What you can give a mom of a child with reactive attachment disorder this Mother’s Day

Updated: May 1

I remember my first Mother’s Day. I spent the day loving and admiring my little 8-month-old baby. I looked at him in awe and guessed what he’d look like in a couple years. I imagined who he’d be as an adult.

I certainly wasn’t contemplating adoption—not at that time.

But if I had, I’m sure I would have dreamed up some perfect existence. I’d be a saintly adoptive mother, of course—even better than I was with my biological baby. I’d be patient, calm and always well-rested for a child who might not otherwise have a family. I’d love that child through any and all hardships into a happy and healthy adult.

I certainly wouldn’t have considered the effects of trauma or children’s mental health issues in adoption. That wouldn’t have fit into the perfect adoption package we so often and curiously imagine as humans.

Before we adopted our youngest son, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on motherhood. Our two biological sons were good kids. Although by no means perfect, they were respectable. They were also vastly opposite from one another which posed challenges at times. But I could take on most parenting challenges with relative ease.

I figured we’d just raise our adoptive child in the same ways we raised our biological children. Love would be enough, I thought. Eleven years later, I now know I was very wrong.

Our little boy’s brain was hardwired from the unfathomable abuse and neglect he experienced from birth through nearly 4-years-old. We had been his sixth home placement in 13 months. So much damage had been done by the time he joined our family at six-years-old. We were clueless.

No one can “cure” early trauma with love. No one.

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The seven years I had spent loving on, encouraging, nurturing and doting on our son actually made him feel more terrified. I was my son’s nurturing trigger—the enemy he felt compelled to reject out of an innate survival mode. We had not harmed our son in any way. But we also had not helped in any significant way either. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.

I wish that I had even the slightest tidbit of information about the developmental damage our son had endured before we adopted him. I wish someone told us that he was living in a fight, flight or freeze mode at all times. I often think about how much better things could have been for our family if we had only known. But we didn’t find out our son had reactive attachment disorder until he was nearly 14-years-old (click here to read Heather’s story).

But more than anything else, I wish that I had someone by my side through our journey.

Reactive attachment disorder is a cruel illness that lies and distorts truths. It turns kind and rationale adults against one another. It destroys individuals as well as families. I felt completely alone during the most difficult moments and years raising our son.

I fought a welter-weight fight to get the right help for our son—with no avail. I know I was nearing a knockout when I stumbled upon the nonprofit organization RAD Advocates. If I had not found their amazing support, encouragement and knowledge, our family would have lost the battle with reactive attachment disorder. This I know for certain.

After a decade into our journey—thanks to RAD Advocates—I am happy to say we have overcome some enormous challenges.

I have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and complex trauma after the fight with reactive attachment disorder. I’m getting the help I need. Our children are too—even our boys who are now grown and out of the house. Our adoptive son is continuing to heal from his early trauma. Amazingly, and with a ton of work, my husband and I have stayed married throughout this challenge.

Laughter and fun now fill our home. Sadly, most families of children with reactive attachment disorder do not have the same fortune.

This Mother’s Day, I expect to rest. To laugh. To feel love with my family. But I will be thinking about all the mamas out there who aren’t on “the other side” like we are.

Moms of kids with reactive attachment disorder give new meaning to selflessness. They give everything they are and have to their traumatized children without love or affection in return. They are shunned by those who know them, often even their own spouses—either due to wild misunderstandings or outright false allegations on behalf of their traumatized children. They’re often physically or emotionally

abused by their traumatized children. And they get little support from professionals.

Yet, they keep giving.

If you know a woman raising a child with reactive attachment disorder, give her the gift of you this Mother’s Day. Reach out and truly listen to her—without attempting to give advice or pass judgment. Just listen.

But don’t stop there. Continue to give her validation, support and understanding day after day. When you support a mom of a child with reactive attachment disorder, you support that child and her entire family. She needs you more than you will ever know. They need you.

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