My oldest ran away this week. She’s run away multiple times (it’s her thing), but she’s never stayed away overnight before, which she did this time. She apparently landed at her friend’s house where I went to pick her up today and take her to the CALM center where she can stay until we (I, her therapist, her psychiatrist) get her a bed at a psychiatric unit that specializes in traumatized females. I’m a fairly tough individual, but days of wondering where your kid is, especially your kid who is ripe for re-victimization, just wears a person out. Our local police department had been to the house to take my report, then I’d filed paperwork the next day to generate an arrest warrant, and had another officer out the next day to advise me on what to do once I found out where she was. With a RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) kid, it’s not as simple as just going to pick her up. During this time I’d been holding down a fairly demanding job, and parenting my other two kids who were also freaked out that their sister had left.
So, I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I went to pick up my child to get a lecture from her friend’s dad about my parenting fails and his advice for overcoming them. According to him, because I’m single, I can’t possibly spend enough time with my children, and he was sure that none of them feel safe, secure or as though we have an actual home. I confirmed that statement a couple of times, because he was speaking on behalf of all three of my kids, two of whom he’s not actually been around for more than 30 seconds. In the same breath, he told me I should rent out a room in the house to a stranger, to improve our financial situation. And, finally, the best part, that I was clearly not attentive to my children’s spiritual life, because we don’t attend church, and that my children needed a “church family,” just like his daughter has.
So here’s the thing – unless you have raised a severely traumatized child for a minimum of six months, you have no idea in what world I and people like me live. It is a world as foreign to you as Mars. I don’t care if you’ve lived on the streets, made a million bucks, have three doctorates, are black, white or purple – your certainty of your understanding of our family and our issues, and supposed solutions, is absurd. You may have the best intentions in the world and fancy yourself a good Christian, but your unsolicited advice will ring false each and every time. And, you will do harm to a family who is already struggling.
The good news is that to be part of a much-needed support network for families like ours, you need to know a few things. Kids like mine are ridiculously good at manipulation, and they love control. And, I don’t blame them. Those are the tools that kept them alive through their early lives. However, they will say and do anything to appear victims and gain control of the situation. They have high levels of defiance. So, they will likely be very convincing when they charm the pants off of new teachers, therapists, friend’s parents, and neighbors. They’re like tiny politicians. And, after they’ve charmed the pants off these people they will carefully and skillfully convince them that their parent is a monster. They do this with husbands and wives often. Husband is charmed, kid only acts out when husband is not around, husband thinks wife is insane. RAD kids cause a large number of divorces. Hopefully, I don’t have to explain why this is disconcerting. I have friends whose RAD kids have convinced court advocates, psychiatrists, grandparents, teachers, etc. that their parent is an abusive monster to the point that human services is called and sometimes arrests are made. Thankfully, someone who has a clue usually intervenes, but not always.
The other thing that’s good to know is that, especially with single parents of RAD kids, we’re vigilant 24/7. There are no “down” days when you’re parenting traumatized kids. When you let your guard down, they go in for the kill. My daughter opted to run away days after we returned from a really lovely vacation to Chicago. She had a great time, appeared relaxed and comfortable, and then went into defiance mode on the trip back and didn’t speak for 12 hours. There is no rhyme or reason, so you have to be on guard all day, every day. Consequently, we’re a bit emotionally exhausted just about every day.
Finally, there is no magic pill or secret sauce for what ails a RAD kid. Not love, discipline, affection or religion. I completely respect people for whom religion plays a vital part of their lives, and I’m not undermining those beliefs. I’m actually deeply spiritual, but I find God much more present in Chagall’s America Windows than I do in church. I find spirituality in the miracle that is my children and in how we found each other and became a family.
Keeping all this in mind, the very last thing a RAD parent needs to hear is that she’s failing her kids. My days, and the days of my fellow RAD parents are filled with doubt. Our parenting is basically an informed crap shoot, by necessity. For the record, we are just fine financially, and my kids are pretty awesomely secure. They’re also pretty self-sufficient, because I do not cater to their every whim. They see someone who takes time for her career and for herself, which is what I want to model for them. I think I kind of rock as a parent. I’ve had therapists ask to write theses on us, because my kids are doing so well considering their extreme histories. I know these things intellectually, but when you’re vulnerable, like I was today, it’s pretty tough to hear all the ways in which you’re supposedly failing your child. I think sometimes people are certain about their answers, because it’s too scary and threatening to them not to be. To consider that the reality of the situation doesn’t have a quick fix. But in this case, if you’ve not walked the walk, please do not attempt to talk the talk. In the words of my friend, Voltaire, doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.