Saturday, August 14, 2010

About My Daughter

If you've read my blog long enough, you've probably noticed that I can go on and on about my beautiful boy, but seldom mention much about my daughter.

I've noticed that, too, and rather than continue being self-conscious about it, I thought I would just explain.

As I've mentioned before, we adopted our daughter from Ukraine at 16 months old.  And while most people think she was just a baby when we brought her home, that is not the truth.

The first 16 months of my daughter's life were filled with fear, pain, and utter loneliness.  A healthy baby abandoned at a poor hospital, it took the hospital 6 months to get around to placing her in the nearest orphanage.  Healthy babies don't get much attention at a poor, over-wrought hospital.  She was named by the village registrar as she filled out the transfer forms.  My daughter did not have a name for the first 6 months of her life.

Once she arrived at the orphanage, she quickly became ill with constant infections related to poor hygiene.  By the time we found her in the children's hospital, she had been in the hospital three other times with kidney infections and she suffered with whooping cough, all by 16 months old.

So we did not bring home a baby.  We brought home a cold, hardened little girl who was already world weary and emotionally stunted.  But we believed we could help her and have devoted the past 6 years to doing just that.

We tried to just "love her through it."  We showered her with love, time, and affection.  It made her more frightened and combative.  We tried giving her space and patience.  All she did was retreat further.  We tried family counseling.  My husband and I explored things in our own pasts that may have been complicating our relationship with our daughter.  Our self-understanding improved, but our daughter did not.

Finally, we tried an attachment therapist.  And it was only then that things made sense.  Our daughter has Reactive Attachment Disorder.  She rejects an emotional bond with anyone.  She does not love; she cannot love.  Any emotional intimacy simply terrifies her, on a subconscious level, and she works to repel any emotional connection with anyone.  She operates, emotionally and mentally, as if she is still an orphan.  She feels especially threatened by a parental relationship.  She rejects it openly.  Her heart is locked away, "safe" from all people.  She trusts no one, she loves no one, she believes she needs no one.

Emotionally, she cannot distinguish between strangers and family.  When I explain that my daughter does not love me, it offends the sensitivities of the average person and they argue with me, emphatically believing that she does love me.  They argue partly to spare my feelings, but even more to protect their own understanding of what a child is:  innocent, pure-hearted, vessels of love.  But my daughter does not love me.  And she doesn't love you.  She loves no one.

In order to preserve this emotional solitude, she must repel any and all close relationships.  All she knows is that she feels happier and more comfortable when there is distance, the more the better.  Distance is created by tension.  Tension is created in any number of ways; open defiance or passive aggression.  All you will know, if you are around my daughter long enough, is that you feel bad around her.  If she is around you enough, you will feel bad all the time, even after she's gone to school, gone to bed, is off playing alone.  You start to shut down emotionally, yourself.  You stay within yourself; you feel so heartsick that you begin to believe you have nothing to offer anyone; nothing anyone would want.  If your own child does not want you, who else would?  That is the state my daughter, subconsciously, works to affect in anyone close to her. 

This is where my family is right now with my daughter.  It happened slowly and systematically.  First, it was just me, and I thought I was just having difficulty adjusting to a challenging child.  I began loathing myself for my seeming weakness in the face of her challenges.  And I had help from others in this self-loathing.  People have perceived me, at times, to be cold toward my daughter, not hugging her enough, etc.  When I was weak, I agreed with them, pushing aside the reality that, unless there was someone else watching, she recoiled at my touch, my hug, my affection.  I began to believe that., somehow, I was the problem for my daughter.

Then my husband began to struggle.  He was surprised at how quickly and deeply he would lose his temper with her.  Always a remarkably patient person, the change in him was notable.  He began to hate himself for how easily angered he was with her.

And now it has happened with my son.  The nicest kid in the world, he is no longer interested in playing with or even really speaking much with his sister.  She does all she can to hurt him because she has finally figured out that the easiest and most undeniable way to incense us is to hurt him.  And she is right.

We have been working diligently and tirelessly to save our daughter and to save our family.  We have become a "therapeutic family" for her which is a "through the looking glass" type of parenting that, to see it, appears bizarre and harsh; emotions are removed, seemingly, and unbending rigidity is replaced.  Again, onlookers perceive that we are hard on our daughter.  The reality is, our daughter is hard on us, and we are fighting for our lives here.  If my daughter cannot be healed, she will live a life of emotional and moral turpitude, and the rest of us will suffer as we watch her live so miserably.

