The holiday decorations are packed away. Maybe you’ve bid your guests farewell, thankful for the time you spent together over the season. And now that you’re revived, you welcome another year—time for new accomplishments.
Or maybe not.
If you’re a parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD), the decorations might still be up. Or maybe they never made it up in the first place. You don’t have time. Perhaps you feel more isolated after your time with friends and family. They just don’t understand the realities of raising a child with RAD.
Perhaps you’re relieved the holidays are over but feel remorseful. You’ve already planned what you’ll do differently next year. You’ll be less agitated and more relaxed, you think to yourself. You’ll be different in the new year—just as everyone from your child’s therapist to your sister suggests.
But maybe you’re on the wrong track.
Here’s what we suggest for 2018 goals for parents of kids with RAD:
1. Forgive yourself. You have made mistakes and will continue to do so, inevitably. It’s the nature of parenthood and humanness. Take mistakes as learning opportunities and move on. No one is perfect. But you can still be great.
2. Let go. Many parents of kids with RAD feel responsible for their children’s actions. You may blame yourself for your child’s mistakes (often because others quickly blame you too, unfortunately). But when you work harder than your child, no one benefits. You get more frustrated and your child isn’t able to experience natural consequences. Allow your child to own both successes and mistakes.
3. Trust yourself as a parent and politely ignore the rest. Parents of kids with RAD often get lots of unsolicited advice. Friends, family, and even therapists often have good intentions when they try to help. If they don’t understand the complexities of RAD, however, their advice can actually make parents feel worse—misunderstood and isolated. If that’s your experience, let go of the unhelpful advice and know you’re doing the best you can with what you have and know. Try to let go of any frustration and resentment you may feel as well (although we know it’s not easy). Most people simply can’t understand what you’re going through—that’s neither their fault or yours.
4. Know that you alone are enough of a parent. All of that unsolicited advice can make it hard to keep your head up. Many parents of children with RAD feel helpless and discouraged. They feel like “bad parents” because, well, that’s what many people in their lives imply. Just because you’re not a perfect parent doesn’t mean you’re not enough of a parent for your child. You are that adult in your child’s life who has made the commitment. You are your child’s parent. That’s it.
5. Get help. Even though you alone are enough as a parent, you still need professionals surrounding your family. Too many parents of children with RAD feel as though they’ve failed if they need help. The reality is that you can’t do this alone. To raise a child with RAD requires therapy for everyone and respite care, for starters. Find attachment specialists to help you along the parenthood journey.
6. Take care of you first. We know, we know—you hear this all the time. You have no time, respite care or resources to take care of yourself. We know. There’s a reason you keep hearing it though. If you don’t find creative ways to care for yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.
If nothing else, we hope you know you’re not alone. Thousands of parents all over the world feel the same way you probably do. They feel misunderstood and isolated. But together, you are all stronger. Reach out to them—whether somehow in your own communities or on our website or Facebook. All of us at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development stand behind those doing their best to raise children suffering the effects of early abuse and neglect. We’re behind you— yesterday, today, and every tomorrow.