We have been home with our daughter for almost two and a half years. My oh my… how that time has seemed to fly. If I’m being completely honest, there are many days when time creeps by at a pace much more snail-like that I’d prefer.
Attachment and bonding to a newly adopted child for many (most?) is hard work. That’s right. Work. It’s not anything like anything I had ever experienced in my life before our Little Miss came into our lives, and I am thankful for the changes my life reflects as a result of her presence. I thought for the attachment feature this time around, I’d reflect a bit, and maybe let a few of you know that if your journey is seeming a bit like work right now, that you’re not alone, but mostly that there is always hope.
A few months home, I wrote this. Attachment and bonding when we first arrived home was breathtakingly difficult. Though I had read and studied a good bit about the process before we traveled, being at home and living it was a completely different experience.
The hope that I clung to during these first weeks was this: “Attachment for us these first weeks has been about learning selflessness. It has been about recognizing that problems with bonding don’t always stem from the child. It has been about seeing that true attachment really does take time, and energy, and effort. I know that there will be days when I feel like I’ve failed; when I feel the walls of that box start to close in around me again, but tomorrow is another chance. Mercies are new and the slate is fresh.” New mercies and a clean slate were my prayer of gratitude every day. They still are.
Just one month later, I was back at the attachment writing. This time, trying to process how I was dealing with the struggles in a practical way… “We deal with All the Things on a daily basis, don’t we? We care for their needs and we care for their hearts and we make lists in our mind about the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly. We are so burdened by the hard things that it’s easy to be blinded to the good. But we have to prop our eyelids open and look for it; the good has to be noted. It has to be recorded.” Learning to recognize that the bad wants so badly to overshadow the good was a game-changer for me. My focus started to shift from “how far we still have to go” to “look how far we have come”.
As the holiday season, there was a whole new jump in the learning curve as our family processed addressing issues we had never had to address before. The reasons behind why our holiday seasons may need to look different with our children from hard places seem obvious to us, but are sometimes not-so-obvious to others around us. We may find ourselves feeling frustrated by the changes being wrought in our family as we adjust to skipping out or cutting back on our normal holiday routines. We may have the desire to participate in ways we know are best for our children, but which may seem odd to others, and which sometimes causes stress.
Holidays can be challenging in a “normal” world, and are definitely so when living your “new normal”. This post was the practical ways we walked through this first holiday season as a family of six, and my ultimate takeaway then (and still is!) that “We don’t have to justify every decision we make. We can. But we don’t have to. We don’t have to feel like going against the norm is weird. Guess what? If going against the norm makes a person weird, then we are already weird! We have adopted! We have loved another in a way that is crazy! We are already swimming against the tide!”
If you’re in this place now, or wondering about what things might look like as you attach/bond/cocoon during the holidays, you’re not alone.
Easter the following year saw my heart beating in a new way. We’d reached the year mark and passed by it, and yet the attachment and bonding process was still one that required daily, intentional effort. “Our girl knew in a deeper way what her place in our family looked like, but there were still moments of rupture, times when there were set-backs. The grace in that was the opportunity to repair; the chance to heal new wounds goes so far in demonstrating that the old wounds can be healed, too.“ The grace of the Cross had me broken as I recognized that the only way I could parent this daughter of mine well was to fully trust in the Savior who bled and rose again for me, for her.
Attachment and bonding seems to be focused on the parent-child relationship most of the time, and I agree there is much to be said about that. Often overlooked are the challenges that siblings experience in bringing home a new brother or sister. One Day addressed my hopes for the relationship that is to come, the one I know is on the horizon, the one that I pray for and pray over on a daily basis. There really are no words for the heartache of feeling like your children might never like each other – but there is hope. Always.
Most recently, our family has found that our “new normal” might just need some tweaking with the help of a family therapist. Though we were at the two-year-home mark when we began our family therapy, we’ve seen greater strides made in our whole-family attachment than ever before. We’re learning how to use the lingo we’ve read and studied about in practical settings, and we’re seeing our children learning to use it to describe themselves, their emotions, and their struggles as well. It has been a phenomenal experience for us.
Currently, we’re in the middle of summer and, “This is our third summer as a family of six, and if I’m honest, it’s the first summer where I’m not bracing myself and prepping for survival mode.”
Attachment is so much more than just a phrase we toss around in adoption world… it is our life’s work with our new children, and it continues to be our work for years to come. It’s no coincidence that so many adoptive parents use the word “journey” to describe attachment – there are new steps to take forward every single day, new ground to win in the hearts of our littles, new mercies to rest in as we learn what it means to trust the God who called you into this.
There are still days where I know our daughter is feeling like she’s not connected to the family in the same way our other children are, and it’s my job as her mama to make sure she knows she is loved. If that means an extra, dedicated snuggle session is built into the day, that’s what we do. If it means getting the kids together to play as a group, working together toward a common goal, that’s what we do. My eyes are always open to what my children need, and especially wide-open when it comes to our youngest.
I know that attachment and bonding isn’t a one-time thing – it’s an ongoing process. I’m always looking with eyes of joy for reminders concerning how far we have come in the two years we’ve been home, and always looking forward with eyes of hope to the future and what it holds for our little family.