From Chaos to Quality

August 23rd, 2010

From Chaos to Quality

Reflections of a Parent of a Child with Attachment Difficulties

By the Parent of an HCC client

We look for a label, a name or some way to know that we are still sane. These children, their parents, this couple, that family, can no longer maintain. They are all in trouble but they don’t know why.

I would know … Because this is my life. This is and was me, me as a mother, a girlfriend, and a wife. This is my mother, my father; and this is me, their daughter. I am that child. I am this woman. I have learned to survive, but more importantly, I have learned to heal.

These are my children, seven in all. We are a newly blended family. While I did not create this stress alone, I do have a role and they need my help.

This is my husband; his father, and his mother too. He was that child too, but, most importantly, he is the man that is standing here now as we sort this whole thing out.

This is not just a story or a collection of words and phrases. It is a truth that has spanned a lifetime, several in fact. Generations of shame and self-indulgent behaviors all enmeshed, intertwined between years of mixed messages, mixed emotions and indescribable hurts.

It happened to me, it happened to them; it happened to him, it happened to her.

This is and was my family.

This is our collage of memories from a love that had no borders. We are a cast of survivors who, up until a year ago, did not know what we were surviving or how we were going to pull through. We are a different family today, and we will continue to grow thanks to our faith, and to an amazing therapist who makes “House Calls.”


No one wants to look at themselves as a possible source of their children’s pains. After all, we gave them life, or gave them a home and a family that they were not born into. We waited our whole lives for that moment; for someone to love or someone to love us so unconditionally, for the family we truly deserve. We sacrificed our lives and ourselves for them. We work, or have worked, incredibly long hours whether we are single parents or partnered parents. We’ve spent all of our energy assembling the things they may need or want and are tormented when we realize there are still some things just out of our reach. We struggle to make ends meet or we lavish them and leave nothing to desire. We are striving to give them a better life.

We tell our children that we love them every day, or as often as we remember to, and yet we begin to feel disrespected at every turn. They slam the doors, sneak out of the house, steal our food, our make-up and tools, our money and even our hearts. Nothing is off limits to them. They break our dishes, the windows, our favorite trinkets and often our spirits. All the while they are screaming, “I hate you! I don’t love you! Leave me alone!”

How can these children be so ungrateful, so hurtful, and so cruel? Why can’t they see all that I do, all that we have ever done for them? Why can’t they understand just how much I love them? How tired we are, often too tired to say “No.”

“You should be grateful!” We holler from our favorite chair in the other room or from down the stairs. Besides, who wants the confrontation anymore? I can’t stand to look at them right now. They take advantage of that fact, and now it’s to the point that there really isn’t anything I can do about it.

Maybe we have devoted ourselves so deeply that we have in fact suffocated or stunted our children’s growth. After all, aren’t we an extension of one another? She is like me. He is like him. Whatever the case, they won’t listen to me, my spouse, the other parent, or the babysitter… And better yet, we have all been pitted against one another, pointing fingers and blame. My wife wants a divorce. My boyfriend has strayed. He’s never home anyway. Come home, for what — for this?

Our support system is failing or perhaps nonexistent. “I do just fine on my own. Besides, who can you trust these days anyway?” Or, “We don’t need any outsiders poking their noses into our business.” We begin to realize it’s not working anymore. We wonder if it really ever has. We are nearing the end. End of the line. End of the rope.

This family is crumbling. I want to give up. We’ve tried everything. It’s his fault! It’s her fault! There is just so much anger, so many tears.

My kid is screaming they want to die. They’ve thought it out, they’re making plans but I am paralyzed. When suddenly, I begin to think it may not be such a bad idea … for myself.

What’s a parent to do? Why me? Why us? Why now? And why is it this child behaves so wonderfully charming and so dangerously affectionate with a complete stranger or while interacting within another family?

What’s wrong with them? Why don’t they behave like the kids next door? Down the block? At that other table or across the church bench? Why must they fidget and squirm or play with their fluids and scabs? Why all the gore and guts? What is with the matches and flames? Where is the cat?!

Who are you? What do you think you are doing? Where is this coming from? Who is this wicked beast I use to call son or daughter? Who are these unruly children? Why do they constantly resist my affection, our direction, and our rules? How did we get here? Heavens, what next?

