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Mama’s Not Feelin’ It: 6 Things I’ve Learned in My Journey to Attach

April 27, 2015 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

We just hit our one year anniversary with our daughter, and I have told more than one person that I think we all deserve medals. We didn’t have a dramatic first year full of major medical challenges or severe behaviors. Ours was the more everyday-garden-variety of adoption stress and trauma. I’m thankful we didn’t walk through harder things, but to be honest sometimes it made me feel even worse that I struggled as much as I did when for the most part, everything went as well as it could possibly have gone.



I’ve talked about our journey a lot here at NHBO, but to summarize… I think about two months after we got home, things started to get really hard for me. That’s when the casseroles and honeymoon ended, and when I felt like a glorified babysitter. When taking a hard look at her delays, I found myself asking a lot of scary “what ifs” and feeling at the end of my rope every.single.day.

I felt bitter towards Alea for taking my attention from Cora, who had been an only child and a total mama’s girl. I felt utterly inadequate for the task of being Alea’s mom. It felt like such a job — not natural at all, and it wasn’t helped by everyone commenting on how sweet and precious and cute she was. It wasn’t that I didn’t see that at all, but I saw a whole lot more that wasn’t sweet and precious and cute and it made me feel a bit monstrous when I considered how very little actual love I felt. After all, I knew what love for a daughter felt like for me. If you’re in this season now, you probably get it. I don’t need to belabor this point. It’s hard. And relentless. And you can give all you have to give and know in your gut it isn’t enough to make it all better.

Several weeks ago, I attended – like many of you – the Empowered to Connect Simulcast. Dr. Purvis said in one of the sessions that research has found that an adopted child adopts the same attachment style as his caregivers within two months of placement. That’s huge! We talk a lot in pre-adoption classes about helping the child attach to the family. We don’t spend as much time talking about helping the parents attach to the child. And as I’ve walked my own journey of attachment with my daughter this year, and had to deal honestly with the feelings I found bubbling up inside, I can genuinely say that my attachment to her has been the hardest part of this journey, and is most likely the root cause of our longer-term struggles.


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If you find yourself thinking “Me too!” and feeling a little panicky and hopeless inside, let me skip to the end. Here we are a year later, and I genuinely love both of my little girls. I feel the same deep joy, gratitude, and honor about getting to be Alea’s mama as I feel for my daughter Cora. To be honest, it keeps getting better and better! And as I think over our last year together, here are a few things I learned that helped get us where we are today:

Adjust expectations.


It’s ok not to feel deep love. Sometimes love follows actions and you just need to go through the motions of being an appropriate caregiver and trust that the feelings will follow. It doesn’t make you a bad mom. It makes you an honest one.


Lower the bar.


Forget Pinterest… A day spent cuddling on the couch watching Elmo isn’t a parenting fail. It is a win. So is takeout Chinese or a frozen pizza for dinner. If you struggle with putting high expectations on yourself, cut yourself some slack. And simplify your life as much as you can! You don’t need to be on 10 committees or volunteering all over town for this season. The emotional energy this kind of parenting requires absorbs so much more of us than we might expect, and something has to give.


Recognize you aren’t your child’s healer.


About 6 months after we came home, it finally hit me that I was trying to be my daughter’s savior and heal her emotional wounds. It was an impossible task and I was suffocating from the enormity of it. I stepped back and surrendered that, and instead started each day with the recognition that I would do the best I could AND I would fall short, and I prayed like crazy for God to pick up my slack. It might not have changed much outwardly, but internally I felt like I could breathe for the first time since we’d had her.


Be patient.


With your child, with yourself, with God, with others, with the process… Healing (of any of your hearts) won’t happen overnight. It’s ok!! You just keep going, one day at a time. Let the story unfold how it will and just make a commitment to emotionally and mentally show up. Be present. That’s it! Don’t add extra expectations to it, for any of you. And don’t forget to celebrate the little victories and baby-steps of progress even if they are followed by two-steps back.


Give yourself a break.


I know it is hard to get away with attachment-centered childcare considerations in those early months, but be sure to recharge. Maybe it’s something you do after kids go to bed… A glass of wine with a friend or a quick trip to the bookstore. Whatever you need, give yourself permission to be off-duty sometimes. I think it helps to admit to some core/close people that this journey can feel a lot more like babysitting than mothering early on. And when that emotional attachment just isn’t there, we can snap more easily. I’ve found that in order to be truly emotionally present, I have to be off-duty sometimes so that I could fill myself back up.


