This story is one of a series written on behalf of a mom who placed her children at IACD years ago. She writes from a place of love as a woman who has endured the feelings of love and loss after adopting children with reactive attachment disorder. Her boys are now grown men. These are her reflections and memories from life experiences and the wisdom that time bestows.
Expectations – they can take you down as a parent sometimes. For parents of children with special needs such as reactive attachment disorder, you’ll need to reorient yourself to a different set of expectations than you might hold for children with “normal” developmental abilities. If you fail to recognize your child’s emotional limitations and struggles as intrinsic realities, you’ll only set yourself up for disappointment after disappointment. As a parent of children with reactive attachment disorder myself, I’ve been disappointed several times throughout motherhood. I found that when I learned to embrace my children from an informed and empathetic stance, I could better navigate their ups and downs without my own feelings of anger, disappointment, sadness, and loss.
- Don’t take on your child’s failures as your own. As parents, we’re often too quick to jump in and rescue, excuse, or fix our children’s mistakes. Or we may personalize and react to their failures as if it reflects upon our weaknesses as parents. Try to let go of this mentality for your own sanity and for the well-being of your children.
- Lower the bar. Many of us believe that our children will rise to meet our high expectations. With that belief, it feels counter-intuitive to make an intentional choice to lower the bar and redefine the meaning of success. I found that changing and lowering my expectations of my child’s emotional capacities helped me to authentically affirm and encourage my son who struggles with bipolar disorder and a history of early trauma. NOTE: This is different than holding your child responsible for the reasonable expectations you or others set for them, i.e. chores, etc.
- Make “realistic/positive expectations” lists. I made a realistic list in my mind about the challenges and limitations my children face. These realities helped to guide and inform my responses to my children’s actions and behaviors more calmly. I also made a “positive list” in my mind focused on my child’s positive behaviors to help me stay supportive and affirming. This was especially useful at times when situations felt pretty grim.
- Mood swings
- PTSD triggers
- Depression & anxiety
- Emotional immaturity (four years behind chronological age)
- Trust wounds
- Low self-esteem
- Addictive behaviors
Signs of my child’s progress/successes
- Can ask for help
- Can be reciprocal
- Respectful to adults
- Takes medication
- Goes to school
- Shows remorse
- Completes chores correctly
- Takes responsibly for mistakes
- Shows kindness and consideration toward others
- Can delay gratification
- Stays out of trouble with the law
- Tells the truth
- Shows self-care
As a parent of a child with special needs, it’s vital to take care of yourself. Self-care includes, but goes beyond, typical needs such as exercise and nutrition. You should also check in with your own thoughts, outlooks, and beliefs to care for your mental wellness. So, I leave you with these questions:
- What would your child’s “lists” look like?
- What can you do to personally decrease your anger and resentment and take care of yourself as a parent?