Relationships with cats are peculiar things. They tend to want affection but only on their own terms. Sometimes they come close enough for you to pet—but you can’t force them into closeness. Sometimes they want to snuggle with you—but invariably a touch or a movement will trigger something in them, and they’ll freak out, scratch you, and run away. Sometimes they come near as if they want attention—but stay just out of reach while seemingly wanting your affection. Sometimes they just want to be left alone—and any attempt on your part to get close gets rewarded with a hiss, a bite, or running away.
Though there are exceptions, most people like cats, even with all their strange behaviors. We chalk their quirkiness up to ‘being a cat’ and let them go about their business, knowing they’ll come back eventually. For all their aloofness and distance, we usually tend to think our cats really love us and enjoy being around us. One minute they’re sweet, loving, and affectionate critters while the next they’re bitter, hurtful, and obnoxious beasts. We can’t completely change them. We can merely accept them as they are, knowing they are going to love us and hate us, please us and hurt us, charm us and confuse us—sometimes all within the same five minutes. They are, quite simply, cats.
Yesterday in family therapy it occurred to me that our RAD child is very much like our cats. In fact, you could replace ‘cats’ in the very first sentence with ‘RAD children’ and re-read the first two paragraphs and everything would still ring true to our son. The hard part about being on the receiving end of this behavior from our son is that we know this is not how “normal” people ought to behave, and so we spend great amounts of time, energy, and money working to change their behavior to make it more acceptable. Most of them will make great progress, and that gives us great joy and hope. At the same time, we know our RAD children’s behavior, like cats, will never be considered completely “normal” no matter how hard we try. That reality, for many us, is crushing and defeating…but it doesn’t have to be.
Our RAD children, after all, have been through experiences that we wouldn’t wish on our greatest enemies. They have been hurt beyond what most of us could even being to imagine. They have been transformed, by necessity, into survivors, and that has made them unique—different from the countless “normal” children who have never had to face and endure such horrors. We can be thankful for the very fact that they are survivors. We can be thankful that they have come through their past and still have the twinkles of love and closeness that we get to enjoy from time to time. We can be thankful that—though they are products of their environment—they have the potential to rise above the hurt they have experienced and learn how to give and receive love. None of these things are easy for us as parents, but they should all give us hope.
They are, quite simply, RAD children.