The Desperate Places We Speak From.

Even though we live in a world where adoption and foster care are well-known, the vast majority of the world’s population has no idea how difficult and desperate this journey can be!


Several years ago a popular talk show aired an episode that featured a mother who had adopted her son from Russia. During the interview she shared her frustration, difficulties, battles, exhaustion, and some of the desperate measures she took to keep her son under control. As any adoptive or foster parent, who watched the show, would tell you, her son was suffering from reactive attachment disorder.

What happened next was nothing short of shocking. The host began to berate her, verbally attack her, and then proceeded to allow the studio audience to do the same. My wife and her close friend both watched the episode. Regardless of the “expertise” the host supposedly had, regardless of his experience, it was clear- he had no clue where this woman was actually coming from, nor how to address her situation.

Beyond her tears, the talk show host and the audience around him failed to recognize one thing. She was speaking from a place of desperation. A place that, very few people in this world understood, or even knew existed. My wife understood it. So did her friend. They both knew exactly where this woman was coming from, and what was causing her son’s out of control behavior, because it was their lives, and their sons, to a T.

This child suffered trauma from all he went through in his early stage of life. His entire mode of operation was out of sync. In his 8 or 9 years of existence, he had been ripped from his birth parents care, placed in an orphanage, and left to fend for himself. Then, just as he had begun to get used to the new normal, two strangers from a foreign country, speaking a language he didn’t understand, flew in and took him home with them. He had no sense of belonging, no emotional ties to the people he was supposed to call “mom” and “dad,” and no idea what the next day would look like, or even if these people would stick around.

He was lashing out. Not because he wanted to, or even because he hated this new mom and dad, but because, in his mind, this was how you survive. Put up your defense. Let no one get close. Fight to stay alive.

Maybe this woman didn’t understand this? Maybe no one ever explained fear-based trauma or reactive attachment disorder to her? Regardless of what she was aware of or not, she was doing her best. She was willing to engage in the battle for this child’s heart everyday because, out of a loving heart, she brought him home.

But, she was tired. Her emotions had been stretched so far, she barely had anything left. To look at her face, you could tell she was exhausted and emotionally spent. The once passionate heart that beat for adoption, was slowing down. The energy and enthusiasm had been overtaken by fear, regret, frustration, and insecurity. These were the desperate places she spoke from.

We get it. These are the places we’ve spoken from so many times over the past 12 years. The doctor’s office doesn’t understand while we’re so emphatic that another medication will not help our son’s impulsive behavior. That’s why teachers look at us oddly when we demand that our daughter’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) be changed because she doesn’t understand simple math like the other children do.

Most of the world knows nothing of these places. Maybe you and I don’t either because we’ve never identified, nor admitted they exist? Maybe it’s time we do this?

A Place Of Insecurity.

Let’s be honest- We’re nervous! About everything! Our parenting, our marriage, our other children, our own well-being, you name it. We don’t know if tomorrow a Case Manager will show up and accuse us of something or a phone call comes in and the children we’ve had in our care for so long will be moved on to another home. Or, what if the school believes the tall tales our child tells, out of that fearful place, about not getting enough food at home, nor having any silverware (yes, this happened)?

We’re insecure. That’s why we’re as guarded as we are.

A Place Of Frustration.

Because of our children’s special needs, we are constantly saying the same thing over and over. We feel like a broken record that never stops playing. It’s frustrating beyond imagination. We’re also frustrated nearly every time we walk out of an IEP meeting, a doctor’s appointment, or a therapist’s office. Everyday we fight for our children because no one else will. But we feel like we’re stuck in the mud and that’s frustrating.

Disclaimer- since some of my reader’s are from the school system my children are in, let me be clear- we have had amazing IEP meetings over the past few years!

A Place Of Exhaustion.

