A RAD Sibling Shares Her Story with the World
Updated: Dec 27, 2022
["Living with a RAD child" is a guest post from a sibling who experienced this life first hand. All names were changed.]
We met Hazel when she was five or six. I don’t remember all the details, but she and her younger sister had a very heartbreaking story. It is still hard for me to think about... Where they came from or not want to find some way to help these littles. In addition to the abuse they experienced in their bio family, they have also been through multiple foster homes. They were eventually placed with some of our relatives.
The plan with this family was to adopt. It soon became clear that they could in no way handle both of them. They chose to keep and adopt the younger child and return the older one to foster care. The older one had been molesting her younger sister and the other biological children in the home. By this time both girls had been diagnosed with RAD.
[This is a story from a reader of her life and living with a RAD child.]
My parents were aware of the whole story and desperately wanted to help. They thought if they took in the older girl, the family relationships would be beneficial to the girls. Allowing them to at least have a cousin relationship since they were unable to continue to stay together. My father is a mental health professional who specializes in children.
My mother had never met a child she could not love unconditionally. They had wanted to become foster parents for a long time. My mom and dad have 6 biological children, of which I am the 2nd. Our ages when Hazel came to live with us were 18F, me 17F, 15M, 12M, 7F, and 2M. We met both girls when our relatives brought them to stay with us for two weeks. Around that time, my parents were considering taking one or both girls in.
Even though Hazel already had a history of making false reports.
Charm and deceit - Living with a RAD Child
Both girls were charming beyond belief and the younger one was especially adorable, when our parents told us they were considering it, we all thought it was an excellent idea. Because of my Dad’s job he knew what to ask for from the state. Before they signed or agreed to anything they made sure she had a place in a local private school that had extensive experience with RAD, paid for by the state. They had access to all the therapies and supports available.
Moreover, my parents had time to read everything they could get their hands-on and had heard the first-hand experience of our relative before making the decision to adopt her. The plan was adoption, not a trial run or a long-term foster situation. They were going to adopt, everything else was a formality. They also had another relative who was a social worker. She told them not to do it, or they would regret it. In short, my parents had what most RAD parents can only dream about, support, information, respite care. And the best part: two extra almost adults living with them in the form of my older sister and me.
Our dad showed us both how to put a child into a safe hold. The child is facedown on the ground. Their arms are held behind their back. The adult kneels along either side of the child’s legs to keep them from hurting themselves or others. Hazel had a history of violent outbursts, including biting, kicking, hitting, and scratching. She had already made several attempts to maim or kill other young children. This was hard for me to believe because when we met her, other than a few tantrums, she seemed so sweet.
PRIDE has no place when living with a RAD child.
Their pride, expertise, and compassion had them convinced that our family could succeed where so many others fail. We could love her till she was better. Subsequently, we could make sure all the stuff that most RAD families deal with didn’t happen to us. We were to never ever leave her alone with my dad or brothers. She had a history of false abuse accusations that had always been directed at men. She came to live with us maybe 8 months after we first met her at the age of 6. According to my mother, at first, things were great.
I, on the other hand, very quickly turned sour against this child. She was not cute or charming! This little girl was mean, manipulative, and devious. She was fascinated by gore and blood. This girl loved to describe in colorful detail exactly what she was going to do to our dismembered corpses. This was once she succeeded in killing us. Hazel would steal and lie. Getting into my room and breaking my things was a hobby. Throwing huge tantrums over dumb stuff, and peeing on everything ON PURPOSE was often a challenge. She was constantly trying to hurt my two youngest siblings. This is living with a RAD child.
She had to be locked into her room at night. She had a history of trying to hurt other children. We could never ever let our guard down. My youngest sister was a year older than Hazel. She really loved to play up the sibling rivalry dynamic. She would steal my sisters' things and destroy them. Then claim my sister did it herself!
If my sister got a reward, Hazel expected the same. If she didn’t, she would take it out on our sister in the form of inflicting pain, or more commonly, telling other kids a lie to make them want to avoid my bio sister. This is living with a RAD child.
It was definitely a blessing that they went to different schools. She was constantly hurting our youngest brother who was only 2 at the beginning. Most of the time it was relatively minor things like biting, scratching, and hitting. But she would also try to kill him if we took our eyes off of her even for a second. I couldn’t stand her. I hated everything about having her there.
Home life when Living with a RAD Child
We couldn’t go anywhere or do anything with her without her ruining it, I couldn’t have friends over because she would charm them and they would tell me I was crazy and they refused to believe it when I would tell them how much I hated her. I resented my teenage brothers. They didn’t have to deal with her as I did. We couldn’t risk her accusing one of them of something.
My oldest sister was much better and being patient with her than I was (according to our parents). My parents were not perfect people before Hazel came to live with us. There were already some underlying dynamics that weren’t healthy. One of those dynamics was that my oldest sister was “the good one.” I recognize now that the eldest was under a lot of pressure to maintain that role from my parents.
She left for college probably 6-8 months after Hazel came.
