Dear Fathers/Significant Others of Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder,
Parenting children with developmental trauma (a.k.a reactive attachment disorder) is tough for both parties. While mothers typically get the brunt of it (see tip #1 below), it’s tough for fathers/significant others too. Many relationships suffer. You may feel as though nothing you do is right in her eyes. You may feel confused or frustrated by your child. You may feel like giving up and just stepping aside, either by physically leaving or mentally checking out.
But it’s not time to step out. It’s time to keep going even stronger. This Father’s Day, know that you are so important for the wellness of your wife/partner and children. They all need you.
Here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, we often focus on how dads can support their wives. That’s critical for the health of your relationship and your family. I have another tip for dads this Father’s Day though. That is, keep doing what you’re doing well. Many men have the need to protect and provide for their families. Keep that up. As an adoptive father of children with reactive attachment disorder and a therapeutic treatment dad here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, I know firsthand what you’re going through.
Here are my tips as a fellow dad of kids with reactive attachment disorder about how to protect and provide for your family during these challenging times—
- Invest plenty of time and education to understand the “nurturing enemy” dynamic. Your understanding of it will help you to become a better support figure to your wife and to understand how your wife feels after a challenging day with a child with reactive attachment disorder. Get started now and read: How an adoptive mom becomes a “nurturing enemy” (an unfortunate symptom of reactive attachment disorder)
- Communicate with your wife/significant other. Protect your relationship. Your child instinctively controls and manipulates his environment at all costs. The more your child with reactive attachment disorder can drive a wedge between the two of you, the more he feels in control. Do not allow that to happen.
- Take care of yourself physically. Take time to exercise. This will also help you mentally. Find a way to get healthy physical releases of anxiety and frustration. If you don’t, you will eventually burn out.
- Find and plan time for relief a month in advance and don’t let anything change your plans. If you don’t plan it, it won’t happen. If it doesn’t happen, you will burn out. Yes, it’s difficult to find respite time but so critical.
- Make sure the family knows that you love them by speaking their love languages everyday. Go to your local library or bookstore and get yourself a copy of the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It’s also available in audio if you don’t have time to read it.
- Know your limits and your wife’s limits with anger and frustration. Know when it’s time to step aside for a bit or when it’s time to step in. When your wife is taking on a difficult parenting moment herself, learn how to do the same on her behalf. It will save your relationship.
- Seek out counseling services, parenting training, and therapy to help manage your moods. There’s no shame or guilt in being a moody human. Kids with reactive attachment disorder are experts at driving their parents crazy with worry and frustration.
- Find a qualified attachment therapist and psychiatrist. Many families wait too long to seek outside help with their children with reactive attachment disorder. The two of you simply can’t do this alone. Love is not enough to cure reactive attachment disorder. Furthermore, regular therapy sessions, boundaries, and medication can temper violent behaviors.
- Give both of you a break from the kids. It’s important to give yourself a break but she might find it more difficult to do so. Do it for her. I learned early on to check in with my wife as soon as I got home when I was away. I get the status on the kids and then send her on her way for a much-needed break to our bedroom or away from the house for some quiet time.
- ALWAYS support your wife’s parenting decisions in front of the kids, even if you don’t agree with her. Wait until later to talk privately with your wife if you disagree. The kids need to see you as the same person in two different bodies. It’s nearly impossible for a child to argue and gain control of the family with a set of unified parents.
Whatever you’re doing to support and love your family in your own special and unique way, I commend you. Happy Father’s Day. Wherever you are in your journey, keep up the good work Dad.
Therapeutic treatment parent at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development