My first post “When Love Is Not Enough” started to get really long and wordy, so I split them in two separate posts so readers could tackle them at their own pace, or maybe decide after they read the first, they have read enough. For those brave readers who have made it here to this post, and are willing to read to the end, thank you.
It is really hard to admit my love wasn’t enough to help my son. It is hard to admit I wasn’t enough. The other night I had a conversation where it was pointed out to me that I am “mom and dad.” I can’t really be dad but being just mom doesn’t seem enough. I woke up in the middle of the night crying because I know whatever I can do, it will never be enough, I know God has to fill the void yet it is so hard to let go of the guilt that I have to be more than I am. This is especially necessary when dealing with a hurting and broken child. Many people have the mistaken notion that kids who are adopted older are somehow so incredibly grateful they were “saved” that they would bend over backwards to show their gratitude. We labor under the belief that of course every child just wants a family of their own – a mother and father. First of all, we didn’t save or rescue our son. OK, maybe in the most rigid sense of those words for his life was not exactly fabulous, and his future was bleak at best as a child with no family and a serious medical condition. It doesn’t matter. It was the life he knew and as far as was concerned, we took him away from his life. My youngest son was almost seven years old when we brought him home, and he was all the more angry. About 18 months ago we were in a therapy session in a local in-patient hospital for children with RAD, and the therapist was kind of taking my son to task because as she told him, “your mother loves you. She brought you here to the States where you have had a loving home, a good education, medical treatment for your special need, and you are spitting in her face.” Now, let’s set aside how shocking this is from a therapist who is supposed to be experienced with RAD kids. That can be addressed in another post. However, let me tell you, my son’s reaction was truly eye-opening. He erupted and said to me, “I hate you! I hate you! I never asked to be adopted. No one asked me. I didn’t want to leave. I liked Ch*na,” and on and on for the next 10 minutes. The “I hate you” wasn’t a shock to me, he said that often. What was eye-opening was his anger he was not asked. Wow. I wonder how many other children are made to feel they should be grateful and happy they have a family, yet feel hurt and angry because it is not what they wanted. Although I know the future he would have faced had he stayed in Ch*na, he did not know. He’s right. He wasn’t asked. All he was told by the people in the medical healing home was how lucky he was to be getting a family, but all he could think was “I never asked for a family.” I heard this over and over from him, “Nobody asked me.” On the one hand, it was incredibly hurtful to hear he resented me for “ruining” his life. What could I say to that?
Love is not enough when you are dealing with RAD. Although I have been his mother for nearly six years now, it has only been in the last four years that I have really learned about the way trauma affects kids like mine. Some kids are not able to connect because they have suffered too many losses, too much trauma, in their very short lives. With the other three, I didn’t know how to really build attachment, nobody gave me lessons, I had read one book on toddler adoption and I threw it in the trash after I brought my oldest son home because it was worthless words to me. I just instinctively knew what I needed to do to encourage eye contact, to help them learn to trust me, and ultimately to feel safe which then creates a bond of attachment. They were all ages four and under at adoption, so it was easy to play the games, to pick them up and hold them close when they were sad, to create safe boundaries, but my seven year old was completely different. That is when I had to dig deeper, to try to find resources and help not only for him but for me. I am here to tell you, help for struggling families is not easy to come by. I spent the better part of two years looking for a therapist locally who really understood RAD when I finally found several who practice Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI), a modality of creating attachment developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross. Dr. Purvis was considered the “child whisperer” within the foster and adoption community. Sadly, she passed away last year after battling cancer for many years. It is a big loss to the adoption community. Even with Dr. Purvis’ methods, I was unable to reach my son’s heart. The wound too deep, festering deep within his soul, and he needed more help than I could provide. When he finally went to this out-of-state facility, my heart was battered, my health was battered, and my other children were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We all let out a collective sigh of relief. Others might read that and wonder what kind of a piece of sh-t mother am I if I am relieved to have my son gone? But I was glad. I love my son but I didn’t really like him. I resented his constant rejection of me and of my love, all the while knowing what the experts say that allowing himself to love was to reach a level of vulnerability utterly terrifying to him. I didn’t feel confident I could parent him. I thought the guilt this induced would go away eventually. It hasn’t entirely. You see, I am relieved he is not here making our daily lives miserable. I am relieved someone else gets to experience his behavior, someone else knows I am not crazy, it was real, I wasn’t making it up, it wasn’t because I didn’t love him enough, or I was choosing my other children over him. All of these are accusations he made against me, and I made against myself.
It is a very lonely place parenting a child with RAD. Some will say, when I describe some outrageous or terrifying behavior, “Oh my kid does that.” No, your kid does not do that, not in the way mine does. You have never seen the look of pure hatred I have seen. You have never seen the emptiness behind the eyes of your child, the eyes that tell you your child has given up on life. Your child doesn’t suffer from a lack of empathy, a lack of conscience and absolute inability to see cause and effect. He wasn’t a “planner” as some RAD affected children can be. He wasn’t planning on hurting anyone, yet he would see an opportunity to hurt and he’d take it, then scream it was not his fault because he didn’t know his action would cause harm to another. My other kids were not safe. I was not safe. He was not safe from himself. The biggest challenge with a child like mine is not to project our own thinking on their actions. They make no sense, they don’t feel the way we feel or the way “your child” might feel, they completely lack ability to reason and logical emotion. It was scary and heart-breaking all at once. I do love him enough to make one last effort to get help for him.
The truth about my youngest son is he believes he is worthless. He believes he was garbage thrown away by his birth family because he was born with a special need. He believes he is unworthy to be loved because of all the children in the foster home who found forever families while he lingered there month after month, year after year. Deep down, he hates himself. Those words make my heart BLEED. I know all of these things about him. It doesn’t mean I have the training and wherewithal to heal him. My love is not enough. To those who ask me when my son will come home, I say, “I don’t know.” I look at the picture posted above and I see my son on the path ahead of me. The distance to top of that trail is so very far away and the progress so slow, just as his emotional progress has been so slow. It seems so daunting, and sometimes I wonder if he will ever be truly healed, but the only way to go is to go forward, one step at a time, with the hope and determination that one day he will reach his summit. My prayer is the help of experienced professionals combined with the love of God, will be enough.
Are you an adoptive parent struggling with a child who has attachment disorder or other emotional issues? I want you to know I believe you. I know how hard you are trying. I plan a post containing resources I have found, some I have used, others I trust but weren’t really right for us. Maybe they will be useful to you.