What I Learned from The Mom of a School Shooter

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Recently I picked up the book: A Mother’s Reckoning — Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold. Klebold’s son is Dylan, one of the shooters responsible for the Columbine High School shooting. What mother of boys doesn’t think it’s a good idea to pick up what promises to be a heart-wrenching self-reflection on parenting during the overwhelming challenge of family life in a pandemic? *insert eye roll aimed at myself*

However, in this time when I’m watching my kids carefully for anxiety, signs of social isolation and depression, this was actually a good book to read. It helped me focus my parenting goals and helped me choose parenting over #alltheotherthings.

Of course, I read this book to answer two main questions, questions Klebold acknowledges right from the start. What in Dylan’s life made it possible for him to commit such tragedy? What could she have done to realize what was happening so she could stop him? 

These questions and her honest writing pushed me to ask myself: what must it be like to have a son that committed this type of crime? She must have looked at her boys the same way I look at mine: with love and amazement and no small amount of hope for their futures. 

parenting: mom with her 5 kids: happy, laughingWhat can I learn from this woman who has done the hard work of analyzing a life piece by piece trying to find answers? What can I do to make sure my sons don’t feel ending their own life and that of others is a choice? Is it nature or nurture? How can I be the best parent to my boys?

Sue Klebold writes: “I wish I had listened to him more instead of lecturing; I wish I had sat in silence with him instead of filling the void with my own words and thoughts. I wish I had acknowledged his feelings instead of trying to talk him out of them, and that I’d never accepted his excuses to avoid conversations — I’m tired, I have homework to do — when something felt off. I wish I’d sat in the dark with him, and repeated my concerns when he dismissed them. I wish I’d dropped everything else to focus on him, probed and prodded more, and that I had been present enough to see what I did not see.” (Klebold 263).

This paragraph was one of the most powerful in the whole book. I unpacked it for myself and perhaps you’ll find that useful, too.

Listen more.

Sit in silence rather than filling the space with my thoughts. Or, as Lin-Manuel Miranda would have Aaron Burr remind us: Talk less, Listen more.

Personally, for me to do this I need to stop: STOP doing all the things and listen to my boys when they want to talk to me or even when they don’t. I need to create the space so they will talk, so I can listen.

Acknowledge feelings.

We do an okay job of this, but I’m also a fixer. I don’t want them to be sad or upset or even frustrated. I want to fix it right now. I even want to fix it when I cause it by enforcing a punishment or family rule. Let the feelings happen and acknowledge them for what they are.

Never accept excuses when something feels off.

Trust your mom-sense. No one knows your kids better than you do.

Sit in the dark and repeat concerns.

I like to imagine everything is going well. I orchestrate every day to be a magical blend of rainbows and goodness. I want all my boys to be happy. But sometimes life isn’t happy. Sometimes there are hard things and we can’t ignore those because we just don’t want to admit they exist. 

I am embracing the phrase: sit in the dark. There’s nothing to distract me from my concerns. The concerns I push away in the day, crawl out in the dark and push at me until I deal with them. Repeat concerns until they are forced to surface.

Drop everything and focus. 

I need this tattooed on my hand. If at the end of the day I have focused on my kids will I ever feel like a failure? No. I will know I chose wisely. Unlike if I do all the jobs and cross off everything on my to-do list but didn’t focus on my kids, even that might not feel like success. 

Focus on my boys. Each one. This is my biggest parenting challenge: to stop focusing on the tasks, the next adventure, the schedule, the plan and FOCUS on my child.

See what you do not see.

I can only see what I am not seeing if I stop and look, really look, at who each of my sons is. I need to know them to see them. 

Final thoughts

Right now, life is way less busy and way more overwhelming. The pandemic has made parenting harder than it has ever been (even though I thought potty training was really hard). Right now, I need these reminders. I don’t believe my kids are headed down a path like Dylan Klebold, but neither did Sue Klebold.

I appreciate her honesty and candor. I appreciate that I can read this book and find guidance on how to parent. Is that an interesting concept? I am looking to the mother of a school shooter to teach me to be a better parent.

Sometimes in the darkest places there shines a light.

parenting: family of 6 hugging with sun shining through the trees

 

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