Love Lessons: the Moving Tale of a Mother Who Tried to Love a RAD Child from Russia – Part II

Excerpt from the Foreward from “Love Lessons,” a Soon-to-be-Published Book

Part II – September 2009

What Miss Bean and the best research universities are telling us now, is that there is a path to redemption, even at these lowest moments. What Dr. Foster Cline discovered and taught after decades of working with these families, is that there are two things that make a difference for families that survive and succeed with the attachment challenged / traumatized child: A sense of faith, and a sense of humor. Miss Bean is shaken to the very foundations of her faith as she takes the necessary, fiercely and brutally honest look at her own history. Thank God that her faith was rooted in a secure foundation for she was shaken to her core. Because of this she was able to heal, and to accept herself as people with a strong faith in a loving Creator and Savior are able to do. As Dr. Purvis has taught, each of us can earn a “healthy, secure attachment pattern.” Sometimes a healthy marriage or attachment in adolescence and adulthood can help to achieve that. Even with that, many of us need to go back and resolve and grieve the unresolved hurt and trauma from our past. As experience has proven, it takes about 6 months to 2 years of a fiercely honest review of our childhood and past. The goal is not to stop at anger, projection and blame. The goal of this review and self examination is to keep our eye on developing a sense of forgiveness, and even blessedly a sense of humor about our own history, our family, our first teachers and theirs. It can be done. It has to be done.

Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. Steven Cross of TCU’s center for Child Development have developed TBRI, or the Trust Based Relational Intervention. Their research has shown us that most families, who typically bring children from hard places home, have wounds of their own. Many of these parents are children of alcoholics. Their early programming entailed taking care of those, who could not take care of themselves. Not by conscious choice, but by unconscious core beliefs, perceptions and programming, they are drawn to take care of those, who need help and protection, who are so challenged to take care of themselves; and who also find it so challenging to accept those, who can take care of them.

Or, as Jodi Bean points out the “tear” in the fabric of an otherwise healthy secure attachment can be caused by death or divorce. Research on attachment patterns, since the end of WW II, has consistently and repeatedly demonstrated that the infants’ attachment patterns at 12 to 18 months of age, will naturally endure, persist and prevail over the life span. Miss Bean’s personal experience bears out the research data. Death or divorce of a parent, while the child is still young can compromise a healthy secure attachment pattern. Such an experience will be experienced, interpreted and internalized as a threat to the developing psyche and developing child.

Miss Bean repeats often, what we nearly universally hear from mother’s, who take in these children: If only I could have known. If only I would have had the information earlier, a year, five years, a generation earlier… Please just prepare me. Another email from a mom today…

Two of our Ethiopian children are not living at home now, one of them wants to come back and hang out all the time, the other hates us. The others are all doing quite well. My only regret with adoption is that no one explained RAD (Reactive Attachment Dirsorder) to me until I was several years into it, I was totally clueless. I think I could have been much more successful if I had been prepared and understood what was happening.

Of course to sit in judgment of these mothers and fathers, who have taken in children from very hard places, is smug, irresponsible, damaging and dim witted, even if it is natural, almost unavoidable. We all believe we could do better. I think it must be biologically wired into our perception and response systems as people, as adults. We believe that our love, our firmness, our strength, our discipline, our playfulness could create a different outcome. Mothers like Jody, constantly hear advice from everyone, including their own mothers; e.g. love her more; be more strict; get him into athletics, activities, etc… We see mother’s trying to take the children out in public, in stores, parks, churches and airports. The children tantrum, and give doe eyes to the unsuspecting. Well intentioned adults fawn and feel sorry for the children. The damage this does at seemingly innocuous or safe settings, such as school and church and family gatherings is often irreparable.

I was getting suspecting looks from the teacher’s aide that felt like she needed to provide Victoria with everything it appeared she wasn’t getting at home. This was a familiar response to me, even from my own family members. I knew it was difficult to understand from the outside looking in but the suspicion was hurtful.

“So as hard as it was, for me, it was the right thing to pull her out of the last few months of school. What it simply came down to was this: I couldn’t compete with anyone else. I would always lose to the shallowness of attention. Victoria always chose the schoolteacher, the Sunday School teacher, the smiling stranger primarily because they were unsuspecting. She could draw attention out of them and not have to give anything in return. My love was scary to her. My love wanted to give and take”. Reciprocity was required.

As Dr. Purvis and Dr Bruce Perry, and the entire literature on Bonding and Attachment, since John Bowlby established the field, have demonstrated, the spectrum of parenting that can be successful with bonded and attached birth children can be very broad. Whereas the successful strategies demanded to re-parent traumatized, damaged and rejected children, is incredibly narrow. As one parent, who is himself a doctor, continued to experience in his struggles with his adopted children often stated, “this is “Professional Parenting” that is required.” And it is. Some would say pragmatic or practical, rather than professional. What these parents seem to mean is that, like a well trained mental health professional, parents can not take what these children do personally. If a parent gets their feelings hurt by the child, they will likely not be able to survive, much less succeed as a family with these children. If a parent wants or needs to feel loved by their child, they are in a very dangerous place.