a mom’s struggle with attaching

I was given a deadline for this post of the end of July – mostly because I asked for one.  That was a month ago.  As I write this I am now only one week out from the deadline, and I’m just now sitting down to put my thoughts on paper.  Although I am a natural procrastinator, this post goes beyond that for me.  It’s hard.  It’s hard for me to think about it, talk about it, and become vulnerable enough to share it with “strangers.”  So let’s just call each other friends and that might help… ok maybe not, but at least I will have a lot more friends!    

I’ve struggled, wondering if talking about this out loud would *hurt* my son if he reads this someday.  I ultimately came to the conclusion, after talking with some wise friends, that as long as I have an open dialogue with my son about this story of redemption, it won’t be anything new for him to read one day.  He may or may not ever learn to read or even be able to understand the concepts that I will discuss, but if and when he does, it won’t be a surprise to him!  The benefits to other moms that feel alone in this struggle far outweigh my fears and pride of keeping silent.

Let me start with a little background information about myself as well as my family’s adoption journey.

Our family wasn’t looking to add more members to it.  We thought we were finished growing our family after the birth of our 3rd biological child.  I had had some very risky health issues during my last pregnancy and my doctor advised against having any more children.  We were content that God was closing the door for us on more children.  Over the next several years God put into our lives many friends and acquaintances who had adopted or fostered just because they were “called” to it.  God started working on my heart about adoption, but I kept it to myself for a while.  Unbeknownst to me, He was also working in the hearts of my husband and children as well.  One day my husband said out of the blue, “Babe, I think we should consider adoption!”  You can imagine his surprise {and I will never forget the look on his face} when I said without batting an eye, “Yes, I do too!”  Two days later as we were leaving church our oldest saw a family that had adopted two beautiful children from Africa walking out.  She said, “Mom and Dad, I think we should adopt like them.  We have so much God has given us and orphans don’t have anything!”  My heart nearly melted right there and I knew at that moment this was a God thing working in all of us separately.  We were sure it was Him!  {This is goose bumps kind of stuff, girls!!}

We began our adoption journey in Thailand 4 1/2 years ago.  Our intention from the very beginning was to adopt a special needs girl. Shortly after we started the process Thailand changed its referral system.  It was one of those “It will be so much better and faster with the new system” changes and then the whole program came to a screeching halt.  Well, after 2 1/2 years of just waiting with no movement, we decided through much prayer and many tears {and it was such a hard decision} that we would switch programs to China.  We felt peace about switching and beginning a journey that would take us to our little China princess.  But God again had other plans, and He was really stretching us and putting us through His refining fire. 

After a few months in the China program a little 4-year-old boy popped up on a list that our agency had compiled through the Journey of Hope program.  My husband had an instant connection to him, and although I thought he was cute, he was a HE  – not a SHE!  After talking to our agency about the possibility of adopting a boy AND a girl at the same time, we agreed to proceed with adopting our sweet Hudson.  We were told he had a mild form of cerebral palsy.  We were also told that he was a very smart, curious, and helpful boy.  Over the next year I grew to love this boy more than my heart could take.  I couldn’t wait for the day to get my boy from China and bring him home.  The whole time we continued to work toward a possible referral for a little girl.  However, during the time of processing the paperwork God saw fit not to give us that second referral.  This was hard for me.  After all, I had been praying for this girl for over 3 years at this point.

Two months before we traveled to China we signed up to be short-term foster parents through an agency called Safe Families For Children.  We got a placement right away, and we were told that our involvement would last only for a weekend.  That weekend turned into 6 amazing, fun weeks caring for an 11-month-old baby boy that we fell in love with.    Anyone that knows me knows how much I LOVE babies.  I might have an unhealthy addiction to them! LOL.  Because of that having this little guy in our home was a balm to my impatient soul while waiting to go to China!  After the 5th week of caring for him we learned that his mom had not been checking in with the agency as required.  He was going to be considered abandoned.  The agency told us that we could go to court and petition to get legal custody of him.  The day before court his mom showed up, and we were given only 3 hours to take him back to her.   Oh my heart broke.  This was hard for me.