The one blessing out of this struggle is that it allows us to see and love and appreciate every moment with our son.  We take very little for granted.  We appreciate that he is happy to see us in the morning and that he says goodnight with a kiss before bed.  That he hugs us and smiles and means it.  That he will not malign us when our backs are turned.  That we can see him enjoy things and that he enjoys things that we enjoy.  That his heart is at peace when we are happy.  It is a blessing to appreciate his touch and to notice that his eyes meet mine.  It is a gift that I look forward to seeing him, and he smiles when he sees me.  It is an act of love that he tells us when he is sick or hurt and that he calls for us after a bad dream.  Do you know that a child makes a choice to depend you when she is sick?  Do you realize what an act of trust it is when a child calls for you after she has thrown up in her bed?  Do you know that some children would choose to sleep in their own vomit than give over enough of themselves to ask for help?  This is the perspective my daughter has brought to our lives.  And this is why I have endless moments to cherish with my son.  And why I struggle so with so little to write about my daughter.

It is not that I don't love my daughter, I do; with all my heart.  But loving my daughter, in all honesty, is about withstanding pain more than it is about enjoying moments of love.  And that is not something easy or pleasant to write about.

So please forgive me if my writings seem to exclude my daughter.  It is not for lack of love, but for lack of beautiful moments.


For more information on Reactive Attachment Disorder, I recommend: ATTACh

One more thing, there are more of us out there than you might think.  If you see a family where the dynamics seem to be just a little bit "off" and you are about to conclude that the mom is just "mean" or cold or controlling, please consider for a moment that there may be much more to the picture than you can see . . . and then say a prayer for strength for her and peace for the child.  I would appreciate it so much.  Thank you.


tea said...

I am so sorry for the pain your family is living with. I remember in the early days of our adoption, wondering when our son would really want to be held close and trust me in that way. He was 5 1/2 months when we brought him home and already he had put up some walls toward affection. I am thankful that he was able to let down his guard and love. It is so hard to love a child who doesn't return that love.. and I only experienced a little of that. I will keep praying for your family, for all of you. And that Jesus will touch your little girl's heart in the way that only he can and free her from her pain.

Gail said...

All I can say is "wow" and "thank you" for sharing that. I have no experience at all.... but from a distance am in awe of you and your husband and love and heart that you have. So much can happen in those first 16months!

I will also pray for you all.
Thanks again, it just brings a lot of our own lives into perspective too.

Claudia said...

I am so moved by your honesty in this post. How difficult it must be for everyone in the family. I have only the greatest respect for you, your husband and son. I pray this young girl will find a way to trust and to let down her defenses long enough to find love.


KeLLy aNN said...

I've often wondered of the struggles that happen with older/difficult adoptions. I honestly do not know if I have the patience for that. Your Son sounds like a very strong young man, as do you and your husband.
I along with everyone else will ask for positive energy for you and follow along in your journey.

Weza said...

Oh my, how very very sad for your family and your little girl. To think that the first 16 months of her life have left her so scarred just breaks my heart. As i am sure it does yours. I cannot begin to imagine how hard this must be for you. So I will pray, I will plead with God for a break through in her heart, for full healing. I will pray. And i will pray for your son, your husband and for you. xxx

Roseanna said...

It is hard to fathom that no one, felt for this child in sixteen months, gave her some affection or comfort.
I am in awe of you and your family and I pray you will find the peace you so richly deserve.
My grandfather was put into an orphanage after his mother died and his older sister, than ten would visit him regularly and make small toys for him, out of empty spools of thread. He was given the nickname of spooly, and never adopted. We do not know very much about his time there, he never talked very much about it, except that aside from his dear sister, no one really paid much attention to him. The story I remember, when balking as a child at the dinner before me, was that they had plain oatmeal every day, except for Sunday, when they had Cornflakes, a huge treat! He was a sweet and kind man, but very reserved and socially awkward.
I am forever happy that "Spooly" had a sister to love him...they were very close until she died. Don't give up hope, you are stronger than you know!

Roseanna said...

P.S. I forgot to mention that my grandfather was just ten months old, when he was put into an orphanage by a grieving father.

LemonyRenee' said...

Thank you all for your kind words and support.

