My daughter has Reactive Attachment Disorder. That means I need three things from you. Some people think that RAD means my daughter can’t emotionally attach to others. It doesn’t. Attachment is like math. It comes easy to some and others need to work very hard to grasp the most basic principles. My daughter has to work harder and it takes her longer to attach but she can and does do it. Some have been led to believe that some people with RAD are homicidal. Okay, some people who eat chocolate are homicidal. My daughter isn’t. She doesn’t hide knives under her pillow. She doesn’t torture our pets. Some people who suffer from the effects of RAD do have those tendencies, but those are extreme cases which history has proven may be corrected over time.
Sarah, like most who suffer from her condition, does struggle to grasp the concept of cause and effect. From her earliest moments, an abusive and neglectful mother taught her another reality. If she cried enough, it would create a reaction. There was no telling what reaction would come in a situation where a mother might be passed-out-drunk for hours at a time, or raging from a hangover, and in a house where there might be food and might not. My daughter can recall soft little tickles on her feet, but she also remembers having her hair grabbed in two fists to facilitate its repeated bashing onto the floor. There was absolutely no relationship between the things my daughter did and the reactions they caused. The orphanage was better, but Russians are masters of making threats they don’t intend to follow through with. Sometimes she was punished for breaking orphanage rules but most of the time she wasn’t. You might find it easy to believe that gravity works every time. My daughter would be hard pressed to accept the fact that there is not an exception to the rule.
That brings me to the first thing I need from you. Teach my daughter that there is consistency in the world. Teach her that her good actions bring good results and her bad actions do the opposite. Don’t let her off the hook. Ever! If you do, you are only reinforcing her understanding that life is a series of random occurrences that we have no control over. My daughter had a tough beginning. I don’t have a problem with you sympathizing with that. In fact, I really do appreciate your empathy and compassion. Even so, don’t let your feelings allow her to get away with breaking rules without consequences. If you do, you will be robbing at least some potential for a successful future, to give her something she doesn’t need now.
Her current family is an exception to a rule that my daughter has not yet disproved.
My daughter lost a lot during the first part of her life. She lost her mother more times than you can count. Even as a toddler my daughter would be left alone for long periods of time. She never really knew if her mother would return to care for her. It was a “given” that her mother wouldn’t return before she was hungry. The little girl was hungry all the time. At five my daughter was removed from the home and put into an orphanage. A year later, after bonding with the director and orphanage workers, she was taken to an orphanage for older children. There she made new friends and eventually came to trust the adults who provided for her. Then my wife and I showed up and threw a wrench in the chain. We took her away from that environment to give her a home and family that we said were “forever.” She was happy to hear that it was forever. All children love fairytales but it doesn’t mean they believe them. My daughter couldn’t fathom “forever” when it came to relationships.
Here’s the second thing I need from you. You see my daughter as charming. I’ll give you that. She’s one of the most charming people I have ever met. Her charm is a means to an end. My daughter can’t imagine that her mother and I will not go away long before a natural and geriatric demise. She’s charming because she is grooming you. That isn’t to say her feelings for you aren’t sincere. They are. She likes you enough to choose you to be her new parent for when I’m gone. Here’s the hardest part: Once she thinks you are ready to accept her as your own child, she figures she might as well get the pain over with when it comes to loosing me. My daughter will do everything she can to drive me to the point of ending my relationship as her parent. Of course it won’t work, but she doesn’t know that. Her current family is an exception to a rule that my daughter has not yet disproved. Please be my daughter’s friend. But if you really want to help her; if you really want to help me, reinforce the family relationships she already has. Don’t tell her how lucky (or even worse, blessed) she is to have a new family. She believes that if she was either of those things, she wouldn’t have needed a new family in the first place. I know it is a fine and unclear line, but help my daughter to understand that she really does have the family that will last her for the rest of her life.
The last thing I need from you is consistency. (I know; the first thing I needed from you was consistency.) Consequences for my daughter don’t need to be severe. In fact, she would interpret that as abuse. The best thing for her are small punishments that are finished quickly, but that are delivered with brutal consistency. My daughter needs to know how you will react all of the time. Of course you will act differently to different circumstances and that’s part of the point. But my daughter needs to see that when she acts negatively, your response is negative. When my daughter does good things, act positively; every time. The lessons my daughter needs to learn in order to be a successful adult are the things that most children learn in their first one to two years of their lives. Those lessons come harder now and that’s why I need your help. If you could just give me one part of boundaries in relationships with two parts of consistency, it will make a world of difference to our family.
More blog articles by John M. Simmons about Disorders/Mental Illness