Love is not all you need to parent. Sometimes it isn’t enough to lovingly parent a child. Today, I’d like to share a little bit of my experience with parenting a child for six years, and then watching him walk away and never look back.
It won’t be an easy story to write and it might not be an easy story to read. Please hear me out, though, because there are other mothers, fathers, and children who need you to know about this.
As Christians, we like to believe that God-centered, loving, firm, grace filled parenting is all we need to have children who love their parents, appreciate home, and bond to their family. But… that’s not true.
At the ripe age of twenty-six, with a nine week old daughter, I became the foster mother to a twelve year old young man I loved. He had been one of my students when I taught in the public school system as the teacher for the deaf. His name was Daniel.
You would have thought that Paul and I would have gone into foster parenting an older child with our eyes wide open. Paul was the director of a boys’ home (and we lived there) where abused and emotionally disturbed boys found loving, consistent care after years of foster home hopping or institutional living. Their stories, often at only age seven, were heart breaking. The goal of The Ranch was to be their final placement.
To be home. The home they never had.
Yet, we knew, watched, and were trained to understand that many, if not most, of these boys had major attachment, cognitive, and emotional problems that would never fully be resolved. Paul ran training sessions about it.
Still… when Daniel came to our home, we believed that our love and our God-centered parenting would be enough to equip him for his life, to provide him a secure family setting, and to establish a beautiful bond as parents or at least parent-ish figures.
Nine months after he arrived, we became his managing conservators (sort of like we got custody in a divorce, but the parents still had visitation rights). I’m not kidding you in the slightest bit that we hit the ground running in parenting this almost teenager.
We jumped from newborn parenting books to teenager parenting books immediately. We took our role incredibly seriously and started to establish as much of a dream home for Daniel coupled with a firm training ground in godliness as we could. Our friends didn’t hesitate either.
To say that Daniel received the love, support, encouragement, and training within those first three years with us that he should have received the first twelve in his biological home is not inaccurate.
Then at age fifteen, Daniel reminded us that he was from a broken home and that the bonding he didn’t have in his early years took their toll. It was an incredibly painful reminder for us.
God designed the infant brain to require bonding (loving connection, if you like those words better) from a mother from birth. When that doesn’t happen for months or years, the brain is affected. Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in rather large ways.
Sometimes, a horrible issue called reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is created from the lack of bonding, lack of brain interaction, lack of love… in the early months. “Early months” is specifically non specific because the crucial months are different for each child.
RAD is not imagined. It’s not some kind of psychobabble that tries to excuse poor parenting. It’s real and it’s incredibly difficult.
And godly, loving, Christ-centered parenting can not cure it.
If you believe it can, I ask you to seek the LORD for wisdom. Can godly, loving, Christ-centered parenting cure the problems created by fetal alcohol syndrome? or meth addicted babies?
No, it can’t. It can bless in numerous ways and it can help the child reach their potential, but it can’t cure those issues.
Daniel’s horrible acting out (I’m not going to go into details, to honor him, but please know that when I say acting out, I don’t mean normal teenager behavior) should have reminded us of what we were dealing with by parenting an emotionally and physically abused child, but he had never been “diagnosed” and it wasn’t until a co-worker said, “Well, he is emotionally disturbed, so you expected this, right?”
Honestly… we just stared at him. Daniel? emotionally disturbed? What?!
That co-worker stared back and said, “Guys, you know this. He was abused and neglected. Yes, he is not a typical fifteen year old.”
We snapped right out of cozy, God-centered, loving, but firm, family dream for Daniel with us. It was not to be.
Daniel’s behavior was exceptional everywhere else. No one would have guessed what we had to walk through or how painful it was to be just care takers, not loving parents or even have any kind of bonding relationship with a young man we loved on for six years.
It is common for children who have been abused and/or neglected to suddenly start acting out when they hit puberty. Daniel was behind developmentally, so his puberty hit at age 15 and that is when things changed greatly.
Yet, even up until puberty hit, there was not the parental kind of relationship or bond. We weren’t his family.
Did/does Daniel have RAD? I don’t know. There are other issues involved with why he didn’t see us as his parents and that’s for another post, but I do know there were signs and it is possible.
ETA: And though it was incredibly difficult and painful, we never regretted our decision to foster parent Daniel. We always had peace during the storm because we knew it was what we were supposed to do.
What are your thoughts on RAD?