Roseanna -- You reminded me. The orphanage reported that porridge was her favorite food. Mmm-hmm. More like, that was all they had. She came to us not knowing to chew her food. We had to teach her that.

Vic said...


What a powerful story, and what a hard situation for you. My heart goes out to you, and your beautiful daughter, I simply cannot imagine what it would be like to have a daughter that didn't actively seek out kisses & hugs, who didn't want to be with me, who didn't love me... I don't know if I would be strong enough to cope with that, so I applaud you for all of your efforts & wish you all the best in working through everything, or atleast anything you can actually work through...

sissie said...

I am also very moved by the pain that your family has endured. It is very disturbing that orphaned babies are not nutured or loved, touched or hugged and it's understandable that they would suffer from this syndrome.
I too appreciate your openess and ability to talk about your daughter.

I pray that you and your family will find peace and that someday she can learn to love and trust.


SheilaC said...

You write so eloquently I can feel both your extreme pain and absolute love for your daughter.

I pray for strength for you and your family...


June said...

Renee' I know this could not be an easy post to open yourself up, so that we could all understand more about this disorder. We should never be critical of others, because we have no idea what sorrows they live with.
You know that I pray for you and your sweet family and think of you all the time.
hugs to you dear one... said...

My heart goes out to you, and I understand completely! Why? Because I have had experience of attachment disorder myself. We adopted three children. the first 2 were sisters aged 3 and 5 yrs old. Both girls had had very abusive backgrounds and had been place in foster homes for 6 months and then the worst, a children's home, and not a very good on by all accounts. Anyway, to cut a long story short, neither one adjusted to living in our home with us. At first I thought that love would conquer all, and I literally ware myself out over the years trying to 'get' it right. The frustration and sadness can not be conveyed, and people just do not understand. When they were still young, 7 and 9, still thinking that love will out, we adopted Tom, 9 months, he too had had terrible neglect and abuse. Unwittingly we had just taken on another barrel full of interesting times to come! Well the girls as they got older just got worse and more distant. The eldest one eventually got diagnosed with attachment disorder, she had to go in and out of various hospitals to be assessed. She, was troublesome at school, very disruptive, sabataging all family relationships, family times together, she just went out of her way to ruin homelife, each and everyday. The tension was immense. She lied, stole, destroyed furniture. Anything, that was nice or filled with love, she would try to destroy. Her sister, was similar, although not on the same level. Then Tom, when he was about 2 started to show signs that something was not right, he was awful at school, and could be quite hard to deal with all round. Of course it took me years to get him diagnosed too, he has aspergers (as you know) . My oldest daughter ended up getting pregnant at 15, but she was at a mental health unit, and that baby was adopted, then she got pregnant again, and the same couple adopted that baby too. Aanyway up to this date, at the age of 28 she has had 6 babies. and only one is with her, and I don't know how long she will manage to keep her. I understand all the feelings you describe so clearly, it destroys to have a child who can not love. It really does. and you have to look after yourself and protect yourself and the rest of your family. I send you my deepest and warmest love to you. Susie xxx Sorry for this long comment , I just feel so strongly about it, and feel that is has been my hardest and most sorrowful time in life bringing up my children, and the lonliest too. My heart still breaks at the distance between us. I still see Tom, but rarely see my girls, they just talk to me occasionly on msn and facebook! XXX

Jenny S said...

Holy Cow! You are an amazing woman to cope with this. I could not imagine what you must go through every day. Another blogger I read has a daughter with difficulties and has done a blog just for venting her frustrations. Maybe writing it out would help you mentally see you are not a bad person, just in an amazingly hard situation. WE love you, so you must be lovable!!!!!!

John Gray said...

one of your most honest and best blogs

Viki said...

I've seen a few TV shows about children like this. I can't even imagine how difficult it must be for your family. I hope some how in the future things will change for her.

Aunt Amelia's Attic said...

I remember a bit, about this. But not this much detail.

My heart goes out to you all. But...

You say that; "She does all she can to hurt him because she has finally figured out that the easiest and most undeniable way to incense us is to hurt him. And she is right."

You and your husband are adults and chose this way of life. You chose to do this, with your life.

Your son is not an adult, and did not choose this way of life.

How long, is it right, to make him live this way?

How long?

What will this [tension filled] childhood eventually do to him?

If it was just you and your husband, that would be totally your decision.

But......... Is it just you and your husband?

