The elderly don’t walk past the Roosmas at a park and gaze with kind and nostalgic eyes at their young family. Teachers don’t get particularly excited when they see “Roosma” on their roster for the upcoming school year. Chris and Dyan Roosma’s children don’t come home with birthday invitations in their backpacks often. When their kids aren’t doing well, no one from church brings casseroles to their home. Parents like the Roosmas don’t get the kind of support and love that “traditional” families do.
Chris and Dyan Roosma, therapeutic treatment parents for the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, care for children who’ve experienced early trauma—those who were abused or neglected by the tender age of 3. The kids that live with Chris and Dyan come from diverse backgrounds. Their skin tones are as beautiful and different from one another as their eye shapes and hair colors. Yet, they have one thing in common—they’re not easy kids. Chris and Dyan get calls from the school principal regularly. They know their local police officers well as they must call them for the safety of their kids if they try to run away from home. Every now and then, they have to replace a carpet when a child who is new to their home urinates on his or her bedroom floor – on purpose.
As you can imagine, Chris and Dyan can get tired. It’s not easy to coordinate various sporting events and school schedules for all of the kids in their home, not to mention their therapy and neurofeedback sessions. They must remain calm under all circumstances for the growth of the children in their home, no matter how creative the kids get in their efforts to push Chris and Dyan away emotionally.
Chris and Dyan are better off than other families raising kids suffering from early trauma
Luckily, Chris and Dyan and the other therapeutic treatment parents here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development have support from one another. “We’re not alone in this work,” said Jared Martin, therapeutic treatment dad at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, “Our team is surrounded by a community here at the Institute who understands and supports one another constantly.” Our therapeutic treatment parents have educated and worked with our small school districts long enough to have gained the support and understanding from teachers and other staff. The police officers in their small towns know them well and are readily available to support them as parents, as well as to protect the children in their homes.
Yet, that’s not the case for most families raising kids with reactive attachment disorder—kids who were stunted in their emotional and developmental growth early in their lives due to abuse and neglect. “Many of the parents I work with have been ostracized from their families,” said AJ Bernstein, attachment specialist and therapist at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. “They also get pushed out of their church families often because people don’t truly understand the reality of what they’re going through.”
What goes wrong between the initial adoption papers and life at home for adoptive families of kids with attachment disorder
Adoptive and foster parents aren’t alone in the beginning of their journeys. On the contrary, they are often cheered on and supported by friends when they fill out their adoption paperwork. Their fellow church members rejoice when parents finally get the child they’ve been hoping for and waiting upon for so long. Family members wait at the airport and embrace them when they return from their long flights should they adopt abroad.
Yet, all of that love begins to taper off. Before they know it, adoptive parents—particularly mothers—are suddenly more alone than they’ve ever been before. Therapists tell them they need to take parenting courses. Teachers tell them they need to discipline better at home. Family members question them for treating their children unfairly. Church members don’t understand why the adoptive parents appear so “angry”. Ultimately, adoptive parents often get divorced. Adoptive moms end up alone, depressed, overwhelmed, and with PTSD of their own all too often.
It’s not just a coincidence that so many adoptive families are ostracized from the very people who cheered them along in their decision to adopt early on. That’s because many of them are raising children with reactive attachment disorder. Kids who have experienced early trauma push away people who care for them at all costs—including claiming false allegations against their parents while manipulating and charming other adults around them. They do this, not because they don’t need love, but because their brains are hard-wired to protect them from potential threats. For children who experienced early neglect and trauma, they are threatened by the very people who attempt to care for and love them. They push away the people trying to get close to them out of “survival mode” and are very good at it.
What YOU can do to really support adoptive families
We encourage you to reconsider your notion of love toward families, friends, and even strangers. “Love isn’t just a feeling,” said Beverly White, attachment specialist and therapist here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. “To love someone is to act with love.”
Whether you’re a teacher, therapist, family member, neighbor, or grocery store clerk, try to really see the “different” families that cross your path in life, no matter how brief. Try to put yourself into their shoes. Empathize. The very best gift you can give to struggling adoptive families is to educate yourself about developmental trauma (a.k.a RAD). We invite you to start here.
p.s. – A casserole could help too. Thank you for your love for adoptive families. We know it’s not easy for you either. Let us support and help educate you as well. Please sign-up for our newsletter for love from all of us here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development.
We’re hiring therapeutic treatment parents. Read about a “day in the life”.