September 8, 2014

Suffering is not a Spectator Sport

I've been thinking about something for a few days. I'm not quite sure if it's worthy of a full blog post or if I'll be able to accurately or adequately express these thoughts. But I'll try.

Kelli Stapleton, a year after she attempted to kill both herself and her daughter, plead guilty to first degree child abuse. Kelli's family has been in my thoughts for a long time. As the parent of a child with severe behavioral issues, this case evokes some pretty complex emotions for me.

This recent news has also brought up the same discussions (I use the term loosely) on Facebook, the same "you're with us or against us" battles between autistic adults and parents of autistic kids. I won't go into that today.

Because what I've been thinking about isn't that. It's about how we all have the liberty to talk about this. How freely we blame, and pontificate, and judge and analyze and criticize. And how, for all except a few who do know and care about Kelli personally, this all smacks of so much gossip. How it is so easy to just speculate and fill in missing pieces, and be outside of—and above—it all.

But if this were your best friend, if this were your family, if this were YOU (and no one should be so smug as to think it couldn't be), these horrible events would be nothing short of a tragedy. It would be devastating to so many lives that you cared about. The Stapletons are living this nightmare.

And yes, we can blame Kelli for the acts that brought them to this tragic place. Although I do believe this is a complex situation, and I do believe that ANY of us could be brought to a breaking point, Kelli is, in the end, guilty.

But how, with all our Internet Outrage, are we actually helping anyone?

While we're thankful that Issy has (from what I understand) recovered physically from the incident, have we succeeded in getting Issy a safe environment where she can learn and be safe?

How does it help Kelli's other children to call her a monster? Children who, while trying to come to terms with the destruction of everything they knew, also miss the woman who loved them more than anyone in the world?

And while we're bickering over when and where it is appropriate to have conversations about better family support services, how are we helping Kelli's husband, a man who now has a family to raise by himself, including an autistic daughter, and must need more support than ever?

These are real people we're talking about. This is not reality TV or some kind of spectator sport. This is a family who is hurting. And I hurt for them too.


  1. YES! You have said exactly what I've been thinking this whole time.

  2. This, this, this this this times a thousand. From an autistic adult mother of an autistic child. THIS.

  3. true...its such a sad situation. People are so far away from another person's reality.

  4. Kelli tried to kill her daughter because the girl had a disability. We, as a civilized society, believe each and every person has worth -- so killing/trying to kill a person (like Issy) because she is disabled is a HORRIFIC act.

    The outrage is 100% justified. If a stranger had broken into the Stapleton home and tried to kill Issy with carbon monoxide, as she slept in her bed, EVERYONE would condemn that stranger. Because Kelli is Issy's mom does not make the crime one iota less horrific.

    Kelli had other options - place the girl in foster care, call 911 and tell the operator she was scared she'd hurt herself or Issy which would result in her getting Baker Act-ed (or whatever Michigan calls an involuntary psych hold), allowing her then-husband to care for the girl. The Stapletons were by all accounts a lovely, law-abiding family up until that horrible day last September -- so there is every reason to believe they'd be able to retrieve their girl from foster care.

    As for how Issy's doing? According to press reports, Kelli's ex-husband Matt is doing fine managing his 3 kids - including Issy - as a single parent.

    1. Yes, what Kelli did is horrific, absolutely. It has broken this entire family, Issy, her siblings, Matt - all of them - in so many ways. The outrage is justified. I agree. And maybe you are right that what she did opens her up to as much public outrage any of us can muster.

      It just feels all very voyeuristic to me, everybody using this case to push their own agendas. And maybe that's perfectly appropriate. Maybe not. It's just a feeling I have.

      (I'm not going to address the other issues of foster care, 911, etc. here because although those sound like solutions, most parents I talk to, including myself, truly feel there is no safety net. But that is not what this post is about.)

  5. Hi Jennifer,
    I am trying to connect with other special needs parents. I won't go into what we have been through with our son because would take of writing (the reason I have now started bloggin after 13 years)...When I was going through the awful ups and downs with my son I felt alone - again why I am sharing my story to try and provide some insight for others..You make so great point and you are brave to put your thoughts about this story out there. I agree totally - I have a background in clinical psychology and have my own theories on what happened to this woman. It takes a lot of strength to step back and try to find compassion for her. I totally agree - this is a very complex situation and I feel horrible for everyone involved - indeed a tragedy!


I love comments! Respectful disagreement always encouraged.


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