What about your son?

No, don't ask him!!!!!!!! He could not be honest and say, "I can't stand it." Not without adding guilt to the guilt he already probably carries around. The guilt of probably wishing that she never came along. It's only human nature. Children do not welcome suffering into their lives. They don't get the "Wonderful Payback Some Day in Heaven" thing.


LemonyRenee' said...

AA -- Do you think this is a new concept to me? The impact of all of this on my son's life is what keeps me awake at night and what makes me tremble in the day.

But it is not quite so simple as relieving him of this pain. Just how do you remove this pain from his life if you believe God sent this little girl to us Himself? And what do you want him to learn about loving those who challenge and tire you? Should he believe all people are expendable if they are difficult? What if his sister had cerebral palsy? Would we still, then, be unfairly infringing on his lifestyle?

This blog post is simply too short and words are too simple to aptly portray our circumstance. But the main point I'd hoped to convey is that one can never really know the circumstance of another. Give a wide berth. Your frustration and concern on behalf of my son is the largest, but only one facet of our family. And, again, an assumption is being made that we are not taking measures to protect our son, his heart, and his future.

And just one more thing. I most certainly do not expect a "wonderful pay off in Heaven." My weakness and ineffectiveness in the face of my daughter's great need, leaves me to dread my judgment day, if you must know.

Anonymous said...

Blessings to you and your family. It is heartbreaking that little ones have been so neglected and abused - however it happens all too often. Prayers for strength, understanding and peace are headed your way. No one can truly understand unless they have know a child with developmental trauma and attachment issues. Thank you for all you have done to love one who cannot love.

Knitty said...

I thought I understood what your daughter's diagnosis meant before, but this post showed me how little I knew.

I have no idea what to say except that parent to parent, woman to woman, you have my admiration and prayers. The admiration isn't for a measure of success, it for getting up every day and trying. I have not gone through your experience, but did have a dark time where the actions of one affected all relationships in our home. That struggle is the part I understand.

This must have been the most difficult post to write, but the most important. We all need to remember NOT to make snap judgments. What pops into our heads instantly might not be controllable, but surely what we say and write to others is.

Blessings and strength to each of you.

bad penny said...

So honest & moving Renee. I'm glad that you could write about this here.
I had never heard of RAD until I met you so you have educated me. I knew of Autism & Asbergers but not this.
I can't think what to say at the moment without saying it all wrong but you have my thoughts & support - if that helps xx

Aubrey said...

Renee, (((hugs))) to you, your DH and your DS. I cannot even imagine what living day to day must be like in your home. You are a very strong person and loved by many. Do not forget that.

PS We miss you.


Susan from The T-Cozy said...

What an amazing post. My heart goes out to you.

Anonymous said...


I've probably told you before, but we adopted my younger brother when he was 9 years old. My mother was the 5th mother figure he had in those early years. There was no diagnosis of RAD back then, as far as I know, but I believe he certainly had symptoms of that disorder. It was not an easy time for our family. We had to work extra hard to make things work for us. My parents had to work extra hard to maintain a loving marriage because my brother would try and pit them against each other.

As an adult, he had very little contact with the family. I didn't see him at all from April 1987-February of 2007. I talked to him once or twice on the phone during the late 80's, but that was all.

When my Father died in 2007, my brother decided he wanted to be part of the family again, but he was scared of us rejecting him. Despite all he put us through, we welcomed him back into the family with open arms. Last weekend he spent hours with my mom and my sisters' families talking and laughing well into the night.

I tell you this to let you know as siblings of a troubled child, we all survived (there were 4 of us). It wasn't easy, but we did it. We came away from that situation stronger than when we entered it. We developed a love for those who struggle. We learned to not give up on our commitment. We learned to love someone who was, at times, unlovable. We learned to see past ourselves. We learned to not be selfish. And we learned to forgive.

Yes, you need to protect your son, but you also need to know he will come out of this a much stronger, more compassionate man than he would if he had not had the opportunity to have this "unwanted" child in his life.

Thank you for sharing these details with us. I knew it was a struggle, but wasn't aware of the depth of that struggle. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. You are an amazing woman, even though you might not feel like it at times :o)


Chatty Crone said...

My friend Charlene sent me your blog to check it out. She felt that I would understand.

And I do. First of all I was a special needs para for 15 years, and my daughter is a special needs teacher and has children as young as 3 and 4 with Reactive Attachment DIsorder.

