Hope in the Midst of RAD


“Do you want me to be your mom, or just to take care of you? I don’t have to be your mom, you know. You don’t even have to call me mom.”

In all my little girl dreams of being a mom, these statements were never even a whisper of a thought. I dreamt of cuddling and kissing my children’s sweet cheeks. I dreamt of matching family outfits for family photos. Baseball games in the summer and football games on chilly Saturday mornings. Baking cookies together and reading books. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. What kind of parent even says that to their child?

The kind of parent who loves their child without condition. 

The kind of parent with so much tenacity that they are willing to forego all of their hopes of what life is supposed to be.

The kind of parent who is desperate for anything that will make life just a little bit easier.

The kind of parent who recognizes that the word mom may as well be a knife in the heart to their child. 

The adoptive community refers to this as the “nurturing enemy” based on Nancy Verrier’s book “The Primal Wound.” Nurturing enemy is a term I feel deeply in my soul. I want to pour my entire life into my son’s just to make him whole. I want to kiss him until every instance of violent aggression made against him as a toddler disappears. I want to hold him until he can’t remember the years of neglect. Instead, the police are at my house because he is punching me or I can’t find him in the neighborhood or he is threatening suicide — all at nine years old. There is so much yelling. So. Much. Yelling. 

Instead of baseball games we have endless appointments with professionals. None of whom can help. “I’m sorry, he’s too young.” Or “He’s too old.” Or “We can’t treat a Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis here.” Living in a rural area makes it harder. People just don’t know how to help. Therapists don’t know what to do. I bargained with a provider who wouldn’t help because my son was too young. “If you can’t get insurance to pay, you’ll have to pay out of pocket.”

“That’s fine,” I reply. “I will get a second mortgage before I allow my child to go back into the foster care system.”

My idyllic family dream is more like a nightmare.  

I am often terrified of the future for him, for me and for my other child. I know what the possibilities are for his future. I watch vigilantly for the signs of worse behaviors that indicate more severe interventions are needed. I pray about sending him to a residential treatment center. I’m constantly weighing the costs and the benefits. Everything is unknown.

As much as I watch for the signs of worse outcomes, I also watch for the signs of hope. When a medication change gives us a break, a chance to catch our breath and repair holes in the walls. When he eagerly snuggles into bed with me in the morning and lets me kiss his nose. When he does something I ask, without arguing and complaining (even if it is directly tied to something he wants.)  

Today he replies in a quiet voice, “No, I want a mom.” This rare moment of honesty and vulnerability is gold. There is something to hold on to.

There is hope.

Thank you so much to Savannah Lyon for sharing your story with us!


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Traci Mai

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