Dear friends & family

Dear Friend,

I’ve told you before how I’m struggling with my child’s behavior but I’m not sure you understand how serious—how desperate—things are.

Here’s the unvarnished truth—my child relies on manipulation and melt-downs to control his surroundings. He refuses to follow the simplest of instructions and turns everything into a tug-of-war as if it’s a matter of life or death. Every day, all day, I deal with his extreme behavior. He screams, puts holes in walls, urinates on his toys, breaks things, physically assaults me and so much more. I’m doing the best I can but it’s frustrating and overwhelming.

Most people, maybe even you, blame me for my child’s behavior. This makes me feel even worse. I already blame myself most of the time, especially because I’ve struggled to bond with him.It’s heartbreaking to know he only feigns affection to get something from me. There’s not a parenting strategy I haven’t tried. Nothing has worked. Often, I feel like a complete failure as a mother and struggle to face each new day.

Fortunately, my child’s behavior makes a lot more sense to me now that he’s been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Let me explain. When a child experiences trauma at an early age his brain gets “stuck” in survival mode. He tries to control the surroundings and people around him to feel safe. In his attempt to do so, he is superficially charming, exhibits extreme behaviors, and rejects affection from caregivers. Unfortunately, even with a diagnosis, there are no easy answers or quick treatments.

Even though I work so hard to help my child heal, friends and family often don’t believe or support me which is incredibly painful. I understand it’s hard for you to imagine the emotional, physical, and mental toll of caring for a child with RAD when you haven’t experienced it yourself. And, you can’t possibly be expected to know the nuances of the disorder and its impact on families like mine. That’s why I’m putting myself out there about the challenges I’m facing.

What I need most from you is a shoulder to cry on and an ear upon which to vent—without being judged, second-guessed, or not believed. Click To Tweet

When you undermine me, you inadvertently set back the progress I’ve made in my already tenuous relationship with my child. I wish you could understand how good my child is at manipulating people—how he turns on that sweet, charming side you usually see. In fact, you may never witness a meltdown or even realize he’s manipulating you. Yes, he’s that good. When you think he’s bonding with you, know there’s always an end in mind. He may seek candy or toys. The biggest win of all for him, however, is to get you to side with him against me.

Here’s how easily it happens—my child is sitting in timeout, looking remorseful as he watches the other kids play. You think I’m too hard on him and say, “He’s sorry and promises he’ll make better choices next time. How about you give him another chance?” You need to understand there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that you simply don’t see or know about.

When you undermine me, you inadvertently set back the progress I’ve made in my already tenuous relationship with my child. The structured consistency—what you feel is too strict—is exactly what my child needs to heal and grow into a healthy, happy and productive adult.

Please know I’m following the advice of therapists and professionals. Strategies for raising a child with RAD are often counterintuitive and, watching from the outside, you may not agree with them. That’s okay. But, instead of interfering, would you give me the benefit of the doubt?

Over the years, well-meaning people have said some pretty hurtful things to me, things like:

•All kids have behavioral issues. It’s a phase. They’ll grow out of it.
• He’s so sweet. It’s hard to believe he does those things.
•Let me tell you what works with my child…
•Have you tried _______?
• Oh, he’s just a kid. I’m sure he didn’t do that on purpose.
• A little love and attention is all he needs.

I know these sentiments are meant to be helpful, but here’s the thing—my child isn’t like yours.

He has a very serious disorder. Statements like these minimize our situation as if there are easy solutions that I just haven’t tried. Honestly, I’m not looking for advice. What I need most from you is a shoulder to cry on and an ear upon which to vent—without being judged, second-guessed, or not believed.

Reactive attachment disorder is a challenging disorder that’s difficult to treat so we have a long road ahead of us. Everyday is a struggle and I’d love to be able to count on you but not for advice or answers. I just need you to listen and offer encouragement. I know how deeply you care for me and my child and I’m thankful to have you in our lives. I’ve lost some relationships through this incredibly difficult journey. I don’t want to lose you too.


A parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder

This is my latest blog post for the Institute for Child Development and Attachment. Please share this letter to raise awareness for parents of children with reactive attachment disorder.

19 thoughts on “Dear friends & family”

  1. What if it’s your husband and adult children that don’t understand? Our adopted daughter 9, uses triangulation between my husband, myself and her. The focus always comes back to me, in a negative way. I’m going through training, in a group way, with a therapist, who is a adoptive mom herself and understands developmental trauma disorder or rad. It’s so hard.

  2. Bravo for sharing and writing about your journey. I am a Mom of a RAD child and struggled for years with loneliness, depression and anxiety due to the “advise” from “helpful” people. The finger pointing was very hurtful and built on the hole of the abyss of my life. This child is now an adult who has no desire to be a part of my life, but has grown to be a productive adult. Thank God for her determination and fire. She chose to show everyone she was going to do this her way. There is hope past all the pain, one day there is healing.

