Parenting Trauma - word vomit

Posted by admin on March 14, 2013

Parenting a child with a traumatic past is extremely draining. It is labor intensive, always second guessing yourself, never knowing which "expert" to listen to, not sure if you will make things worse or help the child move forward. There is almost no self care time available, the siblings get pushed to the side because they seem to be doing "OK" compared to Mr. 3 hour Meltdown, and your spouse will feel isolated or ignored as well. You keep telling yourself it is temporary, because you are desperate to believe it, but nothing about two hours of primal screaming feels temporary. You feel locked in an abusive relationship ready for vicious lies, destroyed furniture, feces smeared walls and physical attacks at a moments notice, or less. We begin to feel victimized, we began to feel targeted and destroyed, we begin to feel that nothing will work. We begin to realize that we, the adults, have fallen apart.

Once you find a method or a groove, maybe respite, or a solid school program, or even a group of understanding parents also living the nightmare- you begin to realize that the "experts" are not experts at all. That many of them do not have degrees or proven studies of hard data to show results. They each might have a few "case studies" of an individual they "saved" but at the end of the day, there isn't enough collected data to tell you why anything worked and if the sacrifices made were worth it, or if it could even be duplicated. There comes a point when you realize the best thing you can do is empathize with the child, lower your expectations and find ways to smile together, even nonsense ways, especially nonsense ways.

We have to accept that even if a child was from a horrifically abusive and neglectful background, adoption itself is trauma. Changing countries, languages, food, surroundings, smells, familiar people- is traumatic at any age. (Add in the complication if they were in a loving family and forcibly or fraudulently removed.)We are causing trauma and declaring the ends justify the means. We aren't the ones that get to say that. That isn't our judgement call to make.We are causing trauma, pledging allegiance to "attachment specialists" without a lick of real data to prove their methods and then we are falling apart at the trauma circulating throughout the house from family member to family member, which in turn causes more trauma for everyone involved, especially the child that was just placed with strangers that can't speak their language and keep touching the child. When do we stop pissing in the wind? When do we say enough is enough? When do we realize that we, the adoptive parents, do *not* have the life experience to say the ends justify the means?

Everyone wants to know how is it possible that a textbook R.A.D child that once wanted me dead and was willing to do it by his own hands is now hugging me and seeking a relationship with me? What medication is he on? What therapy approach do we use? What RTC did we use? What do we do for redirection and punishment? What type of therapist did we use?

I am going to tell you a little secret- RAD is real. RAD is absolutely real. However, it is not a unique, rare breakdown from multiple care givers, and an inability to empathize. It is a REASONABLE response to trauma and feeling unsafe. Seriously, read that again: It is the reasonable response to trauma and feeling unsafe. You fight or flight. Fight the situation- the new language, the new food, the people that keep smiling and touching you and saying they love you but are strangers. Flight from the situation- shut down, don't feel, don't be vulnerable, withdraw into yourself, be anti-social with the strangers that keep saying they love you and touching you. RAD isn't some big scary beast that we need to call in an Exorcist or use a Papoose Board to overcome. It is just simply TRAUMA and the natural response to trauma: fight or flight. 

Vivace had extreme trauma, he is easily diagnosed chronic PTSD, but what if it is us that had RAD? What if we, the adults, are so thrown by the needs of these children, so disoriented from the marriage of our expectations to our reality...that when their trauma explodes we reactively reactively, that it negatively impacts our attachment to the child who is still having a trauma eruption...

He had chronic PTSD, I had RAD with a piggyback case of In-over-my-head-itious and we just kept feeding off each other. Trauma feeds reaction, reactions not based in data proven methods, trauma answers the reactions louder, reaction becomes louder, trauma gets louder...and the peanut gallery of non credentialed "experts" keep cheering for you to piss in the wind all the while we can't figure out why this abused, neglected (or loved and stolen from original family) child isn't attaching to strangers, in a manner that is acceptable to us- the non traumatized ones? 

The BIGGEST shift Vivace had was when he started talking about his life experience in Ethiopia with a male adult outside of the family. It was NOT with me. It was with an adult he formed a relationship with and trusted. The BIGGEST shift I had was when I stopped trying to parent him, and started offering a soft place to land as an invested mentor. The lies we were given and he/we lived for the first few years of his adoption were exasperating an already destructive relationship of unrealistic expectations and false "truths." I am extremely grateful for my therapist in NC and her ability to let me pour out parenting insecurities and brainstorm possible reasonable responses with him, her way of gentle guidance of looking at each challenge from a different perspective. She never claimed to be anything she wasn't or know anything she didn't. The healing that began in the year plus that I was seeing her, allowed me to be a healthier parent and make healthier choices in my responses to Vivace's trauma behaviors.

Everyone thinks his RTC was some magic pill, but the truth is that RTC is under investigation. I was on them worse than I am on the schools. I was calling, emailing, following up and traveling down there so much that I should have gotten paid, I was certainly logging overtime and holding the RTC accountable was already a full time job. They were crap and what he got most from that facility was being around other deaf kids. His language grew and his understanding of relationships grew. We all got space to heal and regroup, we got insurance paid respite for 19 months. We finally got rid of the parasites right before his admission, so he literally grew into himself while he was there. Time, consistency, and language are the biggest factors in his progress. There are no magic pills or special fairytale lands that hold magical RTCs....there are kids so deep in trauma they need outside help or a safe place to be, there are families so overwhelmed they can not function appropriately for these children. It happens. Our response has to change and part of that response is the prevention of unethical adoptions, along with holding agencies accountable, and asking the tough questions of "attachment experts"- like "What are your credentials?" "Where is the data to prove this method?"

We have to stop seeing RAD diagnosis as curses and start seeing them as a measurement of trauma the child has experienced. If a therapist, psychiatrist or any other doctor says "Your child has Reactive Attachment Disorder" instead of letting your mind wonder to all the horrible stories and possible outcomes- hear their words as this, "Your child has suffered unspeakable trauma, they need you." If we change our own REACTIVE response to RAD diagnosis, and see it as a significant trauma measurement tool, then the cycle of destruction can stop with us, because we are stopping the reactive knee jerk responses.

- Jillian (who blogs at Rooted in Love)

Comments Welcome

Posted by Rachel on
You said my thoughts and feelings so beautifully. Thank you for allowing us to use your words to help families put things into perspective. Amazing job!
Posted by Ruth Watson on
wow! you said it ALL!! From the crappy RTC, to the crowds cheering us to continue pissing in the wind, to the fact that these are perfectly normal responses. thank you!! sometimes it's just good to know we aren't alone!
Posted by Mum on
In the trauma I am there when you are lost, I am sorry that I caused it - some word, comment etc that changed you in an instant but I am there with you for all time. You are the most beautiful daughter and I admire your strength (just make it a bit less forceful at times !)
Posted by Terry Wilfong on
I adopted 5 children and 3 of the 5 came from one family and they are RAD I gave 2 of the older girls back to DHS, they were 9 and 8 years old and put things in my drink and put bleach in a child drink, she said she just wanted to see people die...
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