What Sandy Hook should teach divorced parents

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The State of Connecticut’s report into the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School should be mandatory reading for every divorced parent. While it doesn’t explain the motive for Adam Lanza’s rampage the morning of December 14th, it does provide some pieces to the puzzle that had been missing.

Most will conclude that Adam’s mother, Nancy Lanza, failed tragically by giving her son, whom she acknowledged as mentally unstable, carte blanch access to firearms. Others will claim she didn’t do enough to get him the professional help he obviously needed. Both are correct. Reading through the report is like witnessing a car wreck moments before it happens. Signs apparent to most parents seem missed or otherwise ignored by Nancy Lanza. But this travesty is about more than just the failure of one mom; the larger issue here should act as a warning for all divorced parents.

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Nancy Lanza and her husband, Peter Lanza, separated in 2001 when Adam was nine. Sometime afterwards, the father moved fifty miles to Stamford yet saw Adam regularly. Adam and his brother lived full time with their mom in Newtown. But the relationship between father and son fell apart in late 2010 when Adam was 17 and they had not seen each other since that year.  Peter continued reaching out to his estranged son by mail and email asking Adam to join him for various activities –Adam rarely used his cell phone. Sometime before December 14th Adam stopped responding altogether.

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Adam Lanza spent hours, even days, locked away in his upstairs bedroom playing video games or otherwise living in his own universe and had crowned himself overlord of the home he lived in with his mother. According to the formal investigation, Adam “was particular about the food that he ate and its arrangement on a plate in relation to other food… Certain types of dishware could not be used with particular foods.”

“The mother would shop for him and cook to the shooter’s specifications, though sometimes he would cook for himself. The mother did the shooter’s laundry on a daily basis as the shooter often changed clothing during the day. She was not allowed in the shooter’s room, however, even to clean. No one was allowed in his room.”

The report went further to say Adam “disliked birthdays, Christmas and holidays.  He would not allow his mother to put up a Christmas tree.”  Nancy Lanza explained this by saying her son had no emotions or feelings. Nobody went into the Lanza home, workers had to meet in the driveway, never ring the doorbell, and make prior arrangements before using loud equipment. The mother also got rid of the family cat because Adam didn’t want it in the house. Near the end Adam would only communicate with his mother by email.

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This report is a must read for divorced parents because it is the perfect illustration of co-parents who did not co-parent. Nowhere in the report, after countless interviews, does it suggest Nancy and Peter Lanza discussed their son’s behavior or attempted to work in partnership to help him. Is it conceivable that Peter Lanza was unaware of his son’s emotional state? It doesn’t appear so; findings indicate that Adam started exhibiting strange behaviors well before their relationship deteriorated in 2010. Perhaps Adam only exhibited this behavior around his mom? I don’t think so, either.

Bolstered perhaps by what a relationship with Adam would include, upset that his son had initiated their break up, and believing – as ex husbands often do – that because Nancy had been the primary custodial parent, Adam lived with her, and coupled with his financial support their son was her problem and he found it simpler to wipe his hands of the entire situation.

This appears substantiated by how Nancy Lanza expressed concern over Adam’s well-being should something happen to her. Was Peter incapable of providing for their son in such an event? Adam was an adult not an infant and if there is any truth to the purported alimony Peter Lanza paid, money was certainly not the issue. So was her apprehension just the sign of a controlling, even lonely, mother or did it point towards something more, namely that her ex husband couldn’t – or wouldn’t – provide for their son.

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Perhaps the most difficult challenge with divorce is putting aside personal grudges for the sake of children. It’s natural for separation to create an individualistic, even obstinate, mentality. Divorce hearings promote such attitudes. Couples are encouraged to fight relentlessly in court then turn amicable once the judge renders a decision. But regardless of personal grievances, divorced couples must recognize that their failure as spouses can’t allow for their failure as parents.

It’s been my experience that the only way to co-parent effectively amid the challenges brought by divorce is to act as a united front with my ex-wife –viewed by our children as allies supporting each other. When Adam started refusing recommendations for medication and therapy, why didn’t his dad step in? When Adam cut ties, why didn’t Peter Lanza make the drive to Newtown as often as necessary to rebuild the relationship instead of resorting to half-hearted emails? And why didn’t Nancy Lanza help broker a peace treaty when she saw the relationship waning? It’s obvious that Adam leveraged fear and influence over his mom resulting in her loss of control in the home and with her son. If Peter Lanza was aware this was happening, which I am convinced he was, why didn’t he take the lead role in addressing the problems that Nancy was unwilling or unable to do?

Co-parenting doesn’t occur in vacuum, ex-spouses can’t subscribe to the notion that what happens at the other parent’s house isn’t their problem. The domino effect of parenting is very real and co-parents have the responsibility to support each other, eliminate conflict, and help their kids foster strong relationships with the other parent.

What happened the morning of December 14th isn’t the failure of one mom, but the failure of a family and I’m convinced had Peter and Nancy Lanza set aside any differences – as all divorced parents must – and worked together to address their son’s needs, this tragedy could have been avoided.

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One response to What Sandy Hook should teach divorced parents

  1. jeremy

    I think you are a bit dramatic. Some people are just crazy and Ill.

    The divorce process does not allow for coparenting. Too many women use kids as pawns to get money from a successful man. Maybe this woman did all she could to prevent dad from getting equal custody. Courts promote this behavior. So dad loses, has to pay a ton, does not get equal influence on his son, yet when the kid grows up and has issues, dad is supposed to coparent like nothing happened?

    insanity

    I don’t co parent my young kids. when my ex decided my daughters weren’t worthy of their great dad because she’s bitter that we broke up and wants all my money, she is insane if she thinks I will appear in 10 years to co parent because the kid is on drugs or a pregnant teen.

    blame needs to be with courts who prevent co parenting not the man who wasn’t there later on after being told by mom that kids don’t needto see dad rregularly.

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