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News & Views - Dec  2000 Issue #76

Blaming The Parents
(A letter of concern to the producers of a TV program focusing on the family dynamics of a Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) child)

By Kelduyn R Garland, LCSW, LMT

[Kelduyn R. Garland, LCSW, LMT, of INNERCONNECTIONS, is a BodyMind therapist, consultant, and trainer in Loss & Grief, specializing in Attachment & bonding dynamics and Reproductive (infertility and pre- & perinatal) issues. She is an active member of APPPAH and is on the Editorial Board of its journal, ATTACH. She is published in professional journals & newsletters on these issues, and co-authored “Neonates and the Environment: Impact on Development,” which is in the 2nd (1989) and 3rd (1993) editions of the neonatal medical textbook HANDBOOK OF NEONATAL INTENSIVE CARE] 

The theme of the Family Law show [CBS TV] which aired on 10/23/00 focused on the behavioral dynamics of children ‘given’ to the wrong parents at birth by hospital staff. While the show did do a good job defining and describing characteristics of attachment disorder, the all too common tendency to “blame the parents” for the cause of the child’s attachment disordered behaviors was once again echoed and played out in the show’s plot.

Certainly there are incidents and circumstances in which biological parents can create attachment trauma disorder as a result of their dysfunctional behaviors and relationships with their children. However, none of those circumstances were addressed in the show’s plot.

I am a Mental Health Professional who has worked in the field of pre & perinatal attachment disorders as a psycho-therapist, consultant, trainer/educator, and author for over 26 years. As a result, I am very familiar with the dynamic that occurs all too frequently with families who have children with attachment trauma issues.

ATTACHMENT TRAUMA / DISORDERS can originate during pregnancy; pathological parenting can occur in utero. Unalleviable pain or developmental delays are primarily the result of the physical, emotional, and or psychological absence of the birth mother before and/or after birth, though it can also be influenced by the father’s absence. A multiplicity of factors can contribute to the occurrence of attachment disorders, including the change of caretakers, or not being returned to the birth mother, which breaks the bonding connectors for the attachment process, as is the theme in this TV plot.

When the origins of the attachment loss occur before or immediately after birth, it is common for people to not consider that the infant suffers attachment trauma from such an early loss. However, there is a body of research in pre & perinatal psychology being done throughout the world that verifies this effect. Some landmark examples of this research include: cross cultural research on the origins of love and violence done by James Prescott PhD; the environmental impact on prenatal development of personality and temperament done by DH Stott; cellular biologist, Bruce Lipton’s work on how genetics and DNA impact attachment and bonding; and physicist, Brian Greene’s work on the String Theory origin of the universe.

Some very good books that address this are: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE UNBORN CHILD by Thomas Verny, THE MIND OF YOUR NEWBORN BABY by David Chamberlain, PRIMAL CONNECTIONS by Elizabeth Noble, PRIMAL WOUND by Nancy Verrier, ALL MY CHILDREN by Jacqui Schiff, and THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE by Brian Greene, PhD.

The behavioral issues caused by attachment disorder exist because of the bio-emotional wounding within the heart and psyche of the child, which needs to be treated in order for the child to heal. This dynamic exists independently within the child. Not seeing this as a separate issue from those issues involved with parenting the child is to “miss the boat.” Understanding that the child’s attachment issues are independent from parenting issues is the most critical factor in effectively and successfully treating the child.

Unfortunately, very competent mental health professionals [across the disciplines] frequently overlook this factor because they are not knowledgeable about, and do not understand the dynamics and phenomena of attachment trauma and disorder. All too often the focus is on the parents’ issues and parenting techniques, while the intrapsychic impact of the attachment loss on the child gets “lost in the shuffle” and is not addressed.

I have worked with numerous families who have gone for therapy with colleagues who were competent but who did not understand attachment issues and dynamics, and therefore focused on parenting styles and techniques. “If you just did it (parenting) right, the child would be ok!” is the message given by the therapist to the parents. I worked with one set of parents who had been to 12 different parenting classes over the course of 10 years in their attempt to get help for their child with attachment disorder issues. No therapist had ever addressed the attachment loss factor that had created the trauma/disorder, nor its intrapsychic impact on the child.

Certainly the behavior of the parenting adults can significantly exacerbate the attachment trauma a child suffers as a result of losing the birth mother or parents, as in the TV story episode. However, it does not create it!! Neither does it absolve the parents of the impact of their behaviors have on the child.

When parents exhibit the kind of pathological dysfunctioning portrayed in this TV program, it’s very easy to focus on them and their impact on their child’s behavior and temperament, and overlook the child’s attachment trauma/disorder. In this TV plot the wounding was already there, and was definitely exacerbated by the parents’ issues. However, the attachment disorder issues would be present in the child’s psyche even if the parents in this story plot had treated him well and been loving to him, as the other [biological] parents were to the son they were raising.

It may be “in the best interest of the child” to be removed from such dysfunctional parents. However, removing the child from the parents who raised him and returning him to his biological parents [as in this plot] is NOT the “quick fix” answer. It will not, in itself, resolve his issues as purported and assumed in this show plot. In a “real life” situation, the biological [“good”] parents will also have the same behavioral problems with the child and must be willing to deal with his rage and despair, especially when it is directed at them for his separation from his birth mother for whatever reason.

In order for a child to successfully deal with attachment trauma, help is needed from a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about the pre & perinatal dynamics of attachment loss trauma and disorders. Parents also need education, support and empowerment to help them understand and learn to parent children with these issues and needs, and to be able to address the impact that their children’s behavior is having on them individually as well as a couple.

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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