But above all, be encouraged!

I believe God is faithful to finish what He starts, and He will knit you together as a family. I can say with a full heart and deep honesty, I LOVE MY DAUGHTER ALEA!! (I feel the need to shout that out, because if you hear nothing else from this post, that’s what I want you to remember.)

I still remember the way I felt the first time I realized I missed her; or the way it felt the first time I smelled the unique scent of her hair and felt joy and not anxiety. I’m so glad the first year is behind us! Our connection is so much better than it was even 2 months ago! And it just keeps getting better. But the first year? My goal became survival. It reminds me of my garden out here in the desert… If I can just keep the plants alive through the wickedly hot summer months, I get an incredible crop of tomatoes in the fall.

Maybe another mom could have walked through the same experience as me and not struggled. But I did, and that’s OK. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. And if you’re struggling too, that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you aren’t the right mama for the job! Take your time and let love grow.

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I’m only a year into this journey, which means I have a lot left to learn! If you’ve walked a hard-fought road of attachment to your child, what tips would you offer to me and others? Leave them in the comments and let’s continue this conversation!

— photo by Tish Goff

find my family: Abby

April 26, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Beautiful little Abby loves to smile and interact with her caregivers and those around her. She enjoys listening to music and loves things that are new to her. She likes playing outdoors and her caregivers say that she is very active and extroverted. Abby suffered from a rough start with some developmental delays and wasn’t able to walk until she was older. She is currently walking however, and is quickly catching up to other children her age. Little Abby would really thrive with a family capable of providing her with the therapy needed to continue to grow and develop properly. Abby was born February of 2010.

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Abby can understand what adults say and is not afraid of strangers. She likes playing outdoors and is a lovely and active girl. She is extroverted and full of curiosity. She likes playing with the other children.

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Contact Nicole at AAC for more information.

How To Get Out From Under Our Expectations

April 24, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Eryn shared with us last week in her post, The Burden of Expectations, that we all have expectations that we carry into our adoptions, and how these expectations can lead to significant parenting mistakes in we don’t recognize them. Today Eryn follows up her original post with five practical suggestions on how to get out from under these expectations.

So what are some practical things we can do?

1. Lower the bar. This is lowering our expectations of our children’s behavior. The main goal for the first couple months is to think of your attachment to your child (no matter their age) like you would attach with an infant. You are the main regulator of their behavior. This can be counter-intuitive because we expect a 6 year old to regulate like a 6 year old! However, in the first few months, our children need grace to regulate like an infant. If you think about how an infant gets his needs met or handles something he doesn’t like you can easily picture the baby’s reaction. A simple tool I would use in the first months was asking myself, “Is this the behavior an infant would use in this situation?” The answer was usually, “yes”. So then the burden of expectation was lifted, and we worked through it with me helping them and calming them myself. This can be done at an age appropriate level with children up through adulthood.

This might seem strange but it is the natural, biological way attachment develops. We have to have the “infant stage” of attachment where we help them regulate, calming them ourselves, in order for them to learn how to trust. Once the foundation for trust is laid, we can steadily build from there slowly raising our expectations for them and how they bond with us. It’s like a house. The foundation is Trust and no building can exist without a solid foundation. Well, it can, but it quickly has problems and eventually crumbles! Attachment cannot be built without Trust.


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2. Focus your behavioral interventions on calming and supporting your children. Think more “how” versus trying to correct the “what” they might be doing. For example, it’s very much OK for a child to not want to be held right when they come home. Once we get past that expectation of reciprocal affection, we can let them know that it’s both normal for them to not want the holding and that adults can be scary sometimes. You can also show them that you, the parent, are different by giving them space.

Guiding them through the “how” of asking for that space is also important. You can actually foster attachment by guiding your child through the process of asking you NOT to hug them! That is the beauty of lowering our expectations. We don’t have to try to hold them to unrealistic expectations for behaviors they don’t have the skills for yet, but we can help them with how they communicate.


3. Take advantage of opportunities to show them that we “see” them, even when they don’t seem to notice. This goes well with another practical help: think of creative ways to say, “yes”. For example, if your child asks to go outside and it’s storming, we might have to say “not right now”. This can be viewed as a “no” and a rejection of sorts and send our children into a fearful place where their behavior may seem intense. If we come near and comfort them with saying things like, “You seem frustrated by not getting to do that. I’m so sorry that it’s raining.” This helps our child know that we see them and empathize with them. At the same time, it’s important for us to get creative with our “yeses”. After helping them calm is might be a good time to let them pick something you can play together inside. This would be a way to give them a “yes”.


