Our home is supposed to be a haven, but as a mom of three kids with RAD (reactive attachment disorder), one son in particular fights with me over everything, even the smallest of things, often making home feel more like a battleground. When raising this kind of a RAD child you know how emotionally exhausting it is. You go to bed tired and you wake up tired. To be honest, you don’t want to get out of bed because facing another day of emotional upheaval can seem overwhelming. And even if you do happen to have a more calm day, it can be hard to enjoy because you’re anxiety-ridden body is wondering when the next explosion will take place.
Living like this day in and day out sometimes makes me ask myself: is it really worth it to stand my ground? Wouldn’t it be easier to just give in? Retreat? Let him do what he wants?
During the summers I have my sons work on scouting merit badges. It’s always been a great opportunity for them to earn a lot of badges as they work toward getting their Eagle. They spend a little time on merit badge packets, do their household chores, then have plenty of free time for the rest of the day.
Pick Your Battles
You’ve heard the phrase “pick your battles”? With my one RAD son I was beginning to think that working on merit badges was a battle I was just going to have to lose. I talked it over with my husband and said, “Doing scouts with him is miserable. Can’t I just let this one go?” I already knew what he was going to say, because my inner voice was telling me the same thing.
Brett replied, “No. Scouts is a really good program, it’s going to teach him good things and teach him to follow through on things.” He pointed out that the reason our son wanted to give up scouts was to play video games. And that wasn’t a valid reason.
I think we really do pick our battles with our kids and we have to decide what is and isn’t important, or what our top priorities need to be. I’m using scouting as an example for an important reason. A few weeks ago my son was complaining about working on scouts (as per usual). He said, “Why can’t you just scan what I do and sign it off like dad does? Why do you have to read what I’ve written and make sure that I’ve done the requirement?”
I laughed at his directness and replied, “Thank you.” In that moment I realized what my son was really telling me and why he was fighting me on scouts.
He wanted to do the least amount of work, but still receive the reward.
As he would work on a merit badge packet, for example, he would write a sentence down and hand the paper to me, expecting me to sign it off and I wouldn’t. Instead, I would tell him what he was missing and hand it back. Then he would add a little more, show me what he’d done and I would again tell him what he was missing and hand it back. Sometimes he wouldn’t even add anything, hoping I wouldn’t check. Not until the requirement was complete would I sign it off.
He’s wanting me to give him a free pass on things. Not just in scouting, but in everything. And I won’t do it.
A Free Pass in Life
That’s essentially what’s at the heart of a lot of our battles or things he fights me on. He wants a free pass in life, to do whatever he wants to in life without a boss (mom) telling him what to do and without consequences. And here’s gatekeeper mom, the big bad meenie standing in the way, not handing that free pass over to him.
I won’t give him a free pass on a messy room, on playing video games all day, going through life with no chores, or talking disrespectfully to people without consequences.
Sometimes it might feel like if we let these things and other things go our day will go by easier. If we just let our RAD children do what they want then we wouldn’t have to battle on every single aspect of every single day. Raising kids isn’t about having easy days, though. And when raising RAD kids, we only dream of having easy days. Am I right?
Something to keep in mind, however, is the very nature of certain RAD children. The intense desire to have control over their lives and to not hand it over to you as a parent or caregiver engenders a fight. It’s why they fight over all of the little and big things. They need to maintain control for themselves because they can’t trust others. So even if you gave them that free pass, guess what? They are still going to fight you. And now you’ve given up the battle, retreated, and given up control over a situation, handing over the lead to a child who doesn’t know what to do. It’s like giving the car keys to your toddler and letting them drive. They don’t have the maturity, preparation or skills yet.
Again, it goes back to the question of is it a battle worth winning or not? Maybe yes, maybe no. That’s for you to decide. When it comes to the battle of teaching my child to treat others kindly and talk respectfully, for example, I’m not giving him a free pass on this one. I’m not going to give up teaching him kindness. Otherwise, I’m telling him that it’s okay to be a bully.
Teaching Now and Hoping for the Future
It isn’t easy to stand your ground with a RAD child. Each and every day we’re trying to teach our children the behavior that’s expected of them: how to be a good student, be a good friend, how to be a respectful and kind human being and many other life lessons. Unfortunately, the life lessons we’re teaching are complicated by the trauma our RAD kids have experienced, making it so much harder to get through to them. My son finds it difficult to even “hear” me because he perceives me as his enemy. Therefore, everything I do is perceived in an adversarial way, not in a friendly, helpful way. He doesn’t recognize that I’m actually on his side of the battlefield currently as his leader who is trying to transition to an advisor; one who is here to help him and guide him through life.
Despite his negative viewpoint of me, my ultimate goal is to see him succeed, to win his battles in life. To this end, I’m doing everything in my power to teach my son what he needs to know so that by the time he grows up and leaves home he’ll be armed with the knowledge to be a successful, respectful, responsible, and well-adjusted adult. Whether he learns these lessons or not is another thing.
But I have to stand my ground. I can’t give way for his desire to put in the minimal effort, or no effort. I won’t accept his excuse that “It’s just too hard,” or that he has “anger issues.” And I’m not going to use the excuse that it’s too hard for myself.
In the face of it being hard I’m going to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep on trying. I’m inspired by the many other RAD parents out there who have made it through and who are making it through minute by minute and day by day. And I’m going to keep on telling myself that it’s worth it. My kid is worth it! And in the end, the results will be worth it.
I’m going to have the hope that even though this struggle is so freaking hard every single day, I’m looking to the future. I’m looking at the talents and gifts my son has and the potential he has to use those gifts.
I’m also hoping that one day everything will click and he’ll look back and say, “My mom fought for me and never gave up and never gave way, especially on those hardest of days when I did and said everything I could to push her away. She stood her ground and loved me.”
I stand my ground for my son’s sake, for my sake, and for my whole family’s sake, because I look to the future with a brightness of hope for the man my son can become.