I on the other hand got to spend the next year and a half hearing that I wasn’t doing a good enough job at being the “Third Parent.” Yes, those are actually words my mother used. I would get home from school and Mom would say that she needed to run to the store for “just one thing" and would be back in half an hour. More often than not, I wouldn’t see her again for 3+ hours. After she knew the other kids would be in bed... She would leave her cell phone at home. Or “forget” to charge it, so I wouldn’t even be able to get a hold of her.
My dad began finding reasons to never come home himself. On a regular workday, he would be gone before 6 am, and rarely came home except to maybe eat dinner until 9 pm or later. Weekends were not much better, he was off doing volunteer work and very successfully avoiding home life almost completely. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me. Most of my memories of him from that time are not good. When he was home he would usually manage to find fault with me. We ALL tiptoed around him because the slightest thing would set him off.
My Dad checked out early on. Since he was never supposed to be alone with Hazel, he got away with, more or less, dumping all responsibilities and all management on my mother. Because of this, she burned out very quickly and stopped engaging in life beyond the barest necessities, leaving me to deal with a lot more of the care of their other children. This is living with a RAD child.
I was 17, I was still a child myself.
I didn’t know how to be a parent to my bio siblings, let alone one with RAD. And it didn’t matter what I did, according to them I never did everything right. They told me it had been working when my older sister lived at home. I wasn’t doing it as well as she had. If I wasn’t screwing everything up as horribly as I was, we wouldn’t all be burned out. Things would be working. Make no mistake, my older sister wasn’t any better at it than I was. Our parents just couldn’t ever find fault with her.
The longer she lived here, the less capable they were of seeing anything outside of their own pain. I understand now that they were both in pain themselves and lashing out at me; at the time, I was just angry. My older sister’s contributions were romanticized. She has burned out also and left to get as far away from the crushing responsibilities as she could. But the constant reminders that she was perfect and I was not, left a lasting strain on our relationship, (although some of that was already there). This is living with a RAD child.
My mother told me after they finally terminated guardianship of Hazel, that it was my fault they failed. If my older sister had been the one who stayed home they would have been able to help her. I understand now as an adult that my mother said those things out of hurt and anger. She needed someone to blame because she couldn’t cope with her own feelings of guilt and failure. I just happened to be an easy target. For the record, I do not have a close relationship with my mother. There is too much hurt and resentment on my end. Too much trauma that she is unwilling or unable to address. She has continued her long history of saying hurtful things to me. I have had to distance myself from her for my own mental health.
Now I understand that none of this was my fault.
I didn’t do anything wrong, and I should NEVER have been put in that position. No teenager should be expected to bear that kind of responsibility. Even so, I spent years feeling so much guilt and disgust with myself. I mean what kind of person hates and resents a CHILD? Especially a child who experienced the kind of trauma Hazel had?
I have so many memories of having to put her in a safe hold, sometimes in public. Since I am a mother now, I cannot fathom how I could ever get to a situation where I would feel it necessary to hold them down and SIT on them (the safehold I mentioned above). Or to look at them with nothing but loathing and resentment and wish they would die.
Yet those are things I did with Hazel.
There were several times when I was put into a position where I felt the only option I had was to restrain her with a safe hold. Two decades later I feel nothing but shame and anger when I think of doing that to a child. And I still don’t really know if it was ever justified.
I have one memory of my mother near the end [of Hazel's stay] where she really must have been truly past her endurance. I had just walked in the door from work, and she was screaming and yelling. Immediately, I went to investigate and found her shaking Hazel and screaming in her face. Hazel would have been 8 around this time. I separated them and took Hazel out of the room. If I recall correctly I put her in her room. I told her to get her pajamas on and go to bed. I probably locked the door.
Then I went to check on Mom.
I found her sitting at the table staring off into space. She didn’t respond to me when I asked her if she was okay. She stared at the wall, not moving, not talking, or showing any signs of life other than breathing. I had to shake her to get her attention. When she came to, she had no idea where she was or what had happened. She claimed to have no memory of the event. And even the next day was claiming she had no idea what I was talking about. She says she doesn’t remember shaking Hazel, or our conversation later.
For her, it’s as if none of it ever happened. -- This is living with a RAD child.
There was another time when my older sister must have been visiting from college. She and I and our younger bio-sister were sitting on the couch together. Hazel must have been out with our mother because it was a rare moment where we were all completely relaxed. Bio sister would have been 8 or 9 around this time. Little Sister was upset about something that had happened and school and my older sister and I were telling school stories from when we were that age - to try to cheer her up. At first, she was quiet and didn’t want to talk. We had to coax her to tell us what was wrong.
After a little while, the three of us were giggling and laughing, including her. I remember looking over at my older sister. Both of us realized at that moment, we hadn’t heard our baby sister laugh or giggle in over a year. This was the first time in a long time that we had seen her even acting like a carefree child. She had become so quiet and withdrawn, doing everything she could to avoid notice.
I don’t know how much that was Hazel’s constantly picking on her. Or how much of it was that our parents had become so volatile themselves. Either way, when our short sisterly bonding moment ended (probably because Hazel came back), my older sister asked me if I that was the first time I had seen her laugh too because she couldn’t remember the last time. This is living with a RAD child.
I agreed that I couldn’t either.
