I was recently out with a friend who was sharing her pain of parenting adopted kids with a lot of needs. She made a comment in passing, but it stuck with me and I’ve been pondering it for weeks now. After much thought, I have to say that I completely agree with her. She put into words what I feel every day. Parenting kids with RAD ( Reactive Attachment Disorder) is not what I thought it would be. I can’t parent like my parents did. I can’t parent like my friends do. Here’s her quote: “I can’t be the mom I want to be because I have to be the mom my kids need.” Here’s what I mean…
I always imagined myself at soccer games, basketball games, or band concerts cheering on my kids who would wave with smiles. But what I know now is that playing on a team of any kind requires the ability to work with others, to be able to see outside oneself. It is impossible to be a team player if a child feels consistently bad about himself. He compares himself to others, feels like he doesn’t measure up, and then melts in a heap of self-pity unable to try. Or the opposite can also happen. If she feels bad about herself all the time, she might do whatever it takes to try to prove that she is good enough. She tries to keep control of the ball and everyone’s attention, with no regard to other players, the coach, or the team. So now even though it’s been 11 years and we have three teens, we’re still working on playing games as a family. Every time I have to remind them, “Just because another person wins, does not mean that you’re not valuable. I love you just as much even when your brother wins. You can choose to have a good attitude and be a good sport, even if you don’t win.”
I always imagined that our house would be like my house growing up- the place where all of our friends came and played. We had slumber parties, ate lots of homemade cookies, and sat around the big table for dinner with our friends laughing and chatting about the day’s adventures. But what I know now is that kids with RAD have a very hard time making friends. Making friends requires being friendly, being able to have a conversation, being able to see outside oneself to the needs and interests of others. We’ve had a few other kids over to play through the years. But without my constant supervision, they would either be ignored or be the awkward spectator of inappropriate behavior. If a friend was over to play with one of our kids, then another of our kids would get jealous and act out horribly to get my attention. Needless to say, the other kids didn’t reciprocate the invitation. So I’m working with my teens now on how to be a friend, how to have a conversation, how to listen to what other people say so that you can respond with a comment or question. We role play during dinner, taking turns starting conversations, listening, making eye contact, and responding. We practice how to go up to someone, look at him in the eye, and speak loud enough for the person to hear, saying, “Hi”. We practice and practice. Then I encourage them and give them opportunities with a high chance of success. When they aren’t able to do it, I’m there to reassure. “That’s ok. We’ll keep working on it. You’re still valuable. I love you no matter what and I always will. “
I always thought that we would go on lots of fun, family vacations together, making great memories. But I know now that kids with RAD have a hard time with changes in routine and over-stimulation. Whether something is exciting or stressful, they feel it the same inside- anxiety! Anxiety inside causes them to act out behaviorally and withdraw emotionally. The longer we are with extended family, the more they detach from us and start to physically push us away. Meltdowns are a daily norm. So a vacation isn’t the fun, family bonding time we thought it should be. Family vacation is double the parenting work without the structure that they so desperately need- and a week or two of “recovery” when we get home. And that’s just to get back to where we left off, which was a lot of work.
So I continue to persevere in parenting, knowing that I have to be the parent my kids need. I try not to think about what it would be like if I could parent like my friends parent. I try not to feel bad when I hear other moms talk about basketball games, swim meets, band concerts, or slumber parties. I continue to educate my friends and family so they understand more about our family and the unique challenges we face. And as I continue to be the parent my kids need, I have hope that they won’t always need this- there is progress being made.