As parents of trauma-affected children, we live in a constant state of awareness. All our efforts are focused on taking care of them, their siblings, our partners, our jobs, the house and often last and least, ourselves. But what are our RAD kiddos focused on? Sometimes it seems like they have one goal and only one goal: sabotage.
I know this sounds like an evil plan hatched by a demented Dr. Frankenstein. But there were occasions when August was little where it seemed just that devious and planned out. And yes, I know it wasn’t. But when you’ve waited all day for a bath and a little quiet and that’s the time he chooses to pee all over the plastic kitchen set in his room, you just have to wonder!
So I want to talk about RAD self-care sabotage. What it might look like. What it might mean and how we can react to it when it might feel so personal to us.
- Does it feel like they only need you when you’ve gotten on the phone?
- Do they talk to you through the door while you’re going to the bathroom?
- Do they refuse to eat what they ordered at a restaurant but your food looks awesome?
- Does the one sound they know drives you nuts get louder as soon as you ask them to stop it?
- Has your favorite shirt, sweater, necklace, scarf been ruined by an “accident”?
I’m by no means implying that all RAD children are lying in bed plotting and planning. However, two of the most recognizable characteristics of reactive attachment disorder are that these children are control freaks and manipulative. They want to push our buttons. They want us to react and explode and get mad. Because that reinforces their beliefs that we don’t love them and we don’t want them. And to sabotage the self-care moments that we most treasure in our chaotic lives is pushing a very big button, don’t you think?
So why do our RAD kiddos choose these moments to inject themselves into our lives? Why are they so skilled at finding the times that we need the solace and relief of our daily grind and pick that time to ramp up their behavior? Because it’s when we’ve let our guard down. Our defenses are weak. Think about it. When is it easier for you to respond to your child having spilled a gallon of milk on the floor, when you are loading the dinner dishes into the dishwasher? Or when you have sat down for the first time all day to read a book for 30 minutes?
Now again, I can’t say for sure that all the times that August did those things that made my head explode, he’d waited in the tall grass for me to relax and look the other way. But there were more than enough examples for me to think it was more than a coincidence. And I think if you look back you might find the same is true for you.
So what do we do? Self-care is vital to our well-being as well as the success of our family. So not doing it is not an option. But making sure it happens even if your children are home might mean making some changes. Here are my ideas:
- Tag team with your partner. Make sure one of you is covering the kids so the other can get in the needed self-care time and then switch. This may not be an option for everyone but caring for special needs kiddos needs to be a team sport as much as possible.
- Depending on the age of your children, try and help them understand your plan, your timeline. Just a warning, sometimes this can backfire. But try to phrase it like, “I’m going to relax for 30 minutes and then we’ll go to the park so what would like to do until then?” Because this way you’re giving them control over that 30 minutes (within reason). Not just go away until I’m ready for you.
- Let them self-care with you. Again, this is one of those that could backfire. But maybe you and the girls could all paint your nails or do mud masks. Or you and the boys could all go for a walk. I know the real point of self-care is time away from the children but the main point is that it is stress-free time and these are activities that for the most part shouldn’t end up in arguments and yelling (I hope!)
- Confront them with the truth. If they’re old enough, they may know exactly what they’re up to. They know you can’t talk to them or help them when they’re on the phone or in the bathroom. They know how little time you take for yourself. Sitting down and having an honest conversation about your needs and the benefits to the relationship between the two of you and the entire family might just clear the air and get a different attitude going forward.
So take some time to think on whether your RAD kiddo is doing some self-care sabotage in your family and think on some ways you can intercept those efforts to make sure you’re getting the quality care you need. Please feel free to share your stories and ideas. I don’t know everything and we all benefit from everyone’s input!
Until next time,