I would say we are experienced in attachment but we are by no means experts. After adopting 13 children we have had quite a bit of “on the job” training! Ten of our adoptions have been with children between the ages of 5-11.
Our daughter adopted at 11 years 3 months was not prepared to be adopted. She did not receive our photo album or any of the gifts we sent her. We know they were delivered to the orphanage but we don’t know why she didn’t get them.
It made our gotcha day and time together in China very stressful for her and for us. Hubby and I had each other but she had nothing familiar, everything she knew was being taken away from her. This photo was taken while we visited her orphanage. She often refused to even look at me.
Before meeting our children we did all of the recommended reading. I believe that knowledge is power, so I wanted to know all that I could before gotcha day. It’s hard reading and I found myself only able to do a few pages at a time and then I needed a break to take it all in.
Books that I recommend are:
Adopting the Hurt Child by Gregory Keck
Parenting the Hurt Child by Gregory Keck
The Connected Child by Karen Purvis
Twenty Things Adopted Children Want Their Adoptive Parents to Know by Sherrie Eldridge
It is better to at least have an idea of what may or could happen than to be completely blindsided by your new child’s behavior. Having some knowledge and understanding about why they are doing what they are doing helped us to react with compassion and not take their behavior as a personal attack.
Humor and fun helped this daughter to attach. She was and is stubborn and strong willed. We had to set boundaries and stick with them. She wanted to control everything to the point of telling me how to drive the car after only being home one week!
Hubby and I acted as a team. We call it a unified front. We had to be careful we did not come across to our new child as two against one (our older kiddos said we sometimes did that). We talked over what was happening, problem solved together and then dealt with it. Sometimes we would deal with an issue by ignoring it or waiting for a better opportunity to address it.
Each child is completely different. So there is not a certain set of guidelines – what works for one may not work for another. Some of our kiddos needed strict rules and needed to be “tethered” right next to us for a while. While others needed a little space to process all that was happening and were comforted by knowing we were there for them when they were ready. We also needed to prove to our children that we were in control, we are capable of being in control and that they are safe with us. Even though they had no clue what they were doing each one of them came into our family ready to handle everything because they did not trust that we were capable of doing it. It’s a process but with time they learned that we were capable of caring for them – that alone is very bonding!
There is power in touch. If your new child allows you to hug them, hold them, sit close to them, sleep with them, hold hands and so on, go for it! This is hard for me. I don’t know why? It feels awkward until we actually know each other. Hubby is better at it than I am and from watching him I would say get past the awkward stage as soon as possible and keep trying to get closer together.
Nothing can take the place of time spent together. We have already lost so many years of their childhood that we felt we did not want to lose any more. We believe in spending lots of time as a family and we do almost everything together. We have heard that a child needs to be home with their forever family for as long as they were away from them in order to be fully integrated into their new lifestyle and culture. This is so true! It isn’t discouraging, it’s encouraging. It may seem like a long time but as we all know time goes by much too quickly. We consistently see progress the longer our children are home.
Bonding goes both ways. The parents as well as the child may struggle with this. I find I need to “like” my child before I “love” my child. It’s not like a baby that completely relies on you for everything. It’s a child with a preformed personality that may not immediately fit with your own personality. Let’s face it some kids are easy to get to know and to love while others take more time. But time is the ultimate healer and with time the bond grows. It’s not wrong to love a picture before you love them. It’s not wrong to love the miracle of adoption before you are actually feel deep feelings of love for them. It’s okay to love what you see emerging with within them.
We are not super human parents. We make mistakes and they learn to apologize when they see us apologizing. It has helped us to talk with other families who have adopted older children. It can be a lonely journey because most likely your friends in your community are not doing what you have chosen to do – reach out and find support. Other adoptive families will most likely be going through similar circumstances. Sometimes I just need someone to talk to and once I talk to them, I can move on.
Pick your battles and I would recommend picking as few as possible. Sometimes I have to look back on my day and ask myself what have I said that was kind and encouraging? Or did I pick away at my child: stand up straight, did you brush your teeth today, of course you need a jacket it’s cold outside, brush you hair, how could you finish your homework so quickly, etc. How could anyone attach to that person? Be someone your child can’t resist loving!
Smile, laugh and enjoy! Humor is so bonding. Smiles and giggles are contagious. Have fun with your child. Do something you like to do as well as them. We like to watch movies, talk, travel and do weekend activities together, and everyday we end up laughing about something!