We’re tired. In fact, even when we get a break, find some respite care for our children, we can’t sleep because we’re so consumed with worry and fear. We worry that we’ll never break through, never gain any traction with our children. We worry that someday they’ll abandon us and track down their birth parent. After all, they must want this, right? That’s what our brain tells us in our lowest moments. It does so because we’re exhausted. Most days, we don’t know how we’ll make it one more day. Somehow we do though.

A Place Of Loneliness.

This is a really lonely journey. It’s lonely because few people understand things like reactive attachment disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, or fear-based trauma. Three things that run rampant in adoption and foster care. We’re used to the loneliness but have to rely on things like our support community, which is filled with people who are in the same boat as we are.

A Place Of Fear.

We’re afraid of things that might not even exist. We’re afraid that one day this child we worked so hard to parent, and loved so much, will seek out their birth parents, and leave us in the dust. We’re afraid that someone will hurt our children. We’re afraid that they’ll say something untrue at school and we’ll be investigated by child services. Mostly, we’re afraid our children won’t love us genuinely  and keep chasing superficial relationships.

A Place Of Hopelessness.

The amount of days where we feel like there’s no hope are too many to count. It’s a desperate feeling. We love our children, difficulties and all. But we’re not sure we will ever be able to form a real connection with them. Or, the connection they have formed with us is laced with manipulation and trauma, because of the difficult places they’ve come from. Besides, we repeat the same thing over and over and over again to no avail. They make the same bad choices, continue with the same behavior, and it’s just hopeless.

We’ve heard this outcry over and over. We’ve cried this. While these places are extremely difficult and desperate, we’re not defeated or out of time. Neither are you!

Overcoming Our Greatest Obstacles.

Slowly we are overcoming our insecurities, we’re defeating fear, and we’re finding rest. It’s a day by day process but we’re determined to overcome and live the life God has blessed us with. The difficult places we speak from are real places. And we know they’re misunderstood by most. That’s why community is so important. That’s one of the reasons this blog was created- to be a voice and a community!

In-spite of all of these places, we’re moving forward and we know there’s hope. There is hope! Did you know this? There’s hope for you to. That’s what gets us up in the morning- hope! If we could sit across the table from the mother on that talk show we would hold her hands and tell her about the hope we have found. We’d nod when she spoke from a desperate place. And most important, we wouldn’t judge her because we’re in the same trench with her!

Question: Are you speaking from one of these places? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Rachel, you are so welcome. We are right there with you. So sorry that you have gone through this. Keep your head up though. There is hope and there are others of us in the trench with you!

  • Carol Erickson

    Thank you for taking the time to blog about this life of foster care and adoption. We have been foster parents for 4 years now and just finalized the adoption of two children after having them in our care for 29 months. We are so delighted to have this process completed! It is so freeing to be able to step away from the fear of the “what-if” associated with foster care. The oldest (4yo) has RAD type symptoms. He has improved so much he is a different child now, but “normal” definitely has a new meaning. So many things you have to anticipate and deal with consistently that leave you mentally fatigued. It is so reassuring to hear of other’s experiences and know that there are other people that understand this crazy life, and how you can love your kids so much but be so needing a break at the same time.
    We also have 3 teenage biological children, who also understand firsthand the pleasure of caring but the sheer exhaustion. The biggest thing that has taken its toll on us as a family is the constant demanding interruptions created by an RAD child and the often time-consuming resolution to incidents. It is hard to even carry on a conversation without interruption and the frustration and, yes, hopeless weariness that can overwhelm. It makes it especially hard when well-meaning family members offer advice that “he just needs lots of love and patience” (for sure!) but have no clue what living with this is really like and just what the “lots of love and patience” looks like for an RAD child. I shared your previous post “I Don’t Expect You To Understand Why I Parent The Way I Do!” with our older daughters. I know from the tears and the conversation afterward they were reassured and affirmed. Thank you!

    • Carol, thanks so much for sharing. Wow! I am moved that your daughters were moved by the previous post. And so glad this one spoke as well. We are in the trenches with you. Connect with us if you need some encouragement. Thanks!