There was only 2 weeks before leaving for China at this point.  I had no time to grieve and I had a family of 5 to pack for.  Soon we were off to China and picking up our son.  My heart was about burst when we walked through those doors at the Child Welfare Institute, and he ran toward us.  As that first day went on I was a little taken back by the fact that this smart boy seemed to have a lot of strange mannerisms.   He also didn’t seem to be acting like a typical 5 year old would act, but rather a 2 year old.  The more the week in China went on, the more I felt myself distancing from him.  I didn’t know this child.  This child wasn’t the one I had read about or seen in videos and pictures.  He was very different.  This was hard for me.  And even though I would have never said it out loud, inside I was thinking this is the child that kept me from my baby girl.  {OK this is one of those cringe while I am typing moments.}  I have to add for my son’s sake, that none of those feelings were actually because of him.  They were all me and issues I was having.  You see, even though I didn’t realize it, I was grieving inside.  I was grieving the loss of the baby girl I longed for, grieving the loss of my foster son, and grieving the loss of the smart little boy I thought we were going to get.  While “grieving the loss of the boy we thought we were getting” sounds trivial, it is common.  I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this beautiful boy was mine.  I knew that God designed him to be knit into our family’s tapestry before time began.  So why did I feel this way?  Why couldn’t I get past this?  Why did I seem to keep withdrawing?  Why was I simply going through the motions of parenting him instead of having the feelings I should be having as his mom?

How could I have loved a foster baby soo much in 6 weeks and I don’t have those feelings for my own son?  Will they ever come?  What is my problem?  I LOVE children, why is this happening?  These questions {and many more} rattled in my head for months.  I couldn’t talk to ANYONE about them.   Besides, look at all these adoptive friends of mine on Facebook that have picture-perfect attachment. {or so it seemed!}  How could I talk to them…..they’d totally judge me.  Such shame, guilt and loneliness surrounded me.  Those were exactly the things Satan wants you to say to yourself and how he wants you to feel……isolated, alone, and full of shame.

My husband was a rock star in China.  He knew I was having a hard time, but didn’t say a word.  He took over the reigns of caring for our son while we were there.  I am so thankful that God gave me such an amazing husband and father to our children!

After months of beating myself up, and nothing changing in my relationship to my son, I mentioned how I was feeling to 3 close adoptive mama friends.  I was SHOCKED to learn that 2 of them had been struggling with the same thing!  What?!  I’m not a terrible person all alone in this?  You mean this is normal?  It was like a heavy weight had been lifted off my chest.  I felt hope for the first time in months.  Just knowing I had other mama’s that understood and were praying for me was an amazing feeling.

At month 7 of my son’s being home, I had the opportunity to attend the most AMAZING adoptive mama conference, Created for Care.  If you haven’t been…..You Need To Go!!!  It changed me.  God changed me there.  I learned that most of my attachment struggle was not about my son’s special needs, but about my expectations.  I had expectations for how I was going to respond to him when he joined our family – not met.  I had expectations about how he was going to be – not met.  I had expectations for his future and my future – not met.  The list goes on and on of my expectations vs. the reality of the situation. 

And like every godly woman would do when expectations weren’t met {insert sarcasm} I pulled away more and more.  This wasn’t because of my son.  He is perfectly created how God meant him to be.  This was because of me, and my failure to see him as the perfect son that God created for my family.  A son that will point me to Christ more fully each day of my life. Some days I feel like it’s too much for me to handle.  And to be frank, it IS.  God gives us more that we can handle so we are forced to turn to Him and let Him carry us through.  I am just stubborn enough that I require a lot more of these situations than the average Christian, it seems!  But I am thankful for it.

family

So while I came into this adoption fully prepared to deal with a child that struggled with attaching to me, instead I was the one that struggled with attachment.   Thankfully God has been {and is still is} molding me to be more like Him, and in the process is teaching me how to love a child adopted into my family as my own.  It’s such a beautiful picture of what God does perfectly in adopting us into His family, and loving us as His own children.   I am reminded of this nightly when I hold my sweet boy, look into his eyes, rock and sing to him before I put him to bed.   I thank God for these sweet glimpses of who He is and what He’s done.

I won’t lie and say there aren’t still days that I struggle, but I will say that after a year being home, those days are less and less, by the grace of God!

I hope and pray that this post is an encouragement to any mamas that feel alone in the attachment process and wonder if it ever gets better.   Don’t have any expectations about a timeframe, but it will get better.  It’s a lot of work and prayer but it will get better!

{HUGS}
Stephanie Lacock

Comments

  1. Awesome article! MOST of the time I haven’t had a difficult time attaching to my 8 year old son…we have had him for 2 years, after he went through a disrupted adoption and two foster homes. He is usually loving but sometimes he lies and it just upsets me so much. I know that lying is his way of self preservation…thank you for helping us to admit that it isn’t always perfect…We are adopting child number two, a special needs little girl in China and hopefully she will come home this winter. I’m glad I read this article, I have been dreaming of our little girl for so many years, I need to get rid of the image I have created for her and just love her for who she is…and will be!

