Updated: Jan 19
This post was updated in January of 2023
Many people start out the new year with optimism—they may look toward a healthier, more financially secure, or well-traveled year. But if you're raising a child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD), you aren’t like most people.
You may see a year full of more worry and stress rather than positive and exciting change.
As you reflect on years past, you might dwell on all of your mistakes. You'll be a better parent in 2023, you might tell yourself. Maybe you've told yourself (or someone else has told you) all the things you need to do differently with your child with reactive attachment disorder.
If that's the case, it's time for a new list. We're here to help.
As a parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder—whether via adoption, kinship, marriage, or otherwise—you deserve nothing but support and praise. But that’s rarely what you get. Most people give you lots of criticism but very little help.
Since most people don’t understand reactive attachment disorder, they often point fingers at those raising kids with the affliction. They may blame you for your child’s problems, even if those struggles began long before the child even entered your home. And sadly, you may have started to believe that you're to blame.
Let the guilt go
My family knows this heartache well. Over a decade ago, a very traumatized little boy entered our home.
Our son came to us absolutely broken. And we had no clue. We unintentionally caused our son more damage and heartache because we knew nothing about reactive attachment disorder. I now know that it wasn't my fault though.
Since most people don’t understand reactive attachment disorder, they often point fingers at those raising kids with the affliction. They may blame you for your child’s problems, even if those struggles began long before the child even entered your home.
I would have done so many things differently if I had known then what I know now. But I don’t carry “mom guilt” anymore. I know that I did the best I could with the information and resources we had.
Rather than dwell on past mistakes, I urge you to look ahead with a new outlook—a kinder one. Respect yourself and your journey through reactive attachment disorder. Figure out the support you need and then ask for it. With a new year ahead, it's time to start now.
7 resolutions to support your honorable journey as a parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder:
1. Trust your instincts as you seek professional support.
If you feel like something is “off” with a therapist or other professional, it probably is. It is most likely not you. Share your concerns. If you don’t get answers that feel right, move on to the next professional. The wrong professional will do more harm than good. Some professionals (admittedly, not many) do “get” reactive attachment disorder. Seek them out, no matter how long it takes.
2. Find your tribe.
There are thousands of parents out there like you, believe it or not. You are not alone. Dig deep (many private groups exist on the Internet). Persist. When you find others going through the same experiences, you will feel validated. You might start with our Facebook page here.
3. Keep educating about reactive attachment disorder.
To live with reactive attachment disorder is lonely. The disorder is hard to explain. You take the time to educate others, only to be dismissed over and over again. But persevere. Our kiddos, and frankly the world at large, needs you to keep going.
4. Share your honest story in a calm way.
Share your story with people in as calm of a way as you can muster. The more people who know the realities of living with reactive attachment disorder, the more change we can make collectively as parents. As you do, however, try to remain calm. They can't "hear" you if you're flustered and angry. As frustrating as it is, try not to take their reaction or lack of understanding personally. Remember, they don't understand. That's why they need your help to process it.
I don’t carry “mom guilt” anymore. I know that I did the best I could with the information and resources we had.
5. Remember your worth.
You are an amazingly extraordinary parent! Parenting is tough. But raising a child with reactive attachment disorder is often downright paralyzing at times. Give yourself grace and insist on some self-care. Even if all you can manage is to head to bed early, do it.
6. Expect change.
The world is nowhere close to understanding the realities of reactive attachment disorder. That’s why kids and families don’t get the support and resources they need to heal. But that doesn't mean you should settle for less. It is reasonable to expect and ask for the following:
Children with reactive attachment disorder deserve healthcare that meets their needs, including specialized treatment professionals.
Institutions of higher education need to teach students (especially our future mental health professionals) about attachment disorders, not just attachment issues.
Insurance companies need to understand the true needs of children with reactive attachment disorder. What they need is in stark contrast to what they get.
7. Ask for help.
You can't do this alone. Despite what they say, you can't fix reactive attachment disorder with love and time. In fact, the disorder only festers the longer it goes without quality help. Find support wherever you can. And remember that RAD Advocates is here for you. We can stand beside you and help you get your voice and your needs heard. We’re committed to offering the help we needed but couldn’t find back in our darkest days.
The way through is you. Be kind to yourself.
The system meant to support children with reactive attachment disorder and their families is broken. But there’s a way through—it’s relentless education and self-advocacy.
It's a hard reality to face that you know more about this disorder than most professionals. You can't always rely on clinicians to guide you. You'll have to do it for yourself. But you don't have to do it alone. Even though you feel like no one in the world understands, we're here to tell you firsthand that thousands of parents worldwide are in the very same spot.
The world is nowhere close to understanding the realities of reactive attachment disorder. That’s why kids and families don’t get the support and resources they need to heal. But that doesn't mean you should settle for less.
People often ask me if I’d adopt again. I say it depends. There's not a chance I'd adopt all over again without knowing what I know now. But if I knew then what I know now, I'd adopt again in a heartbeat. Not all hope is lost. Even if children come to us broken, the families raising them needn’t break too.
In 2023, be the hero you need and deserve. Speak up for yourself and your family. But, as you do, be kind to that hero. Pat yourself on the back and keep your head up as you go. And remember that you have every right to do so.