What a parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder will still tackle after the pandemic
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
When I chatted with a friend recently, I remarked how crazy life feels in the midst of this global pandemic. To my surprise, she felt like her life had not actually changed much in the last several weeks. “The virus does not seem real because I don’t know anyone who has it and my life is about the same as before,” she said.
My friend and I are women leading similar lives from the outside. Yet, our daily experiences have been drastically different. It is similar to how I feel raising a child with reactive attachment disorder.
My life has changed in several ways in the weeks of quarantine. The kids came home from school. Many important events have been canceled. I am unable to visit family who live in other states. My husband is an essential worker so we have been reading, talking, and thinking about COVID most of the time. It is his job to know all the details so he can protect his patients and himself.
Just as my friend cannot understand our lives during the pandemic, very few people have been able to relate to my last several years as a parent.
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It is impossible for others to fully comprehend reactive attachment disorder. This is especially true because the reality I live at home with my daughter is entirely different from the way others experience her.
A friend once said to me, “If I did not know you, I would not believe your daughter is so challenging at home because she is so charming with me.”
Reactive attachment disorder is like COVID in that way. What we see and experience as parents are not what others see and experience. So they may not think the disorder is real or as difficult as we say it is. They may think we are being over the top with our actions and concerns for our child.
After this pandemic has passed, most of us will move on with relief. Yet those raising children with reactive attachment disorder will continue to live every day with these realities that are so similar to COVID—
There is no cure.
Just as there is no vaccine for COVID right now, there is no medication for reactive attachment disorder. Parents and children with reactive attachment disorder will continue to struggle without a simple solution long after we have a cure for COVID.
We didn't see it coming.
Like COVID, parents typically do not expect reactive attachment disorder to impact their lives whatsoever. In fact, very few parents had heard of reactive attachment disorder or knew their children struggled with the disorder until it changed their lives completely.
It has altered our lives in significant ways.
Living amongst COVID is the new normal in our country right now. It requires us to change the way we live. Living with reactive attachment disorder is my old normal. The way I parented before does not work for my child with reactive attachment disorder. The way we move through the world as a family is different.
We do not know how it will affect the future.
It feels out of control at times, this pandemic. It seems we are at the mercy of it. That is also how reactive attachment disorder feels at times. Even with my best plans, strategies, and therapies, none of it guarantees anything.
It comes with a mask.
Like COVID, reactive attachment disorder often requires a mask—not a physical mask, but the invisible mask I don.
The mask that protects me from what I think is the judgment of others. The mask that hides the pain, fear, guilt, and shame I often feel as a mother of a child with reactive attachment disorder.
It is the mask I hide behind when I cannot be honest with others who ask how I am doing. I hide because I am afraid they will not understand.
At times, I remove my mask. I tell others what my life is like at the moment. But instead of understanding, I often get advice that may be helpful for a neuro-typical child but not for mine. So I slip the mask back up.
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I have had many days of feeling overwhelmed and fearful over the course of this pandemic. I have experienced grief, anger, and helplessness. Some days it seems like too much, just like tackling reactive attachment disorder.
As a mom of a child with reactive attachment disorder for seventeen years, I may lend some advice during this difficult time in our world. To those overwhelmed by the pandemic right now, and for those parents who will continue to experience reactive attachment disorder for years to come…
Take a deep breath.
Live one day at a time.
Give yourself grace.
Reach out when you feel isolated.
Listen to the advice and voices that are helpful and life-giving.
Do the next right thing.
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Amy J. Brown is a wife, mom, writer and mentor. She writes to encourage special needs moms. She shares honestly about her adoption story and parenting a child with reactive attachment disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Amy mentors moms and believes that when we honestly share our stories we learn from each other, gather strength, and come away encouraged. But most importantly, we feel less alone.
Amy lives in Michigan and is married to her high school sweetheart. She is the mother of six kids, who are all in different phases of life—from adults to middle schoolers. She loves quiet mornings, strong English breakfast tea and a good book.
You can connect with Amy and read more of her writing at https://www.amyjbrown.com/.