When Adopted Kids Can’t Bond: ‘Rescuing Julia Twice’ Explains RAD

Before reading Rescuing Julia Twice, I had no idea there was such a thing as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). This happens frequently in kids of internationally adopted children. These children have trouble bonding and loving–and that often breaks their new parents’ hearts. This is not the average I’m-so-lucky, big-group-hug book on the subject. Author and adoptive mother Tina Traster gets real.

Since we all know someone who has adopted, it’s a must-read. Tina holds nothing back–about the wonder and joy, yes, but also about the many challenges. Check out my Q&A with her below to get more scoop about this stunning book.

KK: What inspired you to finally tell your adoption story in your new book, Rescuing Julia Twice?
TT: In 2010, a Tennessee woman put her adopted Russian child alone on a plane back to Moscow, saying he was psychotic, and she couldn’t parent him. That was an extreme and immoral thing to do, but I knew that many parents like me were living some version of that woman’s life. I understood what it was like to adopt a Russian infant who didn’t bond for years. Fortunately my story had a different outcome. My husband and I had helped Julia bond, and turned around her life, and made us a solid family, I felt compelled to tell my story.

KK: What was it like for you when Julia didn’t bond easily?
TT: I don’t know what it would have been like if Julia had bonded right away, but because she didn’t, and because she was my first child, I assumed her inability to bond was my fault. That I’d made a terrible mistake, that I was incapable of being a mother. For a long time, I languished in a state of despair and isolation. I did not see a parallel world in the mommy-and-me universe between my circumstances and others. The savings grace was the support and love I have always had from my husband, Ricky.

KK: What is RAD? Is it common?
TT: A serious condition associated with infants and young children who have been neglected, abused or orphaned in infancy. The traumatic break of the maternal bond, or the primal wound, as some call it, affect the child’s capacity to trust and bond to one primary caretaker. RAD is difficult to diagnose; in fact many therapists are unfamiliar with the syndrome, and it is often mistaken for other afflictions. In my opinion, RAD needs to be better known and understood, it needs the same attention and exposure as the autism spectrum.

KK: Would you tell us about your ‘aha moment,’ when it hit you that Julia suffers with Reactive Attachment Disorder, commonly known as RAD?
TT: For the first three to four years Julia was home, I’d heard the term RAD a handful of times, most memorably from her pediatrician. But it wasn’t until by chance I caught a television interview of an adoptive mother of a Russian child who was serving time in prison for that child’s accidental death. Listening to her describe the child’s behaviors was chilling because I could identify. That program led me to the Internet, where I learned there had been a number of cases of deaths of Russian-adopted children, and many were suffering with RAD. I saw common behaviors, and it gave me the urgency I needed to help my daughter rather than hoping she’d eventually bond.

KK: You write that you understood how it might be possible for other adoptive parents to snap and injure their kids, and even accidentally kill their adopted Russian children. Would you explain why?
I’ve never felt violent toward Julia, but I do know how devastating it feels to parent a child that won’t accept love. You try and try but the child rejects you, and acts up 24/7, and you feel exhausted, defeated and angry. What stopped me from sliding into the abyss was gaining an understanding of RAD. Once I did, my heart really broke for Julia. I understood how deeply she was suffering. My husband and I devoted all our energy to shifting how we dealt with Julia and doing whatever it took to get her to bond to us, which she did, over time. But the game-changer was empathy.

KK: What would you most like all the mothers out there, and especially adoptive mothers, to take away from Rescuing Julia Twice? What’s your advice for them?
TT: First and foremost, you are not alone. So many of us who are parenting internationally-adopted and foster-care children, are living with deeply wounded children, and so many stars need to align for the healing to begin. A good marriage is a necessary foundation. Patience and perseverance are the guiding pillars. Understanding RAD completely — by reading everything you can on the subject — is what you need to help your child. You may want to partner with a therapist who is qualified to treat RAD but beware of the many professionals who are unskilled. Finally, an adoptive parent, maybe any parent, must be willing to relinquish deep-seeded expectations about what parenting or being a family means, and instead be open to a path that was unforeseen.

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