  • DanH

    Mike, I appreciate your posts. The reality is refreshing. Do you get much feedback from folks with biological children that are RAD? That is our experience (though, thankfully it is less over the top than those with adopted/foster children), and it adds an extra wrinkle of separateness because we don’t have the ‘out’ that parents of adopted/foster children have. It all sits uncomfortably on our doorstep.

    • Hey Dan, thanks so much. Glad you are enjoying the content. That’s an interesting question you pose. We haven’t gotten much feedback from biological parents of a child with RAD. Truth be told, I’ve barely heard of this with biological families. I am so sorry to hear that you’re facing this. Perhaps some future content is in order on this topic. Thanks for sharing openly here!

      • Linda White Wesseler

        Our therapist says it is happening more and more in bio families due to indifferent, impersonalized daycare, caregiver changes due to parents & stepparents coming & going, separations in early childhood due to employment/deployment, electronic distractions, plastic baby carriers/mechanical swings & stroller rides, lack of awareness about the need for eye and skin contact, cooing talk and other engaged, attentive, affectionate parenting throughout our culture. I just spoke with a friend who I know was a devoted mom but her husband was abusive before she finally left him, and she blames her (now young adults) children’s problems with cause-and-effect-thinking, lack of trust, disrespect and defiance, etc. on the stressful prenatal and childhood environment created by the violence and vitriol her husband directed toward her (rarely the kids). I can understand biological parents being reluctant to admit, much-less discuss, their childrens’ RAD (when they’re aware of it), as they must tend to blame themselves and/or the domestic partners they subjected them to. It is generally due to circumstances that were beyond their control at the time (perhaps due to their own emotional struggles or mental health issues), though, or simple lack of knowledge about attachment parenting–and we adoptive and foster parents shouldn’t judge, but welcome them to the fold of parents who struggle to help our kids overcome their RAD behaviors and who need to vent and seek support among others who know what we’re dealing with.

        • Linda White Wesseler

          Wanted to add that medical issues of either the infant or the caregiver, especially those that require long hospitalizations, and birthing traumas including the proliferation of c-sections, can also trigger attachment issues. One woman on another blog said she can trace her child’s RAD to her family’s preoccupation with an older (now deceased) child’s cancer and constant round of treatments and hospitalizations that forced them to hand off the younger child to alternate caregivers and be relatively neglectful and inattentive to her when she was with them. In trying to save her older child’s life, she was unable to give her younger child the maternal nurturing she needed.

  • Sj

    I remember that show and still think of that women often. I was shaking with outrage at the persecution that “Dr.” And audience put her through. I so wanted to contact her and let her know she’s not alone and not a monster. I can’t say I am fearful of my son wanting to be in touch with his birth family… I feel like that is human desire and will work itself out. I do however get terrified about his actions and what those will be as an adult. Then what? Well society points the finger at the parents. But God has told me he will have healing and I continually have to come back into that trust. HOPE? Well that’s a true balancing act and without having lived this I can’t say I would’ve ever understood the pain of hopelessness.

    • So right there with you. The show still angers me when I think of it. But, healing is in His hands! Thanks for joining this conversation!

  • Carlla Van de Vyver

    I am the child, all grown up now. I am the child taken in who did not know how to love and was horribly physically and mentally abused by my “new” mom . Punished every day for not being “good” – so that the daily punishments became nothing to me, they were just a “new routine” to the horror that was my life. I have survived, I am successful, but not because of my “new parents” but because I was a survivor who escaped them as soon as I could. If you adopt or foster a broken child, remember not to break them further. Rules are good, routine is good, but daily punishment – “never” being good enough no matter “how good you try to be” well that adds to the brokenness of an empty heart. So many think that when they give the broken child a “new and better home” a miracle will suddenly happen and they will become wonderful laughing happy children, but then they don’t – and the new parents become frustrated but mostly just horrified and angry – it just falls apart. Be very careful if you take a broken child. It takes some one very special to love one and to “continue to love one”. The trauma I experienced colored my life in such a way that I have spent a lifetime pretty successful with everything but personal relationships and trust. Again, be careful with us. Don’t break us further.

