One of the hardest things about parenting kids with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) is that other people can’t see the challenges. I’m sure from the outside, we seem like odd parents. We don’t parent like everyone else. I’m sure we sometimes seem to be treating our teens as little kids. Why, if I have teenagers, are they following me around the grocery store in the summer instead of home alone? Why are we leaving early from a social event to get the kids to bed? I guess I’m getting a little tired of people asking, “How old are they?” assuming that their age corrolates to their maturity and responsibility. If we had three kids in wheelchairs, everyone would expect us to have challenges in parenting and would understand why we do things differently.
Why do we leave early from social events to get the kids to bed? Because we know how little it takes for them to get disregulated. We know that excitement on the outside to them is felt like anxiety on the inside. That anxiety will come out the next day as inappropriate behavior. That behavior has consequences. Consequences make them feel worse about themselves than they already feel. So we get them to bed early to give them a higher chance of success. Wouldn’t any good parent try to set up her children for success?
Why are my kids following me around all summer, running errands and grocery shopping with me? Why are they with me at the Y when I’m working out? It’s the same reason- because I’m trying to set them up for success. With lying and deception as common as a teenager getting hungry, I can’t leave them at home hoping that they make good choices and tell the truth about what happened while I was gone. When I can’t trust them to make a responsible choice when I’m with them encouraging them to do the right thing, how can I expect them to make the right choice if I’m not there? Once again, why would I put them in a position that they can’t handle? I wouldn’t leave three kids in wheelchairs alone in a house that isn’t handicap accessible.
I’m trying to decide what to say when the next person looks at me curiously and asks me how old my kids are. Do I say, “Chronologically 14, 15, 16 but subtract 4 or 5 years emotionally”? Or, what about responding, “Do you want the actual age or the maturity age?”. But for the sake of my kids who hear the question, I just smile and say, “14, 15, 16. Aren’t they getting so tall?” and leave it at that.
I’m writing this blog as much for myself as for anyone else. Who, myself included, hasn’t made mental judgments on another parent without knowing the full story? We see the mom in the grocery store with a kid throwing a temper tantrum and silently think that she must not be a consistent parent. We hear about a kid who was suspended from school and we assume the parents must not be doing their job or their child wouldn’t get into that much trouble. But I’m challenging all of us to look deeper. There are many kids struggling with issues as severe as the ones in wheelchairs, but we just can’t see it.