  3. This sound a lot like our son John. We adopted him as a 6 year old. Initially things seemed normal enough. He learned English quickly and made friends easily. He also lied about everything imaginable and stole things from his friends and from us.

    At age 10 we started him in intensive counseling with Dr. Greg Keck, an Attachment Specialist. (Dr. K. has since died.) John was suspended and kicked out of school numerous times. He charmed his way into getting privileges and things from other adults who didn’t know what a liar he was. During his teenage years we became we came to know our local police force on a first name basis. John spent about half of his teen years at the Detention Home. (Those were periods of relief for me.) He started abusing alcohol at age 14.

    He always had money – even without a job and with no access to his bank account. I suspect he was selling pot at school. He ran away, but was always found quickly.

    While all of this was going on a was a City Council Representative in the small community of Avon Lake. Many of John’s poor choices were reported in the local weekly paper. I felt like I my life was a three ring circus!

    John has had some training as a chef and has worked in some of Cleveland’s finest restaurants. He always left or was fired after 90 days. Alcohol has been a constant problem.

    He moved back home with us in 2017 and our life turned to chaos. He was out at all hours. Either coming home drunk at 3 am or not coming home at all. Never a call to tell us what is going on.

    Today John is in jail for multiple drunk driving charges. He doesn’t remember any of this. In his last accident, he had a hip broken in three places and was flown to the University Hospital Trauma Center downtown. It is the fourth time he has been hospitalized for car wreck injuries.
    We just got a notice from the State of Ohio saying that his driving privileges have been permanently revoked. GOOD!

    I realize that I am not uplifting you with any of this. It sure felt good to vent!


  4. My heart goes out to you. Love and prayers with you always. I hope you can feel my arms around you❤❤❤❤❤

  5. My wife shared this to her FB page. When I saw that she didn’t write anything about how it affected us personally, I had to share to mine. I just had to add my story. We are pretty isolated nowadays and I thought it was time to let my friends and family know why.

    Thank you so much for writing this letter. It made me talk, and even though I didn’t want to, I needed to.

    This is what I added: 

    This is our life.  If you know me well, you know the Hell that our lives have become since we adopted 3 years ago.  I used to be outgoing.  I’ve changed.  I don’t want to hear the typical responses.  The “oh he’ll grow out of it”, “They’re just kids.  All kids do that.” (Trust me, they don’t and I’m not ready to share examples) comments and the “love and hug ’em” comments are the worst. Undermining the work we do on a daily basis to keep some form of normality in our home hurts. Something as small as you “sneaking” a chip to them behind our backs (I do see you..I’ve become very hypervigilant in the past 3 years) can cause a complete meltdown that we are left to deal with.  It can either happen in front of you because you said yes but I said no and you continued to fight for my kids to have “just one” or it can happen in the privacy of our home later that night when we have to say no to something else (like the fact that he now can’t eat a whole bag of chips and has to share, etc.).  Or, it can lead to obsessive behavior towards you, including trying to break into your home and watching you through the windows, all because you bought into the lies and shared a drink or food with him because he “hasn’t eaten in a week and isn’t allowed to come inside” (Just ask our neighbors. They won’t even speak to him anymore ..and yes, this was a wtf moment for us too).  Best suggestion:  Don’t offer.  Trust me. My kids get what they need at home. Ask the parents…and only once, because when we say no, there is a reason and our mind isn’t changing….not “well, I’m sure your mom won’t mind, do you mom?” Take everything up with the parents.  Anything much more than a hi could land you as the next contestant in the Manipulation Game.  If we tell you something, believe.  It did happen. Yes, they eat….at least 3 times…every day.  Yes, they do have parents and those parents would buy them new shoes IF they hadn’t ripped up the last few pairs until they found that 1 random person to buy them the ones that they really wanted.  Don’t entertain.  Manipulation and control is on their minds 100% of the time.  It’s where their brains are stuck. It’s their form of survival….and it sucks for everyone around them.  Just be there….for the parents. Offer to babysit (you won’t see the behaviors,  they’re too busy trying to manipulate you at this point) or even just listen.  Like the writer said, we don’t need suggestions. They’ve all been tried.  I can’t even begin to count the therapists. Just be there. That’s all we need.
    We adopted 3…all with RAD (of course undiagnosed at adoption).  This letter that Nita shared from a website is just a small insight to our world. I have more. I’ve been collecting. I just haven’t posted.

  6. Well done you for writing about this … it’s a tough road ahead but you seem to me to be a do-er … someone who is dealing with this head on. The best way …. Keep on going and keep on writing. We’re all here! Katie x

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