Having a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder has been one of the most grueling and faith trying trials of my life. It was the very thing I felt I couldn't do. I told my husband that I could take on ANY issue in foster/adoption EXCEPT for that. I wasn't even afraid of Autism, Deafness, Hepatitis C, food allergies, Blindness, you name it, none of those things sounded impossible to work thru in my mind compared to the mental health and behavioral challenges found in a child with RAD. Ironically, I only understood the tip of the iceberg at that point. So imagine when not just one but two of my adopted children were diagnosed with it and when one of them began to get an alphabet soup of other diagnoses along with the RAD diagnosis. The weight of the challenge in front of us was crushing. I had a therapist tell me, "This isn't a death sentence." But try to imagine having a 3 or 4 year old make suicidal statements or act bipolar. Imagine darkness that doesn't seem to go away. And then imagine having your concerns being dismissed and invalidated everywhere you turn because everyone under the sun says to you, "Oh that's normal." Here's a video that shows how bad RAD can be: it's definitely NOT normal!
I knew one of my daughters before she came to our home and I told the case manager that some of her behaviors made me worry that she had RAD. He said, "Oh no, she doesn't have that." Well, turns out that the state just lies to keep children adoptable or they are entirely incompetent. My daughter had not just a handful, but 19 of the 25 risk factors that could cause enough trauma for a child to have RAD. Even so, we knew what we were getting into before the adoption was final, and we made the choice that we would be there for our children no matter what.
What's crazy is that as hard as it is for us, there are families who have it even worse. Those families have been so supportive to us.
So I am left to wonder. Why does God allow this to happen to children? Does Jesus' sacrifice really make all of this "okay"? The answer, at least for this moment of time, is no. None of this is okay. We have hope that SOMEDAY Jesus will heal us and that the pain will eventually be over, but in the struggle to fix everything now I have had to reconcile that some things are not able to be mended. Some mountains cannot be moved. Those are the mountains that have to be climbed.
I have had to redefine the miracles. I used to pray for the miracle that God would heal my kids and take away the negative effects of the choices made by others, because my kids and the rest of our family didn't deserve the consequences of those choices. I used to pray for it to all be better. But God is teaching me how to accept what is while I am on this journey to find healing with my children. We go to therapy and we see progress even if it's slow and I do believe there is great hope for my children to overcome their odds because they are already rising above some of their challenges, but even with the progress, our story is not over yet. I know many people on a similar journey as ours who are fierce fighters and advocates for their children and who have the literal faith to move mountains. Yet their children's mountains have not been moved (at least in the form of having their devastating circumstances fixed--I also know many individuals on this path who have had their circumstances get worse by taking on the burden and carrying the cross with these kinds of kids).
There is no sure guarantee for healing trauma in this life. And because of that I have had to find the internal strength to understand and accept that sometimes as awful as it may be, there are stories where Cain still slays Abel. There are circumstances where tragedy remains tragedy and that in the here and now there is no way to fix it. Living in denial of what is cannot change that.
In reflecting on the story of Cain and Abel I have wondered what made him so jealous, so angry, and so quick to lie. Those are the very same attributes you find in children who have suffered early trauma. He sounds exactly like a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder to me. I have seen that pattern over and over, hundreds of times. We revere Adam and Eve as the world's best parents...or at least I know I have. They were God's chosen -- the best parents possible to start out the earth, with the best genetic prints to begin the human race. All of Heaven must have stopped to watch their majestic wedding. These are the thoughts I have had before about our first parents because I do believe in God and in His word and I have always viewed things positively. I also have previously tried to fit His word into a box I have created of idealistic circumstances.
But life has shown me that when you're asked to "leave the Garden", the world you live in really can be a god-forsaken place. On my own journey of foster adoption I have thought again about what life might have been like for our first parents. Maybe they were doing their best but it wasn't good enough for Cain to be completely protected as a young child. Maybe they had to deliver him on their own and with no medical knowledge of what to do. Assuming it was her first successful pregnancy, perhaps the entire experience as a first time mother was terrifying (all of those feelings--especially prolonged and extreme emotional stress--affect your child's development in utero). Maybe she had terrible nutrition or serious illness during her pregnancy with Cain. They built alters and made sacrifices--maybe they burned plants that weren't good for them. Maybe Eve unknowingly or accidentally ingested plants that were equivalent to drugs or chemicals while she was pregnant. Maybe Cain was deprived of oxygen or had other medical issues that were not taken care of properly during his birth. Maybe Eve's milk didn't come in because of the stress of the circumstances and perhaps Cain was fed water or other fluids that weren't good for his development. What if He was a failure to thrive type of child? How much prolonged exposure to the wind and cold did he suffer? Did Adam and Eve know that babies should be loved and cuddled and spoken to, or did they think he'd be okay sitting at home alone even as an infant while they went out to gather food? Maybe he witnessed some violence with animals because the way they had to live was brutal and that's super scary for kids. The possibilities are truly endless. I'd say it's highly likely that Cain had a traumatizing childhood and that Adam and Eve didn't quite know what they were doing (because none of us do as parents and everyone's first child is a Guinea pig in some fashion) but their circumstances were way worse to deal with being the first humans all alone out in the dreary untamed world. Maybe by the time Adam and Eve had Abel, they had learned some things the hard way (like we all do) and they knew how to raise children in a safer and more protected way. Abel was likely to have had a better upbringing not being the first child. He was likely able to grow in a more neurotypical way, but Cain's first exposure to the world taught him that the world is a cruel harsh place and his deepest survival skills were firmly in place. I believe this because the natural stress responses of Fight/Flight/Freeze are all identifiable in this story. Abel was a threat to Cain because Abel had more favor with God so Cain fought his brother in jealousy and killed him. Then he took flight. When God found him and spoke to him, Cain froze up and lied--which is exactly what RAD children do all over the world every single day. Their brains are hardwired to do exactly that. Fight. Flight. Freeze. Jealousy. Anger. Lies. The disonnection from love and compassion is neuroscience and it happens routinely in cases of early and extreme childhood trauma. Cain was a child with RAD.
Image from pixabay.com
None of my theories can be proven of course. And even if God was merciful and gave Adam and Eve all the knowledge they needed to prevent medical trauma from happening to Cain and even if they did everything naturally and right and he still turned out the way he did, or even if he was just born with a darkly motivated disposition, there would still be a harsh reality in this story: You can be the best parent in the world with immeasurable faith, knowledge, and trust in God but sometimes you can still experience a story just as tragic as this one where Cain still kills Abel.
If you're a parent in the trenches of a life with a child from horrible circumstances, I just want to send a message from my phone screen to yours: This is hard, but you can do this. Don't stop praying for miracles on behalf of your child but also know that maybe the miracle you're praying for is actually already in you. The miracle is that you have a heart to love a child who is unloveable to others. The miracle is that you are there for them 'come what may' and 'no matter what'. The miracle is that no matter how dark it gets, you had the heart to stand up to fight for the impossible, and your child's story is better than it would have been (even if it's still tragic) simply because of you. Don't worry yet about how your child's story might end. Celebrate each small success when you have it, and know that no matter what comes, love doesn't have an end. And that's a beautiful thing.