This story is the second from a series written on behalf of a mom who placed her children at IACD years ago. She writes from a place of love as a woman who has endured the feelings of love and loss after adopting children with reactive attachment disorder. Her boys are now grown men. These are her reflections and memories, from life experiences and the wisdom that time bestows. And from a place of frailty that only a parent can know.
(The author uses pseudonyms for the protection and privacy of her children.)
My toddler looked cute and cuddly—all bathed in his fleece-footed pajamas. Ready for bed. Every night it was the same: bath time, story time, a backrub and a goodnight kiss.
About a month after my toddler joined our family, that nightly routine changed.
I vividly remember the first night of that change. I walked out of his room just after our goodnight kiss. He screamed, cried, and demanded that I not go. It was different from our routine, but not unheard of from a toddler. I returned to his bedside right away to comfort him.
Yet, he reached up with his little fists and pushed me away with intense anger that he wanted me to leave. As I walked out the door, he began to scream and cry for me to return.
Quite suddenly, this became our new routine – night after night.
I quickly grew weary and confused. I felt worried that there seemed to be no response that would calm or comfort my crying baby. Schooled in the usual model of parenting, I reasoned not to let my child manipulate me with his tantrums. Exhausted by the nightly drama, I reluctantly resigned myself to leave him to cry himself to sleep.
Looking back, I regret that I did not have a better understanding of the needs and behaviors of children with reactive attachment disorder. Life could have been dramatically easier for all of us if the adoption agency would have given my husband and I training beforehand. We knew nothing about how to parent traumatized babies before we fostered and adopted them.
I don’t understand why adopting agencies don’t teach prospective parents about issues with neglected and abused children. I went through eight weeks of training to become a foster parent. Not once did I hear a mention of reactive attachment disorder. Why is this?
I wonder if it’s due to a lack of knowledge and understanding about trauma and reactive attachment disorder. Or…it is a reluctance to alarm potential parents with information that could turn families away?
As in my confusion regarding the bedtime drama, I quickly realized I needed to take the initiative. I searched for good help, asked questions, and learned new ways to understand and parent my traumatized sons.
In my search for real help, I changed my long-held perceptions as a mom. My approach to not give in to my son’s nightly tantrums did not alter his behavior. After a few weeks, I sensed that there was something I was missing. I called many people until I found someone with helpful insight. I finally spoke to someone who suggested a response that made sense. She explained briefly how my son probably had bonding issues. She suggested that I stay in the room with him, even when he screams for me to leave.
That night, I camped out next to my son until he fell asleep. I lay on the carpet next to his bed. I calmly stayed there, even as he raged and demanded that I leave in order to push me away.
The next morning, he awoke in a cheerful mood ready for the day. The nightly drama ceased and we returned to our evening routine…bath time, story time, a backrub and goodnight kiss.
To learn more about reactive attachment disorder and hear from families at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, please watch our videos.
Image courtesy of ningmilo and freedigitalphotos.net