Friday, November 19, 2010

Dr. Phil and RAD

Did anyone catch this week's Dr. Phil episode where the mother of an adopted son asked for help because she was struggling to parent the child? On the surface of the show it was cut and dried. She was a horribly abusive mother. She put hot sauce in her son's mouth for lieing. She punished him by making him take a cold shower. She had tried everything she could think of and nothing worked.

She was the one who sent the tape to Dr. Phil. She knew full well that she would be vilified as a monster but she was desperate for help. She was willing to face the judgement of Dr. Phil and the audience to get help.

Deeper in the story it is revealed that the child is thought to have RAD. This confuses her because his twin brother does not show any of the oppositional behavior. Instead the twin is timid, very quiet and seeks constant approval. He is thought to be the 'good' twin, never stepping one toe out of line.

They talk to the father and he is very detached. Apparently cold showers worked well in the military for discipline so it's a good idea. Besides, the kids are his wife's responsibility. He shows no compassion for his wife and the difficulties she is trying to deal with, and no sadness for his son.

The family apparently grew rapidly, and the addition of the twins upset the balance. The one little boy has become the pariah, the trouble-maker, the focus of discipline. Everything that is not working boils down to him. He is seven.

So what do I see? I see two little boys with different versions of RAD. One oppositional and one super-compliant. Both traumatized. I see a mother un-prepared for the issues her sons face. A mother with NO support system in place. An uneducated mother who had the best of intentions and no healthy dose of reality. I see a child who is in serious fight-or-flight mode and constantly scared to death. A child who is doing his very best to survive and escape before he is once again abandoned.

So what do I know that Dr. Phil doesn't? I know that parenting a child with RAD is a 24/7/365 job that is more challenging, more exhausting and more demanding than anything I have ever experienced. It is not intuitive. There are no owners manuals. No directions. No maps. Just when you figure out something that works, the game changes. It isn't two steps forward and one step back, it is more like two steps forward, three back, 5 forward, 4 back, etc. The course is not defined, never smooth and always rocky. Every day is a crap shoot. You know you are winning when you actually have a day when you do not think about RAD. RAD kids do everything they can to make you feel un-loved. All you ever wanted was to love a child unconditionally and here is a child that makes it as impossible as they can. You have to fight to break into their shell and then you still have to fight. And fight. And fight.

My heart breaks for that mother and those boys. Someone needs to help her so she can help them. They all need a big blanket of love and support. Come on, now, at least she didn't put the kid on a plane back to his country with a note! She was willing to risk herself to help him and all of them. She made herself vulnerable because she loves him. No, she was not doing a very good job, but I know I have also struggled. I am lucky in that I know about RAD, was well educated before tackling it, and have the support of a wonderful husband and a big blog community. She has nothing.

Friends of the blog world, fellow RAD parents, we need to help people like this. We need to reach out so that the children can be served. So many good people want to do the right thing by adopting but are totally unprepared for the hard parts. How do we reach them?


Reba said...

I remember hearing about the lady who sent her son back to Russia with a note. And while it seemed so cold, so heartless (a long flight for a boy alone), I could understand. I didn't catch the episode on Dr. Phil, but I can already identify. (By the way, I now feel terrible because we do use a touch of hot sauce for lying and out and out defiance when needed :) It is not easy. We are still just figuring out the extent of issues we are dealing with in one of our adoptees. And it is not easy. There are no clear cut answers. I look back at some things we have done to try to fix the problems we have faced, and I cringe, wishing we could do it all again. Other times, they have worked, but who knows when we do them which result we will have. Our church is really pushing adoption right now, and several people are. They are so excited, so eager...and yet I feel like I am lying to them if I say, "This is a piece of cake." We are still trying to figure out how to best prepare parents. I don't know if we can really prepare. I remember reading the books, thinking, "This won't happen to us. We will just love her and all will be fine..." Maybe we need to look more at support groups after they are home because that is when you find out exactly what you are dealing with. Sorry, I am rambling. I am just thinking out loud. :) This is a topic close to my heart (though we have no official diagnosis...again, we are just muddling through best we can...).

Angie said...

I did watch that episode, and I agree with you. I felt Dr. Phil and the audience was too hard on that woman. She needs help, not to be looked down on. I know I have moments of parenting (especially my one extremely difficult child) that I am far from proud of. There is no manual. Kudos to that woman for standing up when she knew how she would be perceived. I pray she is able to find the help that she and her family need.