Monday, October 13, 2014

Why I Can't Get Behind #IAmNotKelliStapleton

The autistic community has been making an awe-inspiring response to the attempted murder of Issy Stapleton by her mother, Kelli Stapleton.  Let me start off by saying I think this is an amazing and sorely needed response. The idea that parents who kill their disabled children should be pitied rather than censured is by far the dominant narrative in American society, and it's a very dangerous one on many levels.

But... I'm uncomfortable with some of the narrative that's replacing it, especially on the twitter hastag #IAmNotKelliStapleton. What I'm seeing there that bothers me:

1) An emphasis on the mystique of the loving, perfect mother.
2) Disdain for Kelli Stapleton as a woman and a blogger.
3) Disregard for the reality of mental illness.

Let me take these points one by one.

1) Most mothers aren't perfect. Most mothers aren't always loving, patient, and understanding. And yes, thank God, most mothers don't try to kill their children. But having an idealized image of motherhood to live up to is one of the biggest stressors for mothers. When I was a new mom, suffering from bad post-partum depression and feeling like an utter failure all around, I heard about a woman who committed suicide because she couldn't breastfeed. And while completely seeing the illogic of her action, I also understood how she could get to that place. That's how crazy it can be.

I love my child more than anything in this world. But I'm not a perfect parent. I'm not always loving, I'm not always patient, I'm not always accepting. And I have struggled and suffered from my own perceived failings as a parents since his birth. One of the most helpful concepts for me has been that every parent can only do as much as they can do. I can't be SuperAutismMom and that's okay. I'm his mom and we love each other, so I do the best I can. Sometimes it's not good enough. That's where we teach that people aren't perfect, and when we make mistakes we should accept responsibility, make amends, and move on.

This would all probably be equally true if my son were neurotypical. My own neurology is a challenge for me, one that parenting has significantly exasperated. I don't know if Kelli Stapleton had any of what are sometimes called shadow traits, but I wouldn't be surprised. Many of us do.

2) I absolutely agree that Kelli Stapleton disregarded her daughter's privacy with her blogging. This is something I struggle with myself, because I have so few outlets for self-expression around this. One of the reasons I rarely blog here is the constant tightrope walking of, "can I say this without intruding too much on my child's privacy?" Usually the answer is no. Sometimes perhaps the answer should be no and I do it anyway, because I need the outlet so much. Like right now.

Perhaps the privacy issue just never occurred to Stapleton. I talked about my son all over the Internet for years before I wised up. I think she was wrong and misguided, but I don't think her blogging proves evil intent and hatred for her daughter, as some claim. And I see blatant sexism in some of what's been said about her -- tying in with what a good mother does or doesn't do.

3) One thing that I never seem to see mentioned in this story is the fact that Stapleton also attempted to kill herself. That to me is a sign of someone suffering through severe mental issues, rather than someone who is merely selfish or cruel. It does not excuse her, but yes, I do feel some pity for her.  My pity is not as someone who also has an autistic child, but as someone who's suffered from depression and other mental illnesses. It is literally a mind-altered state and it is not easy to "fix."

When I see people write about how no matter how hard their lives were, they never thought of hurting their children, I don't know what to think. Bravo? Congratulations on never having been that fucked up? Can you tell me what secret sauce you use? It isn't a sign of virtue -- it's a sign of sanity.

Let's keep on changing the narrative. There is no excuse for hurting your disabled child.  The victim should not be the one blamed.  We have to keep saying this. But we can say it without perpetuating harmful ideas about women, motherhood, and mental illness.


  1. Thank you for your thought provoking post. I agree that no parent is perfect and also that mental illness should not be minimized nor ignored. There are very strong opinions and emotions about the Stapletons, especially the tragic incident. With tweets, the limited amount of characters makes it difficult to tell a story in detail and it might result in a message that doesn't quite capture an issue adequately, particularly when it is a complex one like this. However, within the #IAmNotKelliStapleton/#WalkInIssysShoes flash blog that has also arisen in response to this, several of the posts do address mental illness, parenting mistakes, etc. It's not perfect, but the over 50 posts that are there are do provide a more comprehensive perspective than what's visible from the hashtags' tweets.

    The flash blog URL is