Parenting a child with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) is not for the faint of heart. It can be a discouraging, uphill battle. One of the questions I hear from parents most often is: Is there hope for a child with RAD? As the mom of two children who are diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, it’s a question I have asked myself often over the years as well.
Living with the effects of RAD in your home can wear on the whole family over time, especially if you don’t feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.
For many years, I heard therapists and experts and other parents parenting kids with RAD tell me that there was no hope. It felt like we had tried everything and things were only getting worse. I felt hopelessness and despair.
It wasn’t until my husband and I attended an Empowered to Connect conference in Minneapolis and heard Dr. Karyn Purvis speak that I had my first glimmer of hope.
“I’ve never met a child who can’t come to deep levels of healing.” ~ Dr. Karyn Purvis
Listening to story after story of children who had been able to come to a place of healing gave me something to cling to. I felt like I had hope for our children’s futures, for our family, for the first time in a long time.
I wish that I could say that after we came home from that conference and put into practise what we had learned, all the negative behaviours magically disappeared and our children quickly learned that they could trust us. They didn’t. I wish I could say that the road got easier. It didn’t.
The road was twisty and long. We were exhausted. We went through harder times than we had before. We asked for help. We accessed services and therapies. We nearly got to the end of our capabilities and our sanity.
For the privacy of our children, I am not sharing specifics of just how difficult things got. But I know that if you are parenting a child who has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, I do not need to share specifics. You know. You live this. I hope that it helps you just even a little bit to know that others have lived it too and have survived.
There is hope.
Our son and our daughter are showing healthy and secure attachment. They turn to us when they are sick or hurting and need comfort. They trust that we will meet their needs.
They make eye contact. They talk about their feelings. They hug us. They ask for what they need instead of “asking” through behaviours. They are able to accept correction and follow our rules (most of the time).
They are choosing me. Our daughter no longer wants to go with strangers or “shop for a new mommy”.
They show empathy and compassion for others. They are gaining confidence in who they are. They are accepting our love and are reciprocating it.
It feels like a miracle.
Their journeys have been different. Our son’s attachment to us came sooner, but his trauma still affects many aspects of his life. Our son has loved us fiercely for a number of years now, but our daughter was not able to allow herself to accept our love or love us in return.
And then, eight and a half years after she came to us, we began to see signs. They were small at first. Sometimes she would grow closer to us and then catch herself and push us away. Tuck-ins became longer as she began to open up to us and share her feelings. She began to sit next to me on the couch.
She was making eye contact and asking for my help with things. She was singing more and dancing with me in the kitchen.
I felt like I was holding my breath at times, afraid that in a puff, the magic would disappear and the angry girl would return. But the content girl stayed.
One morning, I noticed as our daughter was about to go to school that she had written something on her shirt in permanent marker. (There was a time when such a thing would have upset me, but one of the many things I have learned on this connective parenting journey is what is really a mountain and what isn’t. I’m not bothered by permanent marker on an old t-shirt now.)
I asked her what she had written on her shirt and she told me that today was Superhero Day at her school and since she didn’t have a superhero costume, she had decided to make hers.
She pulled her coat open to reveal what she had written on her shirt.
In case you can’t read that, it says, “My Mom and my Dad are my Superheros”!!!
I don’t have adequate words to describe the significance of that. There were so many years where she pushed me away, where she couldn’t accept my love, where she felt that she was betraying her first mom if she even smiled in my direction, where she expressed the depth of her hatred for me with nearly every breath.
I had tears in my eyes as I reflected on how far we had come. I also had tears in my eyes later that week when she wanted to hold my hand everywhere we went and tears in my eyes when I overheard her tell someone “I’m so lucky that I can love two mommies and two daddies”.
And the tears were streaming all the way down my face two weeks ago when she got baptized and shared her story in front of a building full of people, a story of loss and hurt, of sorrow and pain, of losing her first family and her first country and then of losing her hearing, but also a story of redemption and love.
Once she was able to accept our love for her, she was able to accept God’s love for her as well. That day felt like the culmination of our journey. It doesn’t mean that our journey is over, but having a symbol of how far we have all come was pretty special.
Our kids still have early childhood trauma that they are working through. Behaviours still rear their ugly heads sometimes when our kids forget to use their words or forget to talk about their feelings. But there are more good days than bad and there is a lot more joy in our home.
Things aren’t perfect. I don’t expect them to ever be. There is no “magic” cure for RAD, but there is hope.
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You may also want to read:
What I Wish You Knew About Parenting a Child with RAD
What a sweet story, and very timely for where we are at in our journey – a time of very strong reflection on our life with our oldest daughter who has an attachment disorder.
Mother’s day was kind of the beginning, when my daughter (who ran away last Labor Day and has been in an out of home placement since) asked to come to church with us, to cook me lunch, and spent the afternoon just relaxing and hanging out with us. Things have been going better for the past few months but these gestures were HUGE. As was when she said, “You ARE my mom, and I love you.” It felt like she meant it as much as she possibly can at this phase in her life.
She has been able to articulate more and more her gratitude to us for sticking by her through some very, very, very dark times (emotionally, physically and legally). She is able to admit that her choices are what has made things so hard for her. And so much more.
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting the past few weeks in part because she will be 18 in 33 days, and in part because I was asked to speak at a scholarship fundraiser for the 100% adopted adolescent focused treatment center our family was so very fortunate to find 3+ years ago when we didn’t think we would make it another day. Preparing my talk meant thinking back on that hard time and how far we’ve come.
And because our internet has been down for 2 days I took a couple of hours to clean out email folders and read email after email, and document after document I’d saved over the last 10 years with all the heartbreaking details of our journey.
We are still on a journey with our oldest, as well as our youngest who doesn’t have an attachment disorder but does have a trauma history that affects her emotionally and cognitively. And at moments I can’t believe we are on this side of the trauma that we experienced because of our oldest daughter’s struggles. But here we are…
Thank you for the things you write. My passion is also to help other parents of adopted kids so they don’t feel alone and hopeless like I did for so many years. I’m not a writer so I don’t blog; thanks for letting me share some thoughts on yours.
Sharla Kostelyk says
Thank you so much for reaching out. I read what you wrote several times. I saw some of our story reflected in yours and I find it healing to know that there are others on this journey too. I’m so glad to hear that there has been so much progress with your daughter. What may seem small to others is actually HUGE! I’m glad you’ve been able to reflect back on the long journey and realize just how far your family has come. I hope it continues to trend in a mostly positive direction (there’s always going to be some back and forth, but I hope it will mostly be “forth”).
Addy Brown says
Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) doesn’t just disappear with time, contrary to what some people believe. Children who aren’t effectively treated for RAD most often grow into adults with personality disorders.