I expect to receive backlash from this post, but as I contemplated writing it, I found that the pros outweigh the cons. The ability for parents and guardians to be able to have an open dialogue about placement of their child in a hospital or residential facility is a need that oftentimes goes unmet. Whether it’s due to stigma, guilt, or the feeling of having failed a child – we speak less about the emotional turmoil leading up to placement than we do the everyday battles themselves.
And quite frankly, it is that very place of being in the unknown, the questioning and the decision-making, the wondering if you’re making the right or the wrong choice – that is the time that your emotions are the most raw. Wondering if you were meant to parent this child, handle this situation, manage this mental illness / behavioral problem, etc. It’s in those moments of questioning that we can become muddled and dizzy with what is right in front of us.
When do we contemplate placement? When have we done all that we can do and hand the reigns over to a team of others?
For me, I sit with these very questions in this moment. After months of making apparent progress, my daughter with Reactive Attachment Disorder put my 3-year-old son in a very unsafe situation. This is not the first, second, nor third time we have faced this dilemma with her. However, this time she reported that she did not feel badly about this and that she doesn’t believe she was wrong. Upon further investigation into the situation, other evidence around her room suggested that this was not a singular relapse.
I feel the betrayal and heartbreak of knowing that my son has been compromised because I allowed myself to let my guard down – because I believed that things were getting better, that she was learning emotions and empathy and how to control her impulses. I let us feel “normal” together… and now I must pay the price for that. I also know that I will be scoffed at for sharing too much personal information about my family and our situation. And yet how else are we to support one another and create a community of help for one another if we limit ourselves to speaking of only what is comfortable – what is “permissible”?
So many parents have emailed me over the past several years, struggling with this same dilemma. They ask for input on agencies and when they should finally let themselves take a break while the professionals give it a try with their child. And I have always said the same thing – this is a personal choice, but when you know you have loved and persevered and done all that you can, and you or your family are still being endangered, then you never have to feel like you’ve let anyone down, including yourself and your child.
The regular world of parents and families doesn’t understand the daily lying and theft – the number of calls from the school you get and the emails from angry parents. They don’t lay awake with anxiety over their child’s behaviors every night or feel physically ill on a regular basis because with every 2 steps forward, you’re forced to take 10 steps back. The regular world sees your child as charming and amiable, while you experience something far different behind closed doors. The inability to connect with your child – to feel honest emotions with them – to cuddle them and to look forward to the future together – these are things that the RAD parent faces.
And sadly, children with this disorder come by it quite often from serious neglect and abuse, cycles that continue to play out as they grow older, forever compromising their relationships with the world. As the parents, we feel guilty for even thinking of handing them over to the state, an agency, or even to a hospital – we know our children didn’t create their diagnosis. They didn’t abuse themselves. They were not in charge of anything that lead them to where they are today…
But neither did my 3-year-old son. And whereas I cannot put my daughter’s abusers on trial because this judicial and child welfare system failed her and my older son in such horrific and atrocious ways, all I can do is promise safety to each of them from this day forward. So, to the best of my ability, that is how I will make my decisions. Whether we place or we don’t, I choose to keep my promise to all 4 of my children. I will continue to fight for change to be made in child welfare and I will continue to advocate for the least of these… starting right here in my own home.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you’re not alone. You’re not a failure and you’re not weak. Do all that you can and then trust that God will utilize whatever else is available to do the rest, even if that means it is no longer in your hands.
We’ve got this and we’ve got each other. Many prayers and much love to you all.