One mother’s plea

17 Dec

words-chinese hopeThis is one of those blog posts that I have hesitated writing. I have so much to say and I struggle to put it in a coherent and flowing package. Friday I watched yet another news report about a shooting, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. I am dismayed by those who are quick to say that gun control is the answer, especially since the same day that children were shot in Connecticut, school children were attacked by a man with knives in China. China is having the same issue of school attacks as the U.S. and the same type of perpetrator, someone mentally ill.

In April of 1999, when two young men attacked and killed several classmates, teachers and administrators at Columbine High School in Colorado, I, like most of the country, was glued to the TV coverage. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything more gut wrenching than watching the horror that was unfolding. I couldn’t understand children killing children. I couldn’t fathom how broken these boys had to be to do what they were doing. I couldn’t imagine being one of the parents of the injured or fallen, but even bigger than that, I couldn’t imagine being the parent of one of the perpetrators. My oldest son had just turned five and suddenly the thought of sending him to school was terrifying instead of exciting. I thought seriously about home schooling up until the point I registered my son for kindergarten, but I have always been a person who lives in more faith than fear, so off to school he went.

The events of Columbine changed me forever. On a practical level, it made me be more aware of my children’s surroundings at school and spurred discussions of what to do if a similar thing happened at one of their schools. It also changed my mind about kids having cell phones in schools. I used to think it was ridiculous and unnecessary; now, if the unthinkable happens, I want the last voice my children to hear to be mine telling them how much I love them. It’s also the reason that every morning I tell my children I love them when I send them to the bus or drop them off at school. Again, if the unthinkable happens, I want those to be the last words I spoke to them. Every morning may not be a bed of roses, but most of them are. I took the tragedy of Columbine to heart and dedicated myself to becoming the best mom to my boys that I could possibly be.

Since then, there have been so many attacks by young men, almost all with a history of mental illness, and it seems that Sandy Hook will be the same. While I mourn for those who have lost their loved ones, I do not mourn for those who have passed. I have a deep and abiding faith that they feel nothing but joy in a much better place than this. What I want out of this is not a gun ban or worse punishment or judgment. It’s time to look at the fact that we have some seriously ill people, particularly young males, that we try to medicate into submission and when they refuse to medicate, we either lock them in prison, lock them in a mental institution or wait until they are the perpetrator of the next tragedy. In any case, it’s not working. To understand how bad it is, read “Thinking the Unthinkable” by a mom who is dealing with a son who has mental health issues and the lack of true help she can access.

So what do we do? First, I challenge the medical community to make this a focus of study. We spend millions on sustaining sex lives when our parts don’t want to work anymore. What if we funneled that energy into making our brains work better? What if, instead of looking to pharmaceuticals to medicate the problem away, we actually looked for procedures that could cure mental illness? Please, if anyone with any medical clout reads this, let’s do what we can to cure mental illness instead of shoving medications at patients that they will only refuse to take. Also, for the lawmakers, when will you see that the patients’ rights must be balanced with the well being of society? In so many of these cases, the perpetrators were under psychiatric care and the doctor knew the patient was a danger to himself and others, but they were powerless to do anything until the patient committed a crime because of privacy laws. If someone is a legitimate threat, doctors should be able to contact someone to intervene before we have yet another mass murder.

Next, I challenge every parent to step up their game. I remember when my oldest was in high school and asked if he could do something that I thought he was too young to do. When I asked him what the parents of his friends thought, he told me that he didn’t know because most of his friends didn’t talk to their parents. Both parents worked and they spent very little time together. I told him that was the saddest thing I ever heard. We have family dinners at least once per week in the kitchen with the TV off. It is a time for conversation, for catching up and for connecting with those we love most. Some dinners are about current events, some about life events and some about religious or political views. We ask our kids what their opinions are and we share ours. We learn as much about them and their generation as they learn from us. Also, as the boys have gotten older, my husband has started spending more one on one time with each of the boys. It may be playing a round of golf with our oldest son. It might be woodworking with our middle son. It might be tearing apart a broken appliance with our youngest to see the inner parts. The activity doesn’t matter near as much as the time. That’s what children need, our time, especially when we feel like we have none. When my oldest was playing high school soccer, working, dating his girlfriend and carrying a 4.0 in all AP and accelerated courses, he was still expected to be at family dinner at least once per week. This month, he’s home from college and the same rules apply. It keeps him grounded and keeps us connected as he makes his way toward more independence, and I believe it has been our greatest gift to our children, aside from having a great marriage.

And then there is that marriage thing. I understand that some marriages just don’t work out. I understand that sometimes we have to move on. I also understand that a marriage is not a 50-50 proposition. It is a 100%-100% commitment. It’s sometimes difficult, but it is a gift to your children to work through differences and be a united front. It teaches them that conflicts can be resolved and what really is worth fighting over. Figure out what legacy you want your children to remember and then become that person. And if your marriage doesn’t make it, please, please, please, leave your kids out of it as much as you can. I heard a quote once that said that every time you criticize your child’s other parent, you criticize half of their DNA. What does it do to a child to hear half of their DNA criticized? I will tell you. If they are at all sensitive, and most mentally ill children are, it makes them question everything about themselves. It creates tension and uncertainty and in some cases anger and rage. It serves no one. So please, spread as much love as you can to small children, to older children, to teenagers and to everyone you meet. We all carry burdens and kindness, even from a stranger, can change everything. Thanks for being you and have a great day.


2 Responses to “One mother’s plea”


  1. One mother’s plea « karenbemmes - December 17, 2012

    […] One mother’s plea. […]

  2. For the Love of Teens | karenbemmes - April 30, 2013

    […] other events that involved teenage boys committing violence on themselves and others.  That post was a heartfelt call to action to people around the country to look past the actions of these […]

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