I may get judged heavily by what I am about to say, especially by people who know me personally. I have two children who, by no fault of their own, have made much of my life a living nightmare over the past eight years. That’s not to say I don’t love them with all my heart, but they have made it very difficult for me to like them. That is because of RAD.
RAD is short for Reactive Attachment Disorder. It is a disorder caused by a lack of attachment to any specific caregiver at an early age, and it results in an inability for the child to form normal, loving relationships with others. This is most often seen in children who are fostered or adopted, as is the case in our family. My children’s biological father was not in the picture when they were young. Their mom has severe mental health and drug issues, and she spent time in and out of jail, as well as just being detached herself much of the time due to her own problems. As a result, the children were passed around between grandparents, babysitters, Mom, Mom’s friends and boyfriends. When they came to live with us, they were preschool aged. They knew us, as we were already family members, but not well, as we lived in a different state. What was supposed to be a temporary situation became permanent when we just couldn’t bring ourselves to put the kids back in the chaotic situation from which they had come.
At first things were ok; they were typical little kids who had their ups and downs and challenges and struggles. As time passed, there were major red flags that started going off and gave us a look into our present situation. There were physical fights started by the two kids with each other and our other children. There was lying, stealing, damaging people’s property, and bullying – Oh, how there was bullying! These two children, in order to make themselves feel empowered, would pick on two of my children in ways that have negatively affected them for life. There was even bullying at school by one of my children – yes I, a strong advocate for children my entire life, was raising a school bully.
Finding therapy for our children proved difficult at first. There are very few therapists who actually specialize in dealing with Attachment Disorders, and, of course, none of them were on our insurance. Thankfully, we had been working with someone with one of our other children who turned out to specialize in this very issue, and thus began our journey to try to find some help. This has been going on for the past four years (all out of pocket on an almost weekly basis). To say it has been a difficult road to travel would be a gross understatement.
My children find it almost impossible to trust me. Who can blame them? They had a mom who, in their mind, abandoned them, so they think that’s what moms must do. They had a dad who was abusive, and then various male figures in and out of their mom’s life so they could never get too close, because if they did, that person would soon get ripped away. Mom was often high or asleep or too depressed to function, so at two and three years of age, my daughter would have to take care of her younger brother’s needs to the best of her ability. It’s easy to see how she could have a hard time taking direction and being told to focus on herself and not other people given what she had been through. They act out because, subconsciously, they are waiting for me to push them away in the way their other mom pushed them away.
There have been some unbelievably emotionally, and even physically, painful things that have taken place in our family since we brought these children into our daily lives. And it still goes on, though, thanks to therapy, to a lesser extent with at least one of the kids. I have spent the last few years feeling angry, bitter, and despondent at times because I feel like, by trying to do the right thing, I destroyed my family. I forced two of my children to live with their own personal bullies for years. I have lost friends because of their actions. I look at them sometimes and feel nothing positive, only sadness that I can’t turn back the clock and somehow fix all of this before it started. I honestly feel as though I am suffering from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and, like the sound of gunfire may deeply affect an ex-soldier, the sounds of their voices make me want to run and hide. As I said, I love them deeply, and I do feel that I am now their mom, but there are days I just wish someone else would take this responsibility away from me and let me live in peace again.
I have hope that things will turn out ok for them someday, and they will be able to make intimate connections with people and not feel that they have to destroy those bonds before they can get hurt. Thankfully, outside of our house, the children are generally very well-behaved and friendly and are liked by those who get to know them. Therapy has helped tremendously with one of the children, and there isn’t a constant daily struggle there anymore. For the other child, I wish I could say that things were looking brighter. While there has been some progress made, day-to-day life is still a constant battle of wills. I am trying to learn to keep my anger in check and not let things get to me so much, but it is hard, harder than most people can even imagine. Most RAD parents feel very alone, and finding support isn’t easy.
I keep pushing forward, though, and I take one day at a time, as that’s the only choice I have. I cannot and will not allow my children’s prophecy that I am going to send them away become self-fulfilling, even though much of my life I wish I could. Just because I completely understand what has caused the kids to be the way they are, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. The guilt I feel sometimes because I can’t “fix” them, because I can’t take back what has happened to my other children because of them, because I look at them sometimes and wish they would just go away, is overwhelming. But I will push forward knowing that being a RAD Mom doesn’t always feel that “rad”, but a mom is a mom, and I won’t give up on my kids.