    • Carlla, wow! Thanks so much for your courage to share honestly. I am so sorry you went through that. Great challenge to adoptive and foster parents!

  • Tina J

    We have parented a number of intense RADishes in the last 5 years. 2 are now are adopted daughters, almost 18 and 7, bio sisters. 2, 17 and 11 are living in residential placements and probably will for a long time to come. Right now we have a 11 year old girl, with ? RAD or ODD or FAS or something major. Last year we had a almost 2 and almost 3 that nearly killed us. They overturned furniture, ate light bulbs after unscrewing them, took 2 hours to go to nap and another 2 hours to go to bed with my husband and I being a tag team. They jumped gates ate anything they could get ahold of, markers, crayons, sand, creamer, stones. They bit each other, stuck fingers into sockets after pulling plugs, ripped off wallpaper, threw things at all of us and bit the cats. Tired , shell shocked, beat up, not believed, hopeless, fearful, and angry are a few of the words I live with. We had about 7 months of quasi normal and where feeling good, relaxed, confident, and then our 11 year old had a lot of stuff happen in a short period of time that sent her reeling over the edge and we aren’t back yet. My BFs our case workers, therapists, doctors and other state workers. I have little time for true friends that will still be there no matter what happens with the 11 year old. I feel like I bleed all over the place when people who do care ask, “How are you”. I get beat up regularly. Black and blue, pulled hair, cussed out, police on speed dial. There just isn’t a lot of sunshine in my life. How do you know if you are right. How much do you put other children in your house through. How much will my marriage take. We breathe, we walk, we pray. Do over. We try new things, new therapists, that hopefully actually know more than I do. We live with charts, charts and more charts and logs and notes. ” Could you keep a record so we could figure out what her triggers are? ” It could be any of the dozen of terrible things that have happened to them, or a couple or combination and lack of sleep, food, comfort. It could be perceived or real. At present I feel like I’m a soldier on the front lines. I don’t really want to be here but I’m good at it, feel called by God to do it, love these kids even if they never love me like my friends kids love them, and realize that someone has to do it. Every day we pray that we do the right thing today. Every day we pray that we are still on the right path and still hearing from God. My almost 18 is planning on going to her bio great grandparents this year. Oh yea! 7 year old still cries for the brother she lost in foster care. (We do see him occasionally). Almost 18 has flunked almost all classes for 2 + years even though she is very smart. All steal, all lie, all will throw you under the bus for a perceived insult, or a piece of gum. Not all the time but often. We have seen progress. We do have hope. We believe that good is coming from what we do. We don’t expect miracles. I rarely let myself paint a picture of the future. Oh and did I mention my husband and I are in our mid 50’s.

    • Tina, you guys are awesome. I know this road is hard but so worth it. Hang in there!

    • Please please please — do not call these human beings, saddled with complicated conditions such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, “Radishes”. Nothing is more condescending and insulting and hurtful to them than using this (and other) metaphors. 🙁

      • LittleBritches

        I highly doubt the poster calls their children RADISHES in real life. Its a commenting or blogging “word”. And frankly I did not read one thing in her post that indicated that she was insulting or hurting her children in anyway. I did however find your post condescending.

  • Carlla Van de Vyver

    I so honor the parents who take in the broken and push through the heartbreak and love anyway. God bless all of you. If were not for the “good” ones – where would we be? I was not lucky, but there are so many “lucky” ones out there. The things people do to children are my special horror – and we are so damaged. But sometimes, it makes a difference, a wonderful difference. I know a couple who have taken this on, they are my blood family – the real family I never knew until I was older, much older. I pray for their strength, their goodness and I pray for the little ones they are caring for, loving. All of you out there that are doing good – thank you.

  • Kim Stewart

    Not there anymore, but have been there. Parented a child with FASD and RAD for 3 years. Loved him dearly, but his behaviors killed my spirit and left me with nothing more to give. I was losing patience with him and had two other emotionally healthy small children that this affected as well. We personally found another family for him, where he could be the only child, which is what he needed. He is now 18 and it took ten years with his new family and recent contact with us for those RAD walls to come crashing down. He is now working on things with his family and working on himself. It is a long road with these kids, some of them never “get it”. I have always prayed for our son’s future and although we wanted to remain a part of his life, we were cut out of it after his adoption was final. I believe that only hurt him more, it surely hurt our other kids who were bonded to their brother.

    I have started a Facebook support group and Facebook page called, “Mom’s of Disrupted Adoption”. You would think there are not many of us out there, it is a topic not talked about enough.I have read that 20% of adoptions do not work out. I started this group in April 2014, we have 25 mom’s in it so far. Parents are becoming physically sick, emotionally sick and some are left with PTSD from dealing with their children’s behaviors. You cannot force a child to change, while you can get them therapy, it only helps if the child sees that they have a problem and the child is willing to work on themselves. God Bless those of you who are strong enough and have the patience to parent these kids! I believe prayers works and I have seen it work in the life of the boy we once called our son, no one is beyond God’s saving grace!

    • Wow Kim, what a cool group to start. We are in a similar group in the Indy area. Thanks for sharing.

  • Teresa Ann

    We are foster parents and have adopted 4 of our foster children. Our older 3 are a birth sibling group and have various forms of RAD. Life is not easy. We feel alone the majority of the time even with our own families and friends. The outside world does not get it. We try to educate them, but its to no avail as they don’t live it and our children present very very well. I always look forward to Sundays and going to church, not that it is stress free. We have our own 4 children and currently 2 foster children and the 4 yo has RAD as well, and well the 2 yo hates me right now. I don’t blame him. His life has been crazy and now visits with birth mom have increased, the poor little guy doesn’t know what to think. So, back to I look forward to going to church. The majority of the time I am praying God gives me the patience to stay and not grab my 6 kids and leave, patience I don’t raise my voice and patience for my older children. I love the sermon, the singing, and just being in the Lords house. Then I take communion and I come back to kneel and pray and I pray and I pray and I cry and I cry. I pray for guidance, for strength and understanding, I pray for my husband, for my children, for myself. I thank the Lord for all my blessings, and at the end of the day no matter how exhausted RAD has made me, I am still thankful for my children. For my life. For my husband. When the days are really bad, my husband reminds me, we chose them. We chose this life. We use to believe just by giving them a nurturing loving home, they would get “better”. By seeing us as examples they would “change”. We don’t believe that anymore. Now we try to just get through the day and pick our battles to challenge. Some days that’s all you can do. We are blessed beyond what we deserve with the good the bad and the ugly <3

  • StlCardsFanJR

    Watching a child slowly change from someone with Reactive Attachment Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder into a teen with Conduct Disorder who will be diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder when they turn 18 is scary. It’s scary when you consider how their future will be impacted along with how they will impact others. I’ll never get used to the dysfunction and chaos. People do not choose to be abused as children. As a child transitions from being a teenager into adulthood they are choosing how they respond to the abuse that took place when they were children. Even if healthy choices seem very foreign and impossible to them, they still have an opportunity to respond differently than how their brains were initially programmed. Yes it’s hard for them, but what happens if the cycle of abuse doesn’t end with them. When she legally becomes an adult we can no longer protect her from the toxic choices she wants to make, and those choices impact the safety of our entire household. We’ll never enable her in any way. I don’t have any regrets; God called us to adopt her for His glory not ours. She will always be my child and I will always be her dad.