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4. Don’t forget you can always choose to go play in the rain. Which brings us to another important rule. When in doubt, try being silly! Playful interaction with our children has a powerful impact on engaging all parts of their brains and de-activating the stress response, thus promoting healthy attachment. One thing I try to do when I’m getting frustrated and nearing the end of my rope is to make a silly face and noise (picture cartoon character like movements). This both helps me vent my stress a bit, but also usually makes my kids think I am hilarious. It’s easy to move forward if everyone is laughing!


5. Finally, the MOST important one: Give yourself GRACE and TIME! We also have expectations for ourselves as parents. We feel like we should know what to do in any situation. I try to never use the word “should” with my husband or myself. If you catch yourself saying this, try and ponder what expectation is holding you hostage in that moment. I mentioned being smitten with my daughter, but that process took time. These days it’s hard to imagine not ever loving her! Sometimes we just sit in bed a night and talk about how awesome our children are because we are so in love with them, but again, this takes time. Give yourself plenty Grace and plenty of Time.



A Note on Resources: My turning point was attending an Empowered to Connect conference where some things really began to click into place and I knew I had been wrong about some of my expectations for both my children and myself. I strongly recommend these conferences and the materials on Trust Based Relational Interventions® provided by Texas Christian’s Institute of Child Development. The DVDs that TCU puts out about TBRI® are invaluable resources for parents both waiting for their children and current adoptive parents.

The first one I usually ask parents to watch is called Attachment: Why It Matters. Waiting parents, you will benefit greatly from watching these and preparing ahead of time.


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Eryn has experience doing a little of everything from professional baking, to catering weddings, to professionally counseling anyone from trauma. After adopting her sweet, challenging, rambunctious, awesome three, she needed a place for post-adoption support. So she started a non-profit where other parents could come and get much needed services. Eryn serves as Community Educator, training parents and others on successful ways to connect with kids from hard places.

Eryn’s love language is problem solving and she enjoys being a resource for parents who have adopted or have chosen to foster. She blogs at Pumpkin’s Pantry, where she posts on everything from the hard stuff of adoption to gluten-free recipes.

waiting child highlight: Cradle of Hope

April 24, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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The following children are agency designated, please contact Cradle of Hope for more information on adopting one of them. …….. Matthew will be 8 years old this summer. He was found abandoned when he was about a week old. He is diagnosed with aniridia, which is poor vision. Matthew wears glasses and can see clearly within 3 …Read More

Let Tomorrow Be Tomorrow

April 23, 2015 by nohandsbutours 5 Comments

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The surgeon walked out in his blue scrubs, mask still hanging around his neck, and found us awaiting word that the surgery was over.  The stitching, repairing, and testing was complete, and he offered  reassurance.  But, as we tend to do, we pressed.  What is the prognosis? How long is recovery? How much pain? Worst case scenario? When is …Read More

find my family: Evie

April 22, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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Precious 1.5 year old Evie is newly listed with Madison Adoption Associates via an orphanage partnership. Evie is diagnosed with deformed limbs, sinus tract in lumbosacral region, developmental delay. At the age of 7-9 months, Evie could roll over and began to pay attention to the environment around her. Between 10 and 12 months, she …Read More

Building Memorials

April 21, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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Adoptive families are no stranger to fighting the good fight. We fight to bring our children home, through multiple levels of bureaucracy, sometimes through the government requirements of multiple countries. We battle cultural, language and jet lag barriers to have our child placed in our arms. Then the real struggles seem to begin: We fight …Read More

Adopting a Child with a Lipomyelomeningocele

April 20, 2015 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

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We knew we felt called to adopt, and called to China, but when we found out we’d need to go through the special focus route, we were afraid… Special needs? Those words encompass a lot. Locally we had a friend who had a precious daughter from China with spina bifida. This friend had spent a …Read More

find my family: Brinx

April 20, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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Who is needing a bit of sunshine on this Monday morning? We have got a treat for you today. Precious little Brinx. Brinx was born in November 2012 and his special need is post-operative congenital anal atresia. He has a million dollar smile. He is noted to be “smart, cute and strong”. He entered his …Read More

The Most Forgotten Habit for Healthy Attachment

April 17, 2015 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

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I set out to share with you how many years later I’m still working on attachment with my most precious children. Forming and maintaining healthy attachment is something as parents we will work a lifetime on with both our adopted and biological children. I wanted to share with you ways we have little “connection checks” …Read More