Attachment Changes Everything

I stayed up (too late!) last night working on the post about social workers. Writing these pieces churns up a lot of difficult feelings of parenting my struggling kids. But in the light of a new day, waking up to my sweet, sweet little boys pushes away the pain. There is no doubt in my mind that I love all my kids. Loving someone who is often mean and creates chaos in your life is a particular kind of love that is deep and selfless. It’s love-work because it is not an easy, free and happy love. It’s the kind of love that is solid, determined, committed – and – joyous at times. Many other languages contain multiple words for love to capture the nuances of the emotion. Ours has but one word to attempt to encapsulate the myriad ways in which we love. I find this so limiting, because it is not as if I love my attached kids more and my kids with reactive attachment disorder less. In fact, in some ways, the love for my kids with RAD is more fierce and primal.

But loving someone without RAD is such a different experience. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been on our journey, because of the inevitable judgment that if we effuse over the easy love of our non-RAD kids that we love our kids with RAD less. But I’m pretty much over this condemnation from people who did not take on what we have taken on. Let them parent children with RAD and then we’ll talk.

Parents of attached kids are allowed to experience the joy of caring for them. It is not selfish or uncaring toward my children with RAD, it is reality. I can also not even begin to describe how the 4 youngest children who I have parented have injected so much good into the hearts of everyone in our family, including my children with RAD (though they often won’t admit it, I see it.). I’ve also been able to channel the patience and joy into more effective parenting of my older kids. I have so much happiness in my heart with parenting my 3 youngest who’ve stayed with me (one was a foster) that I feel I could just burst.

None of these now-attached children came to us without their challenges, since no person escapes that fact of life. My youngest daughter was definitely on the attachment disorder spectrum when she came. My middle son raged for hours each night for nearly a month as he grieved the loss of his foster parents who’d raised him until he was 2. My youngest had some pretty rough months and struggled with biting and hitting. And yet their neurological systems were able to accept caring and love. Their brains were not so significantly wired down the path of RAD that we couldn’t pull them back into family, community and love.

They radiate with kindness, thoughtfulness and beauty. I do believe that it was their immense groundedness that helped keep me sane drudging through the past few years of horrors. It is kids like this who we ideally envision when we think of foster care adoption – the struggling kid who just needs love, stability and security to thrive. I will add, that there is still more than a little skill involved in helping them address the complex issues that they are dealing with, including the adoption itself, birth families and any trauma they have experienced.

Kids with RAD can and do heal. I saw so much growth in my oldest daughter between 4 and 15 that it was remarkable. We actually had a pretty close relationship and in many ways she was a rock-star. Circumstances beyond her control changed that when her brother’s return home triggered her trauma bond and PTSD and we had backsliding to a level I could never have anticipated. But she’s finding her footing again and I have to believe will be OK. Our son who suffered unimaginably before he came to us has not embarked on the adulthood we had envisioned. But when I think of how dark someone with his history could have become, I am actually in awe of how far he’s come. Of course I wanted so much more for him, but he has healed enough that he gives good, genuine hugs and tells me that he loves me every time I talk to him. There is progress, but the road has been long and painful.

But for today, the sun is shining and the sky is brilliant. And my little boys are walking around holding hands, coloring pictures together, giving me hugs and kisses and telling me how much they love me. The older boy just told me about how frustrated they were that they couldn’t find words in the crossword puzzle and that he taught his younger brother how to express his feelings of anger! He suggested that they could punch pillows, give themselves positive self-talk and go to their imaginary “happy place” in their minds. The younger boy added that he could climb a tree. 🙂 They are receptive to skills that have helped them cope and it is paying off in leaps and bounds. For today, I will celebrate their attachment and allow myself to feel it without guilt or judgment.


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