God planted the seed of adoption in my heart when I was still in elementary school. There was a single woman who did foster care and her children were in my brother’s t-ball league. The idea that children didn’t have families blew me away, and I begged my parents to adopt. That was not God’s plan for their life, but from that day forward the seed was planted in mine.
Fast forward a few years, a husband, three kids later, and we found our way to China to adopt our son who was almost two years old. You can read our journey to get him here.
We did everything on our agency checklist to prepare for our son’s adoption. We read all the books, took the classes, read up on his needs, had doctor appointments set up for once we were home, and even attended Empowered to Connect Conference, which I so highly recommend!
From all of the reading, I knew it was very likely our son would pick one parent to bond with immediately. And that is very normal.
What I didn’t expect was that he wouldn’t choose me.
Because of their lack of exposure to men, it seemed that most often the kids picked the mom. That was not our son’s case. He did allow me to initially hold him for about an hour while at the orphanage, but once back at our hotel and in the days and weeks that followed he wanted nothing to do with me.
As much as I knew in my head that this was totally normal and to be expected, it was still very hard being the mom and your child totally rejecting you. Especially since I was the one who, for the majority of my life, waited for and anticipated the moment I would finally hold my child. And then to realize I terrified him?
It broke me.
After a good cry, I pulled it together and started to put all the resources I had read and learned about the past few years paper-chasing into action. We focused in on two main areas: Food and Play. I knew this child had no reason to trust me, and that it was something I needed to earn, not expect. These kids are ripped from everything and everyone they once knew and given to complete strangers who look different, smell different, speak differently… just to name a few.
How truly terrifying it must be for our kids.
One great way to build connection is through food. When we were in a calm and secure setting (our hotel room), I would be the one to offer his bottle. He did not want it from me and would start to cry and reach for my husband. So we took it very slowly. My husband would hold our son, Hudson, and I would hold the bottle right next to him. He tolerated this but would not look at me, and as soon as the bottle was gone he quickly made sure to move away from me.
As the days continued we moved from Daddy holding him, to him lying between the two of us, and eventually our son allowed me to hold him without a fuss!
It was a very joyful moment when he trusted me enough to give him that bottle.
We knew not to push for those intimate things when out in public, and when our son was overwhelmed with so much stimulation it would only stress him out more. Those times Daddy fed the bottle, or he would allow me to feed it to him while he remained on Daddy’s lap.
Every day we saw a little bit more progress with the bottle, I eventually became the only person to offer food outside our hotel and as long as he was on Daddy’s lap he was just fine with that!
We made sure it was a situation he felt safe and secure in and we never battled over food. If he didn’t feel safe with me feeding him then my husband would, but because of the “bottle times” he quickly warmed up to me being the “feeding lady”.
It’s amazing what bridges food can build! By the end of our two weeks in China he would even let me hold him to feed him the bottle in public, but as soon as he was finished… back into Daddy’s arms he went.
But it was progress! Such huge progress from the week before when he could not even look at me without fear.
We also worked on connection through play, most often while in the security of our hotel room, and it turns out he is just a little jokester! He loves to laugh, he loves to be tickled, and he slowly but steadily warmed up to me during those times. He did prefer Daddy to change his diapers (which I was just fine with!) and he still needed daddy to help him fall asleep. But I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and no matter how long it took I knew it would be worth it.
Once home we took the “cocooning” process seriously.
And I truly believe it helped our relationship grow by leaps and bounds. We kept his world small and were the only ones to meet all his needs. We stayed around home for a solid three months, that doesn’t mean inside the house the whole time, but when we did venture out… we went to quiet low key places.
Three months in and we got to the point we slowly introduced him to our church (he stayed with us the whole time) and on occasion would run an errand or two. Six months home we knew he was doing great so we slowly started Sunday School (where he attended with his brother) and even had grandma babysit!
He was thriving.
His trust in his daddy never wavered, even after he went back to work. But his trust in me, his mama?
It was so beