It’s extremely overwhelming to parent a child with reactive attachment disorder, both for moms and dads. Sadly, many couples and families fall apart during the process. The more parents can learn about RAD, however, the better chances they have of keeping their families together. Their education can start with parents learning what part they play in their family dynamics. In honor of Father’s Day, we’ll focus on dads.
Most fathers of children with RAD try desperately to keep their families afloat. They can feel their relationships strain but don’t know what to do. Whether they do or don’t understand the reality of parenting kids with RAD, they feel overwhelmed. Over our 45 years of working with families of children with reactive attachment disorder, we’ve noticed one of three “dad-types”.
We generally come across three types of fathers of children with reactive attachment disorder—
- The dads who wonder why his significant other isn’t the same person anymore. Many of the dads we work with recognize that their significant others are agitated most of the time, especially with them or their children. There is a reason for this common dynamic.
If you’re that dad, here’s what you need to know—
- Your child is probably very different around you than he is with your significant other. Children who have experienced early trauma push away people that try to get the closest to them. Oftentimes, that’s their adoptive, foster, or step mothers. One way for your child to push your significant other away is to split the two of you.
- Your significant other is the same person she’s always been. Yet, she’s probably experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of raising your child with reactive attachment disorder.
- Your other children are also struggling.
- Your significant other needs you. She can’t do this alone.
- It’s not your significant other’s fault. This dynamic of mothers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of raising children with RAD is extremely common and normal.
- It’s not your fault. Children with RAD are extremely skilled at manipulation and splitting. It’s their way of survival. Now that you know, you can learn to support your significant other and not allow further splitting between the two of you.
- It’s not your child’s fault. Again, your child learned to push people away out of survival mode due to early trauma. This doesn’t mean that your child shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions. It means that you need a lot of expert help and to learn a different kind of parenting than you probably know now.
- The dad who understands the dynamics of reactive attachment disorder and supports his significant other.
Although many fathers aren’t the primary caregivers for a child with RAD, some still understand the dynamics of that role. They are able to see through the child’s manipulation and splitting efforts and parent beside their significant others. They are able to calmly handle behaviors as they provide structure, give choices, and set limits with those choices. All of this is commonly due to working with a good attachment therapist.
If this is the type of father you are, thank you. You’ve done a great job learning about RAD and supporting your significant other. Full support and communication between couples is the only way to survive and thrive in your relationship while raising a child with RAD. Keep it up and keep learning.
- The dad who is the primary caretaker and “nurturing enemy” to his child.
Parenting a child with RAD can exhaust fathers just as much as mothers. In some cases, the father is the primary caregiver to a child with RAD. Sometimes this occurs out of necessity to protect a mother from violent outbursts when the child is triggered. Other times, it’s simply the family situation and dynamics. Truthfully, we rarely see this dynamic in our work here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. However, we fully acknowledge that children with RAD can view anyone of any gender as the “nurturing enemy”.
If you’re the primary caregiver and father of a child with RAD, you must take care of yourself. You are at risk of having post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Seek therapy from a highly qualified RAD therapist, support from loved ones, and time off on a regular basis. We know that none of these things are easy to do but are vital for the health of you and your entire family.
To all dads parenting a child with RAD—
No matter what kind of dad you are, we know you’re probably doing the best you can with what you’ve got. Learn all you can about RAD and parenting your child. Many people (including some clinicians) don’t fully understand RAD and you’ll need to be your family and child’s best advocate. It’s vital that you find a highly qualified RAD specialist for therapy with your family. You can’t do this alone. Love alone isn’t enough to fix RAD or the complicated issues your family currently faces.
We commend you along this difficult journey and wish you a peaceful Father’s Day.