fault of his mom and dad? No. He was twenty. Accountable. Responsible. And, of course, I have no idea what sort of parents they were. They may have done all they knew to do.

But, I do know this: as a parent, a lot matters. Staying married matters. Being present – physically, emotionally, spiritually – matters. Saying sorry matters. Extending forgiveness matters. Addressing character faults matters – over and over, again and again. Wisdom matters. Being tough matters. Being tender matters. Humility matters. Vision matters.

And the parents who have successfully raised a child into responsible, admirable adulthood are the first to say it was hard, and scary, and sobering, and that they can see how easily things could have gone awry in spite of their best efforts. And then in the next breath they’ll tell you they know they didn’t actually always give their best effort – sometimes they were lazy, or selfish, or hypocritical, or blind.

If you came here looking for reassurance that half-hearted effort yields excellent results anyway, I can’t help you. I know the reality – that sometimes even very hard work doesn’t, well, work. And that mediocre parenting rarely produces anything greater than mediocre offspring.

I certainly cannot yet speak as one who has succeeded. It is far too soon to tell. In many ways, my parents cannot speak from that position, either. After all, their daughter is only forty-five, probably with many opportunities ahead of her to go off the deep end if she chooses. Please God, she will not, and please God, their grandchildren will not, either.

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  1. Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Well written, Lori. Thank you for your words of wisdom and thought provoking questions.
    Robin Harris recently posted..Mr. and Mrs. Lanza and the Rest of Us: Parenting in the TrenchesMy Profile

  2. Sheila
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Although I felt great joy upon the birth of our son, I will never forget the fear I felt the first time I held him. The responsibility for that little soul was daunting, even overwhelming. Without the promise of Proverbs 22:6 and Proverbs 29:17, it may even have been incapacitating. I was and and continue to be very grateful for those promises.

    • Posted December 18, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Sheila, I keep thinking of Galatians 6:9, too:
      “So do not become weary while doing good, for we shall reap if we do not faint.”
      Lori recently posted..Past Blast: Reality CheckMy Profile

  3. Suze Tolbert
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Good thoughts. I, too, have a 20 yr old son. (Also a 23 yr old son). And I agree, I can not know yet if they will be the kind of people the Lord expects them to be. No one knows for certain until we stand before God and know we did do our best and hear, Come in faithful servant. But, I can know I have done and continue to do my best to be a good example, to admit when I have not and repent from it, and to strive always to be better. Life is not easy. Parenting is not easy. But, it is rewarding! I am blessed to have boys I still enjoy sharing life with, because their father and I worked at it! Parents, if you do not enjoy your children, change that right now. It is up to us to raise up children to be good servants for the Lord. It’s not an option or a right, it is a responsibility. It can be done. Much effort is placed on the right gifts to be received/given this month but, I say give the best gift of all salvation and happy servants of the Lord. We have the tools to teach others this, please share it today and help others.

  4. Meghan
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I read an article recently about a study that demonstrated that “the single greatest predictor of longevity” was marriage/divorce or parents. People whose parents who remained married had the greatest longevity, and people whose parents divorced had the worst.

    It think this was it:

  5. Anita
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I have a short story about your 20-year-old son. My 19-year-old daughter was having a stressful time on campus a few weeks ago, and when she called to tell me all about it, she specifically mentioned the comfort that your son’s care and concern was to her. I’ve been meaning to tell you that…this seems as good a time as any. Thank you, Lori, for your influence on your son. That influence made a difference to my daughter and me.

    • Posted December 18, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Oh, Anita, how kind of you to remember and tell me. Balm to a mom’s heart! My particular 20-year-old is a godly guy figuring out the next practical steps of his life. Challenging, but so often rewarding to be his mom, I find.
      Lori recently posted..Past Blast: Fake It Til You Make It?My Profile

  6. Emily
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    My 20-year old son was what I considered an ideal son – normally respectful, God-fearing student with excellent grades. Then he fell apart. He stopped attending worship services, stopped going to classes, stopped talking to others. It turns out he was suffering from depression. This problem runs in my family and usually begins in the early twenties. However, there had been no indications until he was 20 that there was any problem.

    I am thankful that there were no guns at home or at school. Even though he has never indicated that he had any suicidal thoughts, as a parent I worried. I am thankful that God has allowed my husband and me to have adequate insurance coverage and good therapists. So much can go wrong, even if you do your best. Even though many parents believe parenting ends at 18, many times it doesn’t. Even though my son, at 22, seems to have recovered from this bout of depression, the consequences of this episode still means my parenting continues.

    Every time I hear of a mass shooting, my heart goes out to the parents of the shooter. Sometimes, no matter what you do as a parent, you can’t help your adult child overcome their demons. Thankfully, with God’s help, my son is recovering, but I know of other parents whose children are not.

    • Posted December 18, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Emily, my heart goes out to you, your son, and your family. Depression is real, for sure, and there are endless levels of it. I, too, have family members who suffer with it (and the rest of the family suffers, too, don’t they?) The support of family is invaluable to the depressed person, and that is part of what concerns me in our society — where in the past there was a greater safety net of family to help care for the depressed individual, too often now he himself alone. I’m so glad your son has you and your husband.
      Lori recently posted..Real-LifeThanksgivingMy Profile

  7. Susan Wollam
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    I am the mother of eight. I agree that our parenting does matter and should be wholehearted and consistent. It’s sometimes hard and takes courage. But parenting a child with special needs or mental illness is different than parenting a normally developing child and shouldn’t be compared. It’s an injustice to the Lanza’s to question their parenting or blame a divorce for their son’s choices when there are very many unknowns. It is known that he was on the autism spectrum. It is known, additionally, that he had mental health issues. I have three successful adult children. I also have one intellectually developmentally delayed child, one child who is mentally ill and one child who is both intellectually developmentally delayed and mentally ill. Parenting a child who is mentally ill continues into adulthood yet we can’t always influence or affect their choices. There are far too many unknowns to comment on their parenting of a mentally ill child. (Autism/Asperger Syndrome is not the mental illness.). What we must do is give 100% to parenting our own children well and pray they don’t make choices like this.

    • Posted December 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      I agree with much of what you say here, Susan, and I thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am not questioning the Lanzas’ parenting or blaming their divorce; I don’t know them well enough to do either. However, committed parenting and healthy, intact marriages will always be an enormous asset to a normally-developing OR a special needs or mentally-ill child. My purpose in this post is simply to give all parents, myself included, extra encouragement to do the best jobs we possibly can — so much is at stake.
      Lori recently posted..Real-LifeThanksgivingMy Profile

  8. Barbara Holloway
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Lori!

  9. eddie
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Lori, I gained from reading this. I can see how someone who didn’t personally know you might take some of these words as a critique of the Lanza family, but I know this was not your intention.

    Often in my work I encounter broken people who make many bad decisions. These choices are obviously foolish to me, and at first I wondered why it wasn’t more obvious to them. Over time I have come to realize how important it was for me to have parents (no offense mom, but especially a father) who taught me wisdom and discouraged foolishness. It has been an enormous asset to me personally, but also in helping others to learn the path of wisdom.

    Lesson #1: God knows. Listen to Him.

    • Posted December 20, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Good point, Eddie. I have been spending a lot of time reading Proverbs and Ecclesiastes lately, and the wise/foolish comparisons are striking. There is little information in those books to give hope that one might CHANGE from being foolish to wise, except for instruction to parents to train their children out of their folly and into wisdom. But James offers excellent hope: “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…” But having had godly, non-foolish parents is SUCH a gift — the kind that REALLY keeps on giving.
      Lori recently posted..Gifts We Already HaveMy Profile

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