Raising children where quality time always ends in tears? This is my life. This is their lives. And maybe this is your life, too. I’d like to think that after 4 ½ years of living with me and my husband, I would be able to do JUST ONE activity with my kids without RAD showing up to join the party. But sadly, that is not our reality.
I’ve noticed that I’ve been conditioned by their emotional outbursts to avoid quality time at all costs. It’s my survival mechanism. Now, as their mother, I obviously can’t do this. And as a therapist, I obviously know that I shouldn’t do this. However, deep inside, I know that if I engage with one or both of my older children doing something they’ve requested, inevitable tears or tantrums will follow. It somehow won’t be good enough, I won’t have helped both children “equally”, or their high expectations will be disappointed with my imperfect parenting performance.
Therefore, I feel exhausted before we ever begin a craft, a Lego project, or a tent made out of blankets. I am often ready to quit by Step 1, even though being the Keeper of the Children, the one responsible for teaching them all these seemingly impossible things, doesn’t allow for me to be the one to quit.
Here’s what I know about my kids and their Reactive Attachment Disorder issues:
1) Self-sabotage is REAL and it shows up whenever we do anything that requires thought, creativity, talent, or social skills.
All things that my children perceive they may fail at becomes an instant enemy… even if it’s something they, themselves, have chosen to do. A perfect example of this is my son. At 10-years-old, he has struggled to find his strengths in life. Sure, he brags to his friends that he can do this or that, and he tries to show off in the most awkward of ways, but in his heart, he believes he is a failure. So when we attempted to do a craft of his choosing this afternoon, he blew up within the first 3 minutes. After he “calmed down”, he then proceeded to work far below his capabilities on the rest of the activity. Finally, after I’d helped him and assured him that it was wonderful and that he is talented and that he is loved and ALL the things that he needs to hear each and every craft we do, he tossed his finished product into the trash.
It is easier to sabotage their work than to try their hardest and others realize that they aren’t perfect.
2) Sabotaging others is a definite, particularly if the other person is currently receiving praise or attention.
This is the case with my children, 100% of the time. When one is accomplishing something and gaining praise from an adult, the other “accidentally” breaks the successful child’s trophy, art project, report card, or fort. Without fail, if one child tries and succeeds, the other child tries even harder to spoil their efforts.
It feels better to know that someone else is miserable right along with them, even if they have to create the misery themselves.
3) The more love they’re given, the more they believe they are unloved.
I know, it makes no sense, but it’s true. When my children are given any amount of extra attention, it somehow serves as a mirror to their pasts – reflecting back to them any other moment when they felt betrayed, cast off, or unwanted. So, the more I cheer at a swim meet or gymnastics event, the less my children try – the defeat dripping off them with slumped shoulders, frowns, and all-out quitting. Immediately following a good report card, I am constantly peppered with self-deprecating statements such as, “I know you like her better, don’t you? Just admit it!” or “I’m stupid and you know it. That’s why you wish you never would’ve adopted me.”
Believing they are unlovable is easier than believing they’re capable of being loved.
Parenting a child with RAD often means choosing not to get overly excited when they do something well in order to prevent the self-sabotage.
It means celebrating holidays and birthdays with minimal excitement or stimulation in order to prevent tantrums.
It means keeping my own emotions level, even when I want to show excitement, grief, anger, or happiness during basic life events. I do this in order to keep them from ruining the moment with their need to try to mimic my emotions inappropriately or, worse, act out behaviorally so that the attention is back on them.
It means loving them carefully, almost so they don’t know they’re slowly being loved and the self-deprecation can’t take over.
It means making myself still build forts and Lego constructions and art projects, despite knowing that it will likely end in disaster.
It means preparing for fall-out when a stranger compliments one of my children and not the other.
It means gluing together all the broken things that were ruined by a jealous and insecure sibling.
It means choosing the days wisely – picking quality activities on days with enough time to also deal with the following melt-downs.
It means looking at other families and being envious that they get to go on vacations and holidays and day trips – jealous that they get to enjoy their children, not just survive them.
And it means saying “I love you” even when it will be returned with “No you don’t.”
Parenting a child with RAD means writing blog posts and hoping that someone else out there will say, “Yes! Me, too!” and that we can be a reminder that we’re just doing our best – trying to love and teach kids that don’t always know how to accept our offerings. Because at the end of the day, we actually aren’t responsible for their successes or their failures. We are only judged on our own actions and efforts – our choices to build the forts and create the weird-looking art projects that would NEVER be shared on Pinterest. We are accountable only for our love, not theirs.
And parenting a child with RAD means building up those walls of support, speaking those words of encouragement, providing those breaths of fresh air to our fellow parenting Warriors.
We love. And that is enough.