What happens to a parent whose child struggles with attachment? For many, it’s very difficult. You may feel a bit in shock, “They said that infants transfer attachment from their foster parents to their adoptive parents! I never expected this!” Family and friends often don’t see what you do and may doubt your experience. You may feel isolated if the child’s anxiety or behaviors make you reluctant to leave home. Sometimes you feel like you’re on a roller coaster. The child’s behaviors improve—just enough to make you think that he’s “cured”—only to realize that, once again, he is exhibiting symptoms…perhaps even different or more intense than those in the past.
One mom shares how the stress of having a child with an attachment disorder affected her:
I got pulled over by the police this morning. When I saw the lights, I immediately checked my speedometer, but no, I wasn't speeding. I rolled down my window and asked the officer if a taillight was out or something, and he told me that I'd "blatantly" gone through a stop sign.
I was absolutely dumbfounded--never been pulled over before, quite the opposite--I'm nervous on the road and have the reputation of being such an annoyingly law-abiding driver. I am ridiculed for my ultra-cautious ways, such as signaling in the middle of the night to turn into my driveway, and driving at the speed limit when others behind me want to speed--to the point that I've been flipped off twice this year by kids who want to go 70 in a 45 zone.
Mind you, this past 15 months of RAD (reactive attachment disorder) parenting has taken its toll on my brain, so anything is possible. The level of stress I have been under really became apparent when the policeman asked to see my license & proof of insurance. I immediately realized my insurance had expired six days ago, and although paid up, I explained I didn't have the new card in my car yet. It was sitting on my kitchen table. He told me this could mean a $1500 fine, plus a ticket for going through the stop sign.
At those words, I felt my world start to spin--it was like a big gear cracked inside my head and started to rotate wildly against my skull--and I did something totally out of character; I completely fell apart in front of a stranger.
Now, I am ordinarily a pretty reserved, self-contained sort of person (on the outside), but suddenly I heard this weird, animal wailing coming out of me--stream of consciousness stuff--babbling on like an idiot about how I was so sorry, I was ordinarily a very competent driver, an organized and responsible person, and especially on that stretch of road where I knew there were children--how I loved children, but I'd adopted this child from China a year ago and my life had been a mess ever since, and I hadn't gotten my insurance card in the car because I was constantly being distracted, and I was trying to be a good mother, but nothing was ever good enough for my daughter who had all these emotional problems, and with all the things I had to do at Christmastime, like looking after my son and my husband and my mother who had health problems in Canada and bla, bla, bla. It was so weird --I could hear this deranged voice talking. I knew it was mine, but couldn't stop it.
Finally I ran out of things to say and just slumped over the wheel, sobbing. I had pulled out my documentation from the glove compartment (sorting them out from the emergency diapers) and sort of waved the registration cards for 2002, 2003, 2004 in the air, as pathetic proof there had been a time when I had been a competent human being, long ago. I couldn't look at the policeman, I was so embarrassed and couldn't stop crying.
Finally I heard him say, "Now, please just take a deep breath. One of my colleagues on the force is having the same thing with a girl from China. It's OK. Try to pull yourself together," …which just made me cry harder. I'd completely lost control. He said, "I'm not going to give you a ticket. This is a warning. Go home and get your insurance card and just drive more carefully." As he walked away, I was still heaving and sobbing. He drove away and I still couldn't stop crying. Someone in a nearby house was watching the whole thing from his window, obviously confused--a lunatic outside his house, and no point in calling the police, because they'd just driven away--what to do?
I have not had a huge emotional release like that in ages--maybe not even since we got back from China--I mean I cried about everything under the sun--all the disappointments, all the rage, all the resentment, the frustration, the exhaustion that has been piling up. Little did the policeman know that he would be the catalyst for 15+ months of misery.
Finally I was able to pull myself together and drove home to get the insurance card--only to start up again and drain out the last few bits of anguished soul on the living room couch. My husband was peering at me the whole time with huge eyes (he also knows I am not a crier) and was quite at a loss to know what to say.
Oh, goodness. Even with support, resources and meds --- this is such a hard journey.
This is a hard journey. AND YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!
Begin by reading Nancy Thomas’s book, When Love is Not Enough. The first “Powerful Parenting Technique” she lists is “Take Care of Yourself First.” She describes many ways to accomplish this simple, but seemingly impossible task.
In the back of Thomas’s book, you’ll find a checklist for PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) Secondary Trauma. Many parents develop depression or PTSD Secondary Trauma from living with a child with attachment problems.
The attachment between any two individuals is a two-way street. And when one person—irregardless of how young—repeatedly rejects another individual, it can be very difficult. When this happens between a baby and his parents, it can be especially heartbreaking. Another mom shares her experience:
When I discovered that my son had attachment issues I took it very personally. I thought it had something to do with me not being a good, nurturing mother. But at the same time I found that the harder I tried to be loving and nurturing the more my son adamantly rejected me. This little baby had the ability to push so hard that I began to withdraw and feel as though I was walking on eggshells around him. What would I do that would set him off? Was it changing his diaper, feeding him lunch, rocking him before bed? I began to fear anything that meant taking care of him. It was as though I was holding my breath all day long waiting for that rejection that hurt so badly. It was always a matter of time. With the help of attachment therapy and parenting we were finally on our way out of that slump. My son began to trust me more and more and wanted me to care for him and nurture him. But even as we experienced progress, in the back of my mind I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I gained strength and confidence in my ability to parent my son but at the same time I found that I was always looking at the glass as though it were half empty.
Unforeseen difficulties may cause the adoptive parent to become depressed. If you are feeling this way, please consult a professional.