Hear Julie talk…10 years after they adopted: Frustrated
Julie and Doug were happy. They had three children together, were financially stable, and were traveling the world as a family. Because life was treating Julie and Doug so well, they wanted to share it. So they decided to adopt a child.
When Naomi entered their family, she was 6-years-old.
Naomi’s biological mother gave her up when she was 3-years-old. Afterward, she was in the foster care system for three years, had been adopted and relinquished, and placed in multiple families thereafter. Julie and Doug were her ninth placement. The county from which they adopted Naomi said she’d be a “handful”, but only for the first year. After that, they said she’d settle into their family.
“We were honeymooned, as they call it, for the first four months,” said Julie. “When we brought Naomi home, we thought we had it down.” Naomi was polite, charming, and affectionate when she joined their family — a great kid. She fit right into their family. They laughed and loved with her.
Or so they thought.
After four months, Naomi changed. She began to display overt, strange, and offensive behaviors. For kids with reactive attachment disorder, closeness equals pain. They are on high alert and on guard because they were abandoned or neglected as toddlers. So they control their environments and push people away to protect their hearts. Naomi was no exception.
It began at the dining room table. She’d dig her bare hands into Julie and Doug’s dinner plates. Or she’d climb all over them with great aggression to get close. When they obliged and pulled her into their laps, she’d pass gas and laugh.
When they went to visit friends and family, Naomi went through their drawers and personal items. She would always find something and persistently tell her hosts how very much she wanted their belongings. Doug and Julie had to intervene constantly. Yet, their friends would insist that Naomi could have the items, knowing about her difficult past.
Once they got home, Naomi would promptly destroy their friends’ belongings or throw them in the trash.
At school, Naomi lied to her teachers to get other kids in trouble. She stole things from her classmate’s desks at school. When found, she’d look directly into her teacher’s eyes and tell them she didn’t take it. She was extremely bossy to other kids. Teachers referred to her as a bully.
She didn’t cooperate with anything Julie and Doug asked of her, even if it was to her benefit. This kept her in control. It was also her attempt to push them away from getting close to her, which is exactly what kids with reactive attachment disorder do.
Slowly but surely, the first year with Naomi passed. But the behavior didn’t go away as the county predicted. In fact, Naomi only became more difficult.
To complicate matters, Julie and Doug endured a sudden tragedy in their family. Their youngest biological daughter, Chelsea, had a seizure in the middle of the night. Julie and Doug had absolutely no idea that Chelsea was at risk during the years, months, days or hours leading up to that night.
Tragically, Chelsea died that night at 16-years-old from sudden unexpected death In epilepsy. Because of their loss, life seemed to stop, along with their strength as parents. “Things were put on hold, probably at a critical time for Naomi,” said Julie. “Because of it, things got worse. Her behaviors are getting more exhausting and more exaggerated.”
The hidden reality
Now, Naomi is a teenager. She continues to get into trouble at school and with the law. She’s been caught for shoplifting and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Yet, those are the issues on the surface. Some may say that Naomi is just going through a rough time as a typical teenager. But people outside of their home don’t see the underlying behavior that take their toll on the family everyday.
They don’t see her manipulation, sneaky behavior, and blatant lies. That’s the crux of the situation for parents with kids with reactive attachment disorder. For them, particularly mothers, they often feel alone and “crazy”.
Children with reactive attachment disorder are typically very bright. They have a keen ability to manipulate their situations and deceive the adults around them. Their behaviors toward their mothers are often radically different than toward the rest of the world. For children with reactive attachment disorder, the mother is often the “nurturing enemy”. They push that nurturing caretaker away in peculiar ways.
Their behaviors are so manipulative and covert that the parent often has a difficult time communicating the behaviors to others (for more information, watch Why Attachment Disorder Affects the Whole Family). The most frustrating situation for Julie is Naomi’s ability to deflect therapy.
Traditional therapy doesn’t work for children with reactive attachment disorder. Such is the case for Naomi. She researches and uses her own diagnoses as a crutch for her behavior and manipulates the therapist. “She had one therapist convinced that she had obsessive compulsive disorder,” said Julie. “I would have to take pictures of her room and her bathroom and show the way she lived…they would not believe that it was the room of the person they had a conversation with.”
Out of help and money
Due to the out-of-pocket expenses they’ve spent on Naomi, Julie and Doug’s financial situation has taken a turn for the worse as well. Though they receive funding from their county for services, most of them fall under the realm of traditional therapy that doesn’t work.
Julie has gone before the court to request residential treatment at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. Though she has secured funds for outpatient therapy at Institute for Attachment and Child Development, she knows that the in-patient care is the piece of the puzzle Naomi needs for her treatment. Unfortunately, the county will not grant funding for such services at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development.
As a mom, Julie feels frustrated and hopeless. “It’s been awful,” Julie said, tears falling down her cheeks. “It’s been incredibly frustrating trying to get the attention to get her the help she needs,” said Julie.
Julie worries about the limited amount of time they have left with Naomi. She only has two years to get her the help she needs before she becomes an adult. Julie fears that Naomi will only run into bigger and more complicated troubles on her own.
The pain of a family falling apart
Meanwhile, the marriage that has carried Julie and Doug through the adoption of their daughter, the birth of three children, and the loss of one is falling apart as well. The hardships have taken their toll after 35 years of marriage. “It feels as though Doug and I are just co-existing,” said Julie, with tears in her eyes. “My 29-year-old son told me that he just wants his mom and dad back.”
In need of relief
Due to her attachment issues, Naomi is not the typical teenager who can stay the night at a friend’s house or go to a camp. She has no real friends. She cannot stay with relatives. Julie tried that with her sisters at one point but that is no longer an option. They don’t have the capacity to handle Naomi either.
They need relief. Without a break, Naomi and Doug lack the strength to parent Naomi to the best of their ability, the time to connect as a married couple, and the space to simply regain their energy as individuals.
A shred of hope
Julie remains frustrated that she can’t secure funding for Naomi to get in-patient care at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. She will continue to fight to gain the funding. Until then, she finds peace where she can. She finds solace in finding someone who understands how they’ve been struggling. “Finding the Institute, their validation, has been huge for me,” said Julie. “It’s the fist time anyone has acknowledged what we see. It’s made me feel somewhat human.”
You can help. Donate now to provide respite care relief at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development for kids like Naomi and their parents.