I’ve been telling anyone and everyone who will listen: There is something wrong here! There is something wrong with my kid! But all you can say is that they are wonderful in your class, under your authority. They’re so helpful and well mannered at your house.

You keep pointing your finger at my home, you keep looking at me like this is my fault somehow and I won’t have it! You just don’t understand. Why won’t anyone listen?

My child is out of control! Our family is under siege! I am afraid to close my eyes. This kid just never sleeps. Or sleeps all day. Reality is a blur. Time is slipping away.

They’re always home. Or they are never here. They can’t keep a friend. Aggressive. Seductive. These children have no fear!

My heart is in pieces. I give up. You win kid! Just do whatever you want. I’m too old and too tired to care anymore. It’s not worth all this frustration, all this fighting.


Whew! I wonder if you heard a familiar voice somewhere in this rant? Can you relate to some or all of what I have said? Do you see your child or your children lost somewhere on this page? Are you this child? This family? Did you come from a home that resembles this one? Is this what your child or children experienced before coming home with you? Are they still re-living it? Are you?

Make no mistake, the child I am referring to is screaming for help. They are telling you there is something wrong in their life; they’re not just dropping hints, they are lobbing bricks. They need a parent, not another friend. They need a constant, reliable and unconditional truth, because nothing in their world is stable. Nothing makes sense. Maybe you’re going abandon them too. How long until you do, they wonder. They’re looking to you for that structure, for some sense of boundaries, testing you, your strength, and your will. How far can they push? How much can you bend … Before all of you break? Before their bodies are abused and violated, once more. It’s that “secret” they keep. It’s that “thing” that happened, one day when you, or someone they trusted, weren’t looking.

Their memories are in blips and pieces, sometimes-fabricated truths or mere desires of a life someone else has lived. Oh, how they wish. Sometimes the lies are so tremendously obvious, yet they continue to argue the point until you are left in total bewilderment. Are you crazy? Is he? Is she?

Our children keep reliving those moments, reinventing them, replaying them, reassembling the cast of characters, but still we don’t understand the drama before us. The part we play, the language they are using, the words that they say. We taught them to speak and yet somewhere, in the middle of their lives, we stand at a loss, not knowing what it is they are trying to tell us … Just when they need us the most.

What I have come to believe is that it’s all about attachment. This family, not just the child, is unattached. While I could be describing a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), I could also be describing a parent who is detached. He or she may not have properly attached to their parents, which directly affected the attachment to their partner and/or to their children. This is not to say there is no love or bond of any sorts — there is — but each person involved interprets and manifests the attachment differently.

Perhaps there is a combination of family members who are unattached and in effect are operating in survival mode: every man, woman and child for him or herself. Remember fight, flight or freeze? Over time, distance sets in, misunderstandings prevail; no one is able to put their finger on it, but everyone is hurting and someone must be to blame.

Attachment is a deep underlying sense of security, a sense of trust, an imprint on the psyche. The attachment process begins before birth and is complete by the time a child reaches three years of age. There may or may not have been abuse involved. There may have been some sense of neglect or abandonment, some sort of anxiety that registered as a threat to the child and to his or her well-being. Whether that threat was real or perceived makes no difference as the child’s thought patterns have already formed, and during that formation the brain recorded the primary caretaker as unavailable and unable to properly care for and protect the child. That impression now becomes a blueprint for all future interactions between parent and child. This is the track the relationship and family will unwittingly ride for years if there is no intervention.

Attachment affects all families; whether they are birth, blended, foster or adoptive. When our family is in crisis, we must not only focus on our “out of control child,” we must be willing to look at ourselves as parents and as former children. Although we may not be the source of our children’s pain, we may be contributing to it. We need to look beyond the obvious to the subtle, often subconscious, ways in which we interact as individuals and as members of the same family.

If we are to have any hope in turning this child and this family around we have to be open to change. Change in the way we approach one another, change in the way we solve our problems, change in the way we think and operate as a family. After all, we have waited our whole lives for this child, for this family, for that unconditional love. We only want the best for them and the best begins and began with us, the parent. The family we are striving for is not out of reach. We are all deserving of that “better life.”


This mom and her family are clients of House Calls Counseling.