Shortly after my wife and I adopted children, I began to feel confused about the course of our parenting and marriage. If you and your wife are at odds now, this letter may be written just for you.
As an adopted dad, please answer the following:
- Does your wife tell you how difficult your adopted child is when the two of them are alone together?
- Do you feel like your wife has become almost a different person than the woman you once knew?
- Do you get along just fine with your adopted child and think your wife is overreacting?
If you’ve ever answered yes to any of these questions, please read on.
As a husband who worked outside of the home for many years, I rarely saw the behaviors from my adopted child that my wife Dyan described on a daily basis. She’d often call me on my cell phone or send me a text to give me a heads up about the chaos our child was creating at the house. Yet, our home appeared calm and quiet when I walked into the door. Our child politely asked me how my day was and gave me hugs. It was hard to believe the ridiculous things that my wife described had actually happened.
It didn’t take long, however, to see the destructive aftermath of a violent tantrum to understand—scratch marks on another child in our home, a book torn to pieces, or holes in the wall. Still, I wondered why these behaviors only occurred with my wife. Here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, we explain to couples that mothers are typically the “nurturing enemies” to their children with RAD. Basically, your child will do everything possible to push her away. To your child, attachment (a.k.a, your wife) is scary. This is a symptom of reactive attachment disorder.
It really hit home for me one day when Dyan called me at work. “This is what I’ve been telling you about,” Dyan cried. In the background, I heard thrashing, cussing, crashing…my pregnant wife was quietly crying and crouched in a corner. She was terrified of our 11-year-old son. (Read Dyan’s story). I knew we had a very serious problem and everything changed. We immediately removed our child from our home for psychiatric care and stabilization after the incident. Upon his return, I took time off work to help limit his interaction with my wife. I took him to his doctor and therapy appointments and learned quickly how to deter triggers that resulted in aggressive outbursts.
Now is the time for you to take action to protect your marriage and your family, before things get worse.
If your adopted child has reactive attachment disorder, here’s what you can do to save your marriage and your family:
- Communicate with your wife. Your child instinctively controls and manipulates his environment at all costs. The more your child with reactive attachment disorder can drive a wedge between you and your wife, the more powerful he or she feels. Do not allow that to happen.
- Understand the emotional and physical triggers of your child. In some cases, kids with RAD can get excessively violent or destructive to other people or property with little to no warning in their mood swings. Learn about your child and how to establish working boundaries around his or her triggers to maintain a safe environment for your whole family. You can greatly reduce his or her violent outbursts and meltdowns. This is another reason why you need to communicate with your wife. Safety is of the utmost importance.
- Find a qualified therapist and psychiatrist. Many families wait too long to seek outside help with their children with reactive attachment disorder. 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 your wife a break from the kids. I quickly learned to check in with my wife as soon as I got home, get the status on the kids, and then sent her on her way for a much-needed break to our bedroom or away from the house for some quiet time.
- Invest plenty of time and education to understand the “nurturing enemy” concept. 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)
- 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.
Today, sixteen years later, my wife and I are full-time therapeutic treatment parents at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. We live with eight kids—four of them are our own children and four of them are in the treatment program. We partner very well together and know when to step in for each other without getting in the way. It’s taken years to perfect our communication skills but it was well worth all the practice. We can vent to one another and appreciate each other’s point of view on just about any situation. I rely on her mother’s intuition and she appreciates my perspective as a husband, father, and coach.
Our two older adopted boys live on their own now and are in charge of their own lives. I’m comforted to see how my continued support for my wife over the years has aided in their relationship with their mom. They rarely argue with her and always respect her.
I love Dyan with everything that I am. I can’t stress enough to husbands and dads of children with RAD that their wives need to come first. Support, listen to, and love on your wife. The fate of your marriage and stability of your home depends on it.
Therapeutic treatment parent at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development