As unreal as it it sounds - we both know that it exists and boy. it's a tough disorder.

My daughter has a son, my grandson, who has sensory processing disorder, ADHD, and dyslexia.

So we too are having issues. I have a couple blog friends who grandsons are autistic.

We all hurt and yet we are getting so strong - you know what I mean.

God bless all the parents of special needs children - for we need it! And if you have a happy healthy child - give thanks every day.

I know this must be so very tough on you.


Little Messy Missy said...


Di in Indiana said...

Your strength must be amazing...((((hugs)))))

Di in Indiana said...

I know this post may be deleted before it is read by AAA, (I'll understand if it is) but I just wanted to say to her...

What about all the positive things her son is learning? What about the perseverance he is seeing? What about the unconditional love? He's learning that when life is hard, you work harder.

I was around when God lead them to find their daughter. I do feel like she was the child they went to bring home. I don't think God ever changes his mind.

When life hands you lemons do you make lemonade, or throw them back?

MomInTheTrench said...

I understand AAA's perspective. I know you do too. It is hard talking about things most don't understand. Thank you for doing such a great job.

Maybe AAA and others like her will think a bit more on God's power and promises. He doesn't say that our lives are to be easy. He says that we are here to bring him glory. I believe God when he says he is our Comforter and Physician. I believe him when he says he is Love. God can use even your daughter's disorder for his glory. Others touched by this will seek Him for their comfort and stregnth. They may even be driven to their knees begging for God's mercy and grace to love like the Bible tells us to love. Difficult circumstances make us better people when we lean on our Creator.

And the good thing is that, obviously, AAA believes you. That's a breath of fresh air, right?? How many people hear this stuff and still believe that no child can be this damaged and that YOU are the problem? ;)

Jabacue said...

WOW! You certainly are one of the strongest people I have ever met. I admire your honesty and determination. Your daughter may 'learn' to realize this also.

Keri said...

Hi LemonyRenee'.. I have some great news. You're the winner of the $40.00 Gift Card Giveaway from over on Sandwich 365!

I'm having a hard time finding your email address. My computer won't read it for some reason, so hurry up and contact me at by midnight tonight (eastern) or go to and claim your card. I'll give you all the particulars then.

So glad you won, congratulations and thanks for participating. Keri

Keri said...

P.S. This post was heart wrenching. My positive thoughts and best wishes are with you and your sweet family.


Sara said...

I don't recall you asking for anyone's judgment, advice or critique when writing this, so I'm sorry that you received all three from someone.

Your response was very classy, by the way.

I think it's wonderful that you're doing the best you can with the reality you face every day.

I pray you receive more understanding and patience from the world in the future.

Lyn said...

Oh my word.
I have nothing to say at the end of this heartfelt post. I admire your strength.

Jenny said...

I have no words of comfort here except that you have been on my prayer list from when we wrote back and forth about this some time ago.

Letting go is sometimes the biggest act of love you can offer. And it is OK to be happy and at peace even when one of your loved ones is not in a good place.

I'm sorry for this pain.

Prayers and positive thoughts will continue for you every day.


farmlady said...

I went back and read this post because I wanted to know more about your daughter. I don't even know what to say....but this....
You, my dear, are an amazing person. That you have taken the path that you have in your latest post humbles me.
Thank you for your honesty and as I said in my Sept 27th comment, your dignity is a lesson to us all.

Mumsy said...

Renee', I'm sorry your family is going through this with your daughter! I can understand she is reacting, though I also wish that she will see the right direction to go through life..

Your post is raw and honest..I've also just went through so many problems these last couple of months. I wish life was easier..

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Renee, I don't know how I missed this post, but I appreciate your honesty more than you know. I have heard about this syndrome and have watched programs about it on televsion. I'm so sorry that people don't understand and that they make it hard on you. It's already hard on you, and it's not right that they are making it harder. I'm so very sorry. Sending you warm hugs across the miles.



Becky K. said...

Our church family has had a crash course in RAD over the past year since one of our families adopted a little boy who had been severely neglected. I didn't know anything about it before this but have seen how it can mask itself in public as a charming personality and sweetness but then be turned on the ones who are closest and trying to bond with a vengeance and serious acting out.

Thank you for leaving this post up and allowing others to see a snapshot of the reality of RAD in this most extreme case.

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