I receive several calls from stepmothers who marry into families where adoptive or birth fathers have custody of their children with reactive attachment disorder. These situations typically fall under two scenarios—the first is trouble in the previous marriage because the adoptive father didn’t support his wife or believe that the child needed help. The other scenario is when the birth father took custody because the birth mother was a dysfunctional parent.
When I counsel couples in these situations, I urge the father to step forward and take the lead with his child. A father who assumes his next wife should take responsibility as his child’s mother can set his new marriage up for failure as well. I suggest the following to fathers of children with reactive attachment disorder when they remarry.
4 tips for fathers of children with reactive attachment disorder:
- The father needs to educate himself on the dynamics of reactive attachment disorder, especially that of the “nurturing enemy”. Read: When an adoptive mom becomes a “nurturing enemy”
- The father needs to take the lead with the child, give directives, and hold the child accountable
- The father needs to support his wife to prevent “splitting”, a common dynamic of marriages of children with reactive attachment disorder
- The new mother role is not implied, but earned (common rules of step parenting)
Step parenting is a challenge even with bonded children who’ve experienced divorce. The task is extra difficult if one or more of the children have reactive attachment disorder. Fathers should have full awareness and responsibility as a father and husband in order to have a healthy marriage.