Sometimes, Love isn’t Enough for Kids {Part 1}

by GfG on February 5, 2014 · 8 comments

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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.

Mindy Daniel HB WEB

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.

{Read the rest of the story!}

What are your thoughts on RAD? 


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

PrincessR February 5, 2014 at 7:46 pm

To be honest, I haven’t thought about it- probably because it isn’t something I had thought I had run across in life.
But to be honest, I know a family that was the Christ-centered, loving family to kids who didn’t choose to “stay”. And know I understand more fully why. It makes sense, really. And it is so heart-breaking! This is NOT how it was made to be and it is sad to see it. :/
Thanks for the words. I know they are hard to write, painful to share, but they mean so much to me. How else will we know what others around us are going through? And you by sharing have opened my eyes know to MANY around me! Many thanks my friend!
Love to you!
Rebecca H


Missy February 5, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Thank you for sharing this. My sister in law has foster parented/adopted 7 children (same mother/different fathers) whom she poured her heart and soul into, loved and cared for. Sometimes LOVE isn’t enough. Most of them had major changes in their attachment and behavior at the onset of puberty, just as you have described. Others though, did not. Their stories are different and only God knows why. I know this part of your story must be hard for you to share, and I pray that it is healing, too. I’m glad it has been on your heart.
Obedience is doing what God has called us to do and trusting HIM with the outcome.


Jennifer February 6, 2014 at 6:30 am

Thanks for sharing. I would have to agree. Our family sees this with my brother. I know it’s so hard for my mom. She recently received a birthday gift from him. It was a small gift, but it was the FIRST acknowledgement of her birthday by him in his 36 years. She cried with joy for days. Parenting is so emotionally draining for the mamas.


Jan Tessier February 6, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Beautiful sharing. Thank you for your bravery in telling your story. Love you dearly.


Tonya Cogburn February 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Thanks so much for sharing. It is so easy to judge how others parent, but until we are in their shoes we don’t know what they are going through. There is so much heartache out there thank you for encouraging moms to reach out and encourage each other rather than judging. You are an inspiration to me!


Kelley Keech February 6, 2014 at 9:18 pm

So many will never truly understand, we gave my nephew 9 great months. All was so well and he went to visit his dad 1 weekend and came back and he was a different boy. We were never able to get him back in check. One night instead of faking being sick like a normal child would do to get out of going to school the next am. He broke open an amo box loaded a riffle and shot me in the back of the head. When it didn’t go as he thought he started beating me with the butt of the riffle.


GfG February 6, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Oh, my, Kelley!! I’m so sorry. That had to have been horrible. I pray God has brought you healing, emotionally and spiritually.


Heather@To Sow a Seed February 11, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Thank you for being brave enough to speak out. As a fellow adoptive parent, I understand intimately what you are sharing here. It’s real. And love alone is not enough.


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