My youngest brother has paid the biggest price. I feel huge amounts of guilt over this too. I wasn’t around anymore and couldn’t have helped even if I knew how. As I mentioned he was two when she came. He doesn’t remember the time before she lived with us, and did not understand that she was different. My baby brother worshiped her; he still remembers her as his big sister and best playmate. At the time, he was never told that she was being fostered. She was the sibling that was always willing to play with him.
He didn’t have the maturity to recognize that he was being manipulated. My baby brother didn’t understand that the times she hurt him were malicious and often premeditated. It was so common, yet he was so desensitized that he thought all of it was normal. He still has scars from the things she did to him. But he didn’t understand any of that, he just loved her, with all the love and innocence of most children.
Then one day she was gone.
Her violent outbursts had become unmanageable, the closer my parents got to finalizing the adoption the worse she got. She would run into the road to punish us. We had been banned from the community pool when she tried to drown another kid. She would make threats. Her public tantrums now included her yelling that she didn’t know “these people” and that she was being kidnapped.
She must have made an accusation against me at some point. I was rarely expected to watch her alone by then. My mother had completely given up on any real parenting for the rest of us. Other than making sure there was food available, all her attention was focused on Hazel.
They finally came to the realization that this little girl needed more help than our family was capable of providing. Even when we had ALL the available resources at our disposal.
So she was sent away.
We weren’t told until the day before she left. As I said, my brother had no memory of life before; one day he was a happy four-year-old with an older sister that he idolized and the next she was gone.
We barely talked about her, we could barely function as a family anymore at all. It was frustrating to the rest of us that he was so upset about it. The rest of my siblings and I were so relieved for it to finally all be over.
We just wanted to forget.
My mother was a broken shell of a person.
She felt tremendous guilt and she was projecting her pain in any direction she could. My dad just went right on avoiding us all except to show up, yell and lecture and then disappear again.
I managed basic childcare when I wasn’t at school or work, and according to my mother failed at it miserably. She wouldn’t parent! She would flip out on me if I tried to step in. Then flip out on me if I didn’t step in. I'm sure she felt like a failure.
She had loved Hazel, but it wasn’t enough.
Mom was mourning, and feeling guilt, so traumatized by it all. She flat out refused to seek any kind of help. She didn’t trust mental health professionals anymore, and she and my dad’s marriage was completely non-functional at this point. Somewhere during that time, she began self-medicating with prescription opiates. I saw the signs but I didn’t know what I was seeing.
Now that I know what to look for, I know that’s what it was; she’s bounced around between a few different substances since, but she’s never sought treatment.
She really did just quit. -- This is living with a RAD child.
Because of this, my youngest brother was neglected. He had access to food, and he was given clothing to wear; my mother made sure he made it to school (at first), but otherwise, she ignored him. My brothers and I were the only ones giving him any kind of attention or discipline. We had no idea what we were doing. I admit we weren’t very nice, partially because he was difficult to manage, and partially because our mother would undermine our efforts.
My dad didn’t like him and would say so to his face. He had picked up a lot of behavioral traits from Hazel. My mother would get triggered and just give him whatever he wanted to make him stop. Consequently, my mother was aware that Hazel’s sudden disappearance had traumatized him, but no effort was ever made to address it.
My brother would tell teachers that he couldn’t get in trouble at home! His parents "might send him to live with another family as they had done with his other sister"! He would ask all the time when he was going to have to go. They would just dismiss his feelings when this happened. And tell him they would never do that, except they had done it once before and he didn’t understand why. He was 10 when they finally told him that she had been sent away to protect him.
They had been forced to choose and they chose him so he needed to stop whining. Up till then when he would throw tantrums. He would say he didn’t trust [our parents] because they sent his sister away and he was afraid they would send him away too. No effort was made to get him in to see a therapist for almost a decade. And by then he was a very big behavior problem. He had rarely heard "no"
Years After Living with a RAD child...
My little brother was experimenting with drugs and refusing to go to school, or bed, or anything else. My parents still ignored him - unless they couldn’t. The attention they did give him was rarely positive. Our father was especially cruel, but our mother’s neglect or permissiveness (never anything between) was worse in its own way. This is living with a RAD child years later.
He has been in and out of rehab ever since becoming an adult. He is finally trying to get his life together, but he has an uphill road ahead of him. I recently learned that no one has ever apologized to him, or even acknowledged how painful it must have been for him to lose a sibling [immediately] with no real explanation.
That’s the gist of it, I have so many more stories; this is already probably more than you need. I appreciate your listening. I didn’t realize how much anger I still carry until a few weeks ago. A friend of mine took in a RAD teen recently. Promptly realized it was a mistake and turned her back over to the state three weeks later. I didn’t find out about the diagnosis until after they had her. I would have told her not to do it. Watching [my friend] go through it has brought up a lot that I haven’t thought about in years. It feels good to get it off my chest.
Wow! It was such a great experience to share. Thank you and share this post to your heart’s desire.
I have a few more posts on RAD. Here is the one I would start with when you want more information: https://impressingminds.com/what-is-it-like-to-live-with-a-rad-child/
AND, all children with RAD are not lost. I have these posts to contrast: