This story is one of a series written by a mom who placed her children here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development many 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.
Now that my boys have grown into men, I look back with clarity. There are things I wish I did and didn’t do as a younger mother. Of course, hindsight is always clear. If I could go back in time, I’d give myself some helpful advice as I raised young children with reactive attachment disorder. I think life could have been a tad less difficult for my husband, children, and I during those rough early years.
If I were to talk to my younger mom self, I would say…
1. Educate yourself on reactive attachment disorder and trauma before your children move into your home. It’s not your fault that you are ill or misinformed about raising children with developmental trauma. Many adoption agencies don’t provide adequate training. They may promise support but then don’t follow through when parents are struggling. Too many parents are left to figure it out from scratch on their own accord. If that happens, return to your adoption agency and persistently request training about reactive attachment disorder.
2. If you’re lucky enough to find it, accept and utilize the wisdom from experts on the subject of children with early trauma. I missed out on some helpful advice because I felt like I needed to parent all on my own in the beginning. I felt like I wasn’t a competent mom if I needed help. I wish I had known earlier that asking for help is far from a sign of weakness. It’s courageous. Although I wish I understood this lesson earlier, I’m glad I figured it out when I did. I felt like a new person (or rather, like my confident self again) when I finally had support from people who truly understood.
2. Learn Love and Logic parenting and apply the philosophy from the beginning. I wish I hadn’t waited for crises to arise before I sought effective parenting strategies. Love and Logic is good for all kids but especially those with reactive attachment disorder who attempt to place blame on everyone around them. Once my husband and I used Love and Logic consistently, our sons were put in positions where they had to take responsibility for their own actions. It made such a difference in our lives.
4. Understand what degree of attachment is realistically possible with children with reactive attachment disorder. Set aside your ideas of what should happen in your relationships with your children. Form realistic expectations of their capacity for attachment. You won’t know what realistic is, however, until you truly understand reactive attachment disorder and your children. Accept when good is good enough.
5. Redefine your understanding of family with parenting strategies that best serve the challenges of your individual children. Your dream of the perfect family is likely to disappoint you and set your family up for failure. Remove the “shoulds” and realize that every person in your family is different. Even when you use the same parenting philosophy with all of your children, the application will differ depending on the child. That’s okay.
This, too, shall pass. When you look back on your life in 20 years, you will likely wish you knew more or did things differently as a younger parent. I hope you’ll also know that you did the very best you could with what you knew and could do at the time. Until that day, reach out and get the help you need. Lean on the people whom you can trust.
At the end of each day, take a deep breath, give yourself a break for your human mistakes, feel proud of the parent you are (if you need help with that today, realize what you’re doing at this very moment), and know that you are enough for your children.