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What Reactive Attachment Disorder Does to a Mom's Mind, Body and Soul

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) has a big impact on us moms. Although RAD impacts the entire family, moms (or sometimes dads) often get the brunt of it. Moms typically spend a lot of time with their children with the disorder, attempting to get close to them emotionally. And for kids with RAD who equate survival with rejecting attachment, Mom (or whoever is the primary caregiver) feels like a threat.

Here’s a look at what this dynamic does to us – the negative and the potentially positive.

Reactive Attachment Disorder Makes Us Tired

It goes without saying that being the constant target of our child’s anger and manipulation, as moms of children with reactive attachment disorder often are, we are usually tired.

Like our kids, we often become hypervigilant. We’re always worrying about the safety of our other children or pets, or what our child with the disorder will be up to next. This adds to our exhaustion. We enter survival mode, where we just try to make it through the day. Anything more is too much. Fun? Vacations? Going out with hubby or friends? It’s all more than we can manage. We may not realize just how tired we are until it’s all over – when RAD is either on the path toward healing or out of the house. Suddenly we come back to life. Our energy returns, and we want to do things again – though the post-traumatic stress takes time and work to heal from.

It Makes us Feel Angry and Isolated

We often become angry: angry at being misunderstood, angry at being treated this way, angry this is what our life has become. The isolation goes hand-in-hand with being misunderstood. Not only do we not have the energy for “hanging out” like we used to, but our family, coworkers, friends, our child’s teachers – and often even therapists – don’t see what we’re seeing. They don’t understand why we’re tired and angry, or they don’t believe what we’re dealing with. We don’t get the sympathy or support we need, and that just makes us more angry and isolated.

It Impacts our Health

During my time as a RAD mom, my headaches and insomnia got worse, and I developed anxiety and depression. I gained weight, and I stopped caring what I looked like. I’d go to the store in my pajamas. I didn’t care what others thought. According to Mayo Clinic, in addition to the symptoms I already listed, chronic stress can lead to memory and concentration impairment, high blood pressure, digestive problems, heart disease/heart attack and stroke.

It Can Help us Grow

Despite all the negatives, the one gift being a RAD mom can give us is personal insight and growth.

After we adopted, our son quickly learned all our “buttons” and could play us like a maestro. If he was upset, he loved making us upset too, just like an alcoholic doesn’t like to drink alone. I feel bad, so you need to feel just as bad!

It wasn’t the kind of mom I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be irritable and snappy all the time. So I sought out a personal therapist. While RAD will make the best of us feel crazy, she helped me look back at my life and understand why certain things were especially triggering for me. Of course, no amount of therapy can make you a mellow Zen master 24/7 in the face of all this chaos, but after a year or so, I definitely became less reactive. I learned better ways of responding and caring for myself during the turmoil.

I discovered I was much stronger than I ever knew. And I realized no parent is perfect, and even “perfect” parenting isn’t enough to heal our children – that we cannot accomplish alone.

That’s why I became a volunteer for RAD Advocates. I don't want any mom to feel like she's in this alone. It takes a village, and we're your village.

About the author:

Micaela Myers and her husband adopted a pair of siblings from foster care in 2015, when the children were 9 and 13. Since then, she has become an advocate for foster care reform and the support and education of adoptive parents. Micaela earned her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and works as a professional writer and editor in Wyoming.

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