reactive attachment disorder

Got Loyalty? — Parenting A Child Who Has Reactive Attachment Disorder

When I was in law school, one of the common quotes most every professor enjoyed trumpeting was “…if you’re looking for justice, the last place you’ll ever find it is in the courtroom.”  Which seemed an oddity to me.  Wouldn’t the courtroom be the best place to find justice?  But no, it isn’t … because in the courtroom you have two opposing points of view trying to meet somewhere in the middle.  Sometimes one is probably right while the other is wrong, but most times, justice is a blur.  A gray area.

As a mother who has parented a child diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, I can wholeheartedly say that if you are looking for loyalty, the last place you’ll ever find it is from that child.  Which also seems an oddity.  Wouldn’t the parent who saved the child from the horrors of early childhood trauma be the one who would receive complete loyalty?  But no, that doesn’t happen … because as in the courtroom, there are two opposing points of view trying desperately to meet in the middle.  In this case, the parent can be trusted, but to the traumatized child, loyalty is a blur.  A massive gray area.  Loyalty is a thing he or she has never experienced.

Those connected to the judicial system throw around the term “justice” as if a person will indeed receive equity when he enters a courtroom.  How many commercials have you seen, put out by a nicely groomed attorney with bleached white teeth, promising justice if you’ll just call the 1-800 number on the screen.   But it’s a fool’s paradise.  An illusion.  A child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder is that nicely groomed attorney with bleached white teeth. haha.  They pretend to be attached and feign loyalty to whomever they perceive as the weakest among them.  They lure their target in with fake promises just like the lawyers lure in the simple-minded sheep.

What’s in it for these kiddos?  Control.

Parents cannot be manipulated for long, though.  We are dialed in and figure out pretty quickly what we’re dealing with.  As a result, our children stop working to manipulate us with their kindness and irresistibility early into the adoption.  The child who was once so helpful, generous, kind, and loving … becomes reckless, angry, manipulative, and willful.  In keeping with this tongue-in-cheek courtroom comparison, parents would be the judges.  (The bailiffs sometimes, too). Sitting on our perch, we look down at the attorneys and their clients and see it all as a free-for-all circus.  No matter how crazy it gets, we have no choice but to let it play itself out.

Here’s an example:

This child befriends an adult neighbor.  Perhaps she sees the neighbor clipping bushes or raking leaves and offers to help.  She’s chatty, sociable, and fills the conversation with compliments and giggles.  She’s harmless.  Adorable even.  Over the next weeks, she continues to stop by to offer her help with housekeeping, cooking, walking the dog, etc.  She brings the mail to the door.  Carries the emptied trash cans from the street to the garage.  She’s an angel.  Soon, the neighbor realizes the child is becoming too comfortable.  She’s hanging around the house now instead of stopping by for an occasional visit … and she’s using the computer  and eating cookies from the pantry and playing with toys that belong to his/her own children.  The neighbor considers saying something.  But, the child is just so helpful and sweet.  She’s harmless.

Soon, the child begins to tell stories of home.  The adoptive parents just don’t appreciate her.  Maybe they’re even mean to her.  And the neighbor then feels so sorry for the child. No wonder this child is hanging around his/her house all of the time.  The child’s home is such a bad place.   It all makes sense now.

In response to the sympathy, the child stops by even more often, uses the computer more, takes more cookies, and helps herself to any/every room in the home.  Before long, true to form, the neighbor realizes things are missing.  It might be something as insignificant as a tube of chapstick or a pack of ink pens or as important as money or a piece of jewelry.  At first, the neighbor says nothing.  Perhaps he/she misplaced these items.  But it continues, and so the neighbor finally confronts the child.  The child then loses the control she had.  The jig us up.  And the child melts down and acts out.  At best, she screams and cries.  At worst, she may destroy something that belongs to the neighbor or tell a scandalous lie about the neighbor.

Then, she moves onto her next victim.

Because she’s starving for control.

A lack of control over someone or something means she’s vulnerable.  And being vulnerable isn’t an option.

The parents have been through this cycle over and over and over again, which is why they’re now the judge and bailiff.

And the neighbor?  He/She will now avoid that family like the plague.

Sound familiar?

If it does, I’m going to remind you of something you already know.  Your child is a victim too.  She never asked to be dumped or abused or neglected … she never asked to be rescued either.  In her own mind, she only needs herself.  She doesn’t need you, because you’re going to break her heart.

But she does need you.

Got Loyalty?

No.  She has never experienced loyalty.

So she is going to test you and test you and then test you again.

Show her.

Show her.

And then show her again.

Give her the selfless gift of loyalty, even though you may never receive one thing in return.


Do whatever you have to do to protect yourself and the rest of your family, but don’t ever disappear from her life.

Everyone deserves the gift of loyalty, don’t they?

James 1:12:

  • Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

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