  2. Beautifully written and so needed to be said! XOXO

  3. Kelli Smith says:

    Thank you for this post! It is so hard when things aren’t magical and easy as we assume they will be

  4. We’ve had our two precious adopted daughters for a year now, too, and I have truly struggled with the feelings of attachment with my 4 year old. It is such a hard topic because of the shame involved. I love children and have fostered 10 kids over the last 5 1/2 years, but nothing I have done in the past prepared me for my daughter. My expectations led to frustrations, and I, too, am learning how to let go of those frustrations and accept reality! Thank you for opening up, for sharing your journey, and for giving others the freedom to do the same!

  5. yes!!! One of the things I think needs to be addressed in pre-adoptive counseling and education is how common it is for PARENTS to struggle in attachment. We (especially us Mamas) put such a heavy emphasis on FEELINGS and then beat ourselves up when our FEELINGS don’t match what we had expected them to be. Expectations are normal and I don’t think they can be totally eliminated, but they can be tempered with education. Expectations of myself and expectations for my waiting child were CRUSHED in different ways with EACH of our adoptions. (Seriously, wouldn’t you think a Mama would LEARN with time?:) I am so happy to see that finally, FINALLY, people are realizing the value of speaking out about this common struggle. People are feeling safer. People are feeling more hopeful. Guilt and shame are losing their grip! Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  6. Experienced the same challenges with attachment but perhaps for different reasons. Know about feeling satan pulled me out into isolation but thankful to live our lives on the solid foundation of God’s truths. Thankfully I had a friend that had openly shared her struggles and sought out her company. She reminded me love is not about the feelings. Our biggest job as parents is to teach our children about their Heavenly Father. Somehow that took a pressure I had placed on myself away which opened the door for real feelings to start to form vs forced feelings ( think I babbling now). In any case, thank you for sharing.

  7. I so identify with this story! My struggle has truly been one of unmet expectations. And my guilt has been that I couldn’t identify with other adoptive moms whose children wreaked havoc on their households. Our son, although a handful in China, has been a sweet, kind, obedient little boy since we have been home, which has made my difficulty attaching seem so much more guilt-laden. My story has been one of daily laying down my life and loving in word and deed. Thank you for writing this!

  8. Ashley Bolin says:

    LOVE this! we don’t have any little ones home yet, but this sounds so much like my struggle with PPD. Which C4C were you at? I was there in Feb.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I had no trouble attaching with our first daughter through adoption but this one has been a totally different struggle.

  10. Thank you for being honest, open and truthful about your struggles. We are also adoptive parents but with a totally different story-doesn’t matter how but God has blessed us so much-more through our struggles with our new daughter! We have been able (ONLY with the strength of God) to show her the grace & forgiveness that God gives us all when we ask:) Love and family take time to grow-normally we have 9 months for that to happen.

  11. Linda Snyder says:

    Stephanie, we were in China with you. (same agency!) I brought home two kids. My son has been very sweet and easy to bond with.(age 8) I am so blessed. My daughter has been angry and rejecting most of this year.(age 13) Her destruction of personal property has just recently dissipated. Because of her rejection of everything about me, we have struggled greatly. Now I totally know what Jesus means to love those who do not love us. We have come so far. But our journey has been very very hard. So much happened to this child before coming home to us. I had no idea. She had been in 3 different homes and rejected every time. I firmly believe she felt the same thing would happen again and wanted to be in charge of making it happen. This is not like your story. But it is a story of a difficult adoption and a very tough year. Without faith I couldn’t do it. Hugs and prayers to you and your beautiful family! I remember Hudson well. I remember thinking he would be very tough. He was constant motion. Love you for your beautiful sharing! Linda

  12. Stephanie, thanks so much for your candor and vulnerability! The Lord will use your post to encourage others, no doubt!

  13. Whoa. This is my story. Right down to the foster baby I loved. And the expectations I am still adjusting daily. I’m ever so thankful that we don’t have to handle it alone! Thank you for sharing this!

  14. Great post Stephanie. We are starting a ministry at our church and the first thing we doing is instituting a foster and adoptive Moms Night Out. The idea is to give the mommas a chance to talk about this and other issues they may be struggling with, but also to offer them hope through shared experiences. Thanks for your honesty.

  15. Great post, one about something that many of us struggle with. You are most certainly not alone! I was fortunate enough to have a dear friend support me from the very beginning, and it helped immensely.

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