By request, these are some pointers for grandparents, extended family, respite providers and friends on how to support parents with attachment challenged children.
Dear Grandparents, extended family, and close friends:
I want you to know how much your love and support mean to me. Without you, I would truly be on a very small island. Here are some things recommended by an attachment therapist to help you understand and support the healing in our family.
My child has Complex Developmental Trauma. That is a combination of trauma and attachment challenge from early childhood maltreatment and abandonment. This means that my child and I are working at learning to have a balanced emotional life together and to heal from internalized negative messages about parents, self, and the world.
No matter how it seems, I love my child and sometimes it is more a love “commitment” than a love “feeling.” Please don’t judge me for my frustration, anger, resentment, hurt, grief and wounded feelings. Yes, I did sign on the adoption line and I do take responsibility for my decision. Still, the magnitude of the disruption to my sense of well-being is stunningly painful.
My child deserves love and kindness, and I do my best to provide that every minute. Sometimes I fail. I feel bad about myself when that happens, so you don’t have to find a delicate way of telling me so. It would be really great if you noticed out loud to me the loving things I do for my child.
Since I love my child, it will not be helpful for you to tell me how awful my child is or how great my child is. I see it all. I really just need you to listen when I need someone to talk to about “me,” when I am on my last nerve, or when I need to celebrate a small breakthrough.
Dysregulation (uncontrolled upset) is my middle name. My child’s Complex Developmental Trauma has an impact on me that even I have a hard time coming to terms with. Offer me a listening ear, a cup of tea, a pedicure or a shoulder massage because I need a break more than I need anything.
You have no idea how much I really appreciate it when you are willing to care for my child, so I can rest and rejuvenate. I think you are amazing. When you do give me respite, it is very important that you follow my stated rules with my child; otherwise, your kindness will backfire on me when my child comes home. My child cannot have more fun or excitement with you than there is at home. This will be hard for you, but my child needs to be regulated emotionally while in your care. Too much fun, excitement, change, and freedom will only serve to dysregulate and cause a split between my child and me. Please don’t think spoiling, paying extra close attention, listening to wild, made up stories or “siding” with my child against me will help my child. It will destroy my child’s connection with me. Please do not do anything that will destroy my child’s connection with me. I am working every second to create that connection and it only takes a couple of visits with a well-meaning, overly solicitous family member or friend to set my child’s attachment with me into reverse.
My child can be an angel in front of you. Attachment challenge is usually between the child and the parents. Others may never see it. Please believe I am not making this up and I am not crazy. My child is not a victim of my inability to love. My child has been a victim in the past and still feels that way inside. I am not the creator of this world view. I am the healer of this world view for my child, and it is hard for me to be balanced enough all the time to be healing. That is my constant struggle. You can know that and empathize with my mission to save the heart of my child.
You may not know this, but traditional parenting doesn’t work with my child, so please don’t give me traditional parenting advice. I don’t actually need advice, and I sure don’t need anyone to tell me that I need to give more consequences or rule with an iron fist. I am using a therapeutic parenting approach that I have learned can heal the complex trauma my child experiences. Please trust me on this.
Finally, very few people want to spend time with my family right now. I am isolated and lonely. Any time you lovingly reach out to me feels like water in a desert. I may not reach back very much, but that is because I am emotionally exhausted and I don’t want to feel like a burden to you. Please check in with me. I need you. I love you. I appreciate you.