Amazing Parents

Sometimes it\’s AMAZING. Sometimes it\’s just A MAZE.

When Love Is Not Enough

Six years ago a little toddler came into my home. He was shy, quiet, curious, and creepy. He didn’t play with his toys, laugh at jokes, or do the things the other kids his age were doing. He wanted me to hold him, but when I picked him up he rebelled against the affection. He would dig his chin into my shoulder until it hurt when I hugged him. He would cry for literally hours at a time for seemingly no reason whatsoever. If he got hurt, he most likely wouldn’t cry much at all and then wouldn’t let me touch him or offer a band-aid.

Everything in me knew that this was wrong….but….

The counselors, the “experts”, the teachers, members of our church, our family, our friends….they ALL said the same thing: “Just love him.” So, that’s what I did.

We got rid of our TVs, focused in on our baby, and tried to get settled into our new lives together. We sat and read one book after the other day after day after day with him. I held him even when he didn’t want me to. I tried to teach him nursery rhymes and lullabies. I even bought a baby sling and carried him in it almost 12 hours every day for that first year. He watched the world from my body, feeling my heart beat, feeling my sways and steps.

But at the end of that first year, he turned 2,and he wasn’t “better”. His temper tantrums were in fact much worse. His defiance was almost uncontrollable. His crying fits turned into screaming fits. He wouldn’t eat hardly anything, although we were finding food hidden in his bedroom, rotten and gnawed on. Still, the whole wide world just chimed together, “Just love him“. And so I did.

By the time he was 3, we had spent so much one on one time together every day that I really thought we were building a bond. It seemed as though he was starting to listen to me, pay attention to me. He not only knew the alphabet and all thier sounds, but he was beginning to read short books. He could count and add numbers on his little chalk board and I thought that maybe he was starting to change, starting to really take me into himself.

But after 3 came 4, and I wondered if he would even be ready for kindergarten. He might have been progressing academically, but emotionally he was still like a little baby. He could not follow the basic commands of ‘Come here’, ‘Sit down’, ‘No’, etc. He still could not stay within simple boundaries that we’d set. He couldn’t leave my sight without panicking, much like a 12 month old displaying that typical seperation anxiety would be. But when I returned from the bathroom or the laundry room, and I hugged him and told him, “See, I’m still here,” my comfort didn’t stop his panic. The crying and the screaming would not stop. But by now, Tyler was 5 and had lived in a loving, stable, predictable home for 4 years straight. We fed him, held him, never left him. Shouldn’t he be better by now?

Everyone said, “Look how far he’s come….Don’t forget how wounded he was….Look at what his mother did….Just continue to love him.” Their words were meant to help, but by now nothing anyone said helped us. Instead of us feeling empowered and comforted by the people we turned to for help, we felt helpless and weak. And as the years went by nothing anybody ever said made any sense. “Just love him” held no value, since we’d tried that for years with no results. Telling us to “Just love him” was now an insult to our parenting, to us as people. Just love him? He is our boy, our child, our son. We fought for him in court. We sacrificed everything we had to get him. I quit my job, I quit school to help this boy. We’d literally rearranged our whole life for him and given him 200% every day for years. We DO love him! We have tried that! Don’t you think we’ve tried to love him!?

Then there were the other types of advice that people loved to offer. At first these suggestions seemed helpful too, but eventually anything anybody said left a sour taste in my mind and sometimes the so-called advice would literally turn my stomach. I began to see everyone as uneducated and rude. The “Maybe he needs more structure,” and the “Maybe you’re too strict” — neither went over well with me. I’d often get those two suggestions on the same day, during the same outing, by 2 members of the same family we’d been to dinner with. It was days like that, that my heart would break so much. It was advice like that, that left me feeling hopeless for Tyler’s problems. Which way should we go, how should we handle this, what should we do? Are we too strict? We were too loose? Well, which was it?!!! And somebody tell me NOW before my child gets worse, before my heart breaks completely, before I lose sight of what it means to be a mom.

Six years ago that toddler came into my home. He grew into a boy who never got better, despite anything we tried. We waited six long, exhausting years before something someone said made any sense at all. A wise woman eventually asked me, “Have you ever heard of Reactive Attachment Disorder?” I naively answered, “No.” I’ll never forget the things she said that day. Would I someday find the light at the end of the tunnel? Would the maze end up navigable? Will my child be ok afterall?

For the first time in six years, I had a strange feeling in my gut. A feeling I hardly recognized. That feeling was hope. And that hope made me feel surprisingly safe.

The words that that wise woman spoke that day led us to getting Tyler a Psychological Evaluation. The results showed that Tyler did indeed have the terrible disorder known as RAD. He, like many of the RAD kids, also has Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  He also has signs of FASD and he was definitely drug-exposed in utero.

When I got those diagnostic papers in my hand, I think I literally started running with them. I started researching and researching all day long for months. I read everything I could get my hands on and I listened to every word the psychologists said. I had finally found something that actually made complete sense. I was so relieved to know that all along my gut instincts were right. That what all the well-wishers had advised me for years, to “Just love him”, was not enough. My child’s problems were, in fact, not my fault. We had in fact done so many things absolutely right. His tantrums weren’t because I didn’t give him structure. His defiance wasn’t because we were too strict. His crying wasn’t because I didn’t love him afterall.

With a child with attachment challenges, there’s no such thing as simply telling the parents to “Just love him.” That is a very hard, painful realization for a mother to grasp, especially a heart-broken, desperate mother, who has already tried that for years to no avail. Yet one that, for me, made total sense.


March 15, 2006 - Posted by | RAD Education

1 Comment »

  1. hey bethany im coming to you as you know more then anyone that i can trust ok julie and bob are going to class to be foster parents right now and in the class they talk about r.a.d kids but the teacher of the class said they only know just a little she said but what they told julie is the same stuff you told me, but julie told me something i wanted to ask you ok you know when jeremy left it was only for a short while and he would come and see the kids every day or every other day well ever sence jeremy left kobie never been the same and even paige is taking on his trates, we got kobie on one of the best supplements called listol and give him vitamins every day and omaga-3 fish oil and still nothing and we read to him everyday and you know me i give him hugs and kisses and nothing works this saturday we did a family day we took the kids out and we went to the mall and dinner and i thought i was going to have a nervis brake down because both of them wouldnt stop touching everything they could get there little hands on jeremy and i were going to take the kids to toys r us to pick out something special and kobie wouldnt stop we both told him if he doesnt act right then we are not going to go to toys r us and he was being bad so we said ok you lost that privlege so now we are not going and he threw the biggest fit ever and wouldnt stop crying, so what i was going to ask you is can a child kobie was 4 when that happend, adaped to having R.A.D but it wasent like he was neglected but maybe because i was so sad he took on that, thats what im a scared of and its like nothing jeremy and i do makes a diffrece we love that boy so much and jeremy and i doet over him and paige and they are, are world but what do you think that can help thinking taking him in to the doctors because my stress level cant take it any more and get him on something so if you think thats what we should do please write back you talk to many moms that have children like kobie and you being a mom and you being close to my kids im asking please tell me what i can do for him so we can fix it now so he can be all he can be so please write back peg

    Comment by peggy | January 11, 2009 | Reply

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