Mothering a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder {A Guest Post}

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motherhoodbuttonI’m happy to welcome Tracee as a guest poster for the When Motherhood Comes Softly series. You can read more by her at her blog Butterflies and Dandelions. You can read more from this series by clicking the button to the left. We hope you are encouraged as you read about other woman as they struggle to grow into the role of mother by trusting in God day by day. If you would like to submit a post for this series, please read the introduction to this series and guest post submission guidelines. I look forward to reading your story!

reactive attachment disorderThe truth is… I never thought being a mom could be so hard.

When I got pregnant with my 13 year old I had confidence in my ability to be a good mom.  My son was an only child for 8 years and I was a good mom. Together, my husband and I raised a great kid.

When we adopted I still had that confidence.  Why not? The difficult kids were the older ones.  How different could raising a kid adopted at 18 months old be?

So where did my confidence go?  It’s gone.  My confidence in myself as a mom at 32 years old is minuscule compared to that as a 19 year old.  Isn’t that backwards?

Having a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) has sucked the confidence out of me.   I second-guess everything.  I have heard so many negative comments about my parenting; especially while my daughter was still so superficially charming that she manipulated everyone around her.  I understand how it must look to people. Really I do.

Let me paint a picture for you – here is this little girl… all the way into the building she’s angry.  She’s ready to go into a rage any second.  She’s trying hard to pull away, being defiant, throwing dirty looks.  The second she enters the building she transforms.  Now her head hangs.  Her lip quivers.  Giant tears glisten at the edges of her eyes. She glances up for someone to manipulate.  She catches one!  They move in close and ask, “oh darling, what’s the matter, you look so sad?”

Enter the mom.  That lady standing next to her that is still upset that less than a minute ago she was defiant and ready to run. The mom is cautious; she knows what’s coming, the child has caught someone with those big tears.  This is nothing new, mom’s tired and weary; she’s defensive and doesn’t look nice at all, hostile even.  She looks like she doesn’t give this child love ever.  Not that you’ve seen.  Every time you see her she’s annoyed.

The unsuspecting person decides the child just needs a big hug.

Here’s the hard part.  Mom has to say no to the hug.  Mom knows the child can’t get attention while manipulative, otherwise it will never end.  Healing is more important than mom saving face.

Wow! That mom isn’t very nice.  How can you deny a child comfort?  And then it comes later, the accusation – mom uses love as a punishment tool.  The shocked look to the mom.  The “I’m so sorry for you” look to the child.

And another ounce of confidence is chipped away.

This is where I lived.  Thankfully my daughter is healing!  This doesn’t happen every time we leave the house anymore.  I don’t dread church anymore, or the grocery store.  But my confidence is still gone and the hurtful words swirl in my head, especially on the hard days.  When you mix these harsh judgments with a child you’re trying to love that keeps rejecting you, it’s not easy. Rejection is coming from both ends.  How does a person deal with this?

All I wanted to do was love a child.

Please don’t read what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying it’s my child’s fault. She is a beautiful little girl, full of compassion and love. She is strong and amazing, angry, hurt and confused.  Most importantly she’s healing.

I’m not writing this for you to feel sorry for me.  Please don’t.  It’s hard but it’s a privilege to raise my daughter.  While I don’t enjoy the hard moments I do enjoy the progress that comes from them.  Every bit of healing is cherished.

I’m not writing this to make anyone feel bad if they have judged me and are reading this now.  I do understand what it looks like, really I do.

I’m not writing this so anyone will think I’m the perfect parent either. Hard parenting = PLENTY of mistakes.

I’m writing this because moms with RAD kids need support.  Thankfully I have a wonderful group of friends who supported me before they even knew what RAD was.  They all know I love my child and that every day I fight for her and pray for her healing.

If you know a mom with a child who has RAD and she looks exhausted…she is.  This article from is the best one I’ve seen on being supportive to RAD families.

In addition pray for them! Always remember – It’s not important for you to bond with the child, it’s important for the mom to, first, and foremost.

Most importantly, I’m writing this because I need to get it out.  It’s been pent up for too long and it’s time for healing.

For my daughter and for myself.

Tracee is a mom of four beautiful children, ages 13 years to 6 months.  She spends her days at home learning from her children all they have to teach about life and God’s love and mercy.  Tracee has a heart for encouraging moms, especially those touched by adoption, foster care, and infertility.  On her blog, Butterflies & Dandelions she covers many topics about mothering as well as cooking and sewing, her other two passions after God, her husband of 14 years, Tony, and her children.  You may also find her on twitter or instagram @MeTracee.

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  1. Thank you, Mary Beth, for introducing me to Tracee. I’m so grateful for brave mom’s who speak out with transparency to help educate the public. RAD sounds like such a difficult and trying thing to battle. I’m glad to read that your daughter is doing better, Tracee. Praying for rest and peace for your mamma heart. Much love to you, my friend.

  2. I’m on a blogging break, but hopped in to search for one of Mary Beth’s older posts. I saw the title for this one and knew I had to read it! We have RAD and FASD in our home. I have shared the same struggle you described above. There is something I have learned through it, very few opinions really matter. First of all, God is the ultimate authority in my parenting. Second, my husband has a lot clout. LOL. Finally, only the friends and family who really know us and our hearts AND know God have a right to influence our parenting. Anyone else can look and say all they want and it does not matter… to us. Of course, everyone matters to the child. Hopefully, she will get it someday, too. We talk to her a lot about choosing her influencers wisely.

    And yes, love does really work! We have found healing is possible. Slow and tricky, but possible.

    Bless you for sharing this!

  3. says:

    I’m so glad you shared this. There is so little that the general public knows about this and the challenges parents face. It’s easier to judge than offer to help. Thanks for this encouragement to reach out and love and pray. Blessings!

  4. I appreciate your honesty and openness. It allows me to be more aware of what I don’t see in a moment’s time than what I do see. There is always more to the story and I thank you for reminding me of this. I pray that if I ever witness a scene as you described that I will be understanding and prayerful for what I don’t see. Thank you!

    • Thank you Rebecca :) I do try to be understanding, myself, of how it must look to others. It’s so hard to explain to people who see our interactions without talking down about my daughter, which I try not to do. It’s a hard situation for the mom and the bistandard.

  5. StefanieYoungBrown says:

    What a powerful post!! My son has ADHD (recently diagnosed ~ he’s 9). His behavior over the years has been exhausting, frustrating and embarrassing. Thankfully, since the diagnosis, we’ve started on medicine and he’s also in educational therapy which works on his impulsive nature as well as his tendency to be easily distracted and his inability to remember and complete tasks. To God’s glory, both he and our home has changed for the better.

    I only recently began sharing about what we’ve gone though because I carried shame. I blamed myself for years. I have since come to understand this is who he was designed to be and we are the parents chosen for him. I’ve grown as a mother, becoming more patient and understanding.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I know it’s your heart on the screen and I appreciate that.

    • Thank you for your kinds words Stefanie :) I have carried shame about my daughter’s RAD as well. I wondered had I done more when she first came to us, would things be different now? She seemed so normal and happy in the beginning, a little strong willed but that’s normal for 18 months. If I did more to foster our attachment in the beginning would we be here now? It’s uncomfortable when our therapist reminds me it’s not my fault. As moms I think we feel like we have to fix it all, we forget that’s not our job. I have to give this to God over and over and know that through Him alone I have everything I need to parent my daughter.

      • StefanieYoungBrown says:

        You’re welcome. Thank you for responding.

        You’re absolutely right ~ we must continually give it over to Him. Every incident. Every moment. Every day. So thankful He’s faithful.

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