This reflection is one of a series written on behalf of a mom who placed her children at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development several 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…and from a place of frailty that only a parent can know.
(The author uses pseudonyms for the protection and privacy of her children.)
“Fake mom” was how I was listed in my thirteen-year-old son’s cell phone. He despised and mistrusted me as his adoptive mom. He was suspicious of my motives as I mothered him with the kind of care and affection I grew up with as a child. I was not his “real mom”. I am certain at times that he believed I actually stole him from his birth mom.
As adoptive moms, we look forward to welcoming our new children into our homes. The hopeful potential of a young child blinds us to the less obvious emotional wounds of many traumatized children. We moms earnestly desire to nurture children who lost trust and nurturing as such tender ages. Yet, children who suffer disrupted attachment are virtually hard-wired to mistrust adults. So our good intentions are met with their unconscious behaviors aimed to push us away. They don’t know how to accept our affection and connection. They squirm and can’t make eye contact. Or they are overly clingy, feigning affection in the guise of their attempts to control and test adults.
In retrospect, I think I caused my personal suffering and disappointment the moment I assumed that our lives with our adopted sons would be nearly the same as the family I grew up with from childhood. I took for granted that my husband and I could raise children to have the integrity and moral compass that permeated through our families of origin.
Children removed from neglectful, abusive environments certainly benefit from safe and loving homes. Yet, their superficial charm disguises their wounds. To top it off, adoptive parents put on their own blinders in their desperate attempts to fulfill their dream of family.
I wonder sometimes – what if I had truly understood the effects of disrupted attachment before I fully immersed myself in the role of mom – the mom I dreamed I’d be before I understood the limitations of these relationships? What would have happened if I was voluntarily able to give up the dream of an idyllic family? If I could take a more objective stance and give a little distance? If I could step into the maternal role with eyes-wide-open to the obstacles and struggles of parenting these traumatized children?
When people ask me today about fostering or adopting children, I wholeheartedly encourage them to do so. There are so many children in need. But I also suggest things for them to consider beforehand.
Before adoption, I suggest that parents:
1. Educate themselves on the issues and struggles of reactive attachment disorder or traumatized children.
2. Prepare themselves for a different kind of parenting.
3. Attain realistic expectations. In most cases, they need to parent differently than the ways they know and internalized as children. They need to learn a new way of mothering. The relationship between an adoptive mom and a child with reactive attachment disorder is often overwhelming (Read: How an Adoptive Mom Becomes a Nurturing Enemy).
Perhaps with enough consistency, structure, empathy and perseverance, we will help wounded children grow their potential for relationships. We can help them heal some of their trust wounds and hence improve their lives and the lives of those they touch.
Please call and invite Forrest Lien to speak at your parent and professional groups nationwide at (303) 674-1910. When we learn together, we can work together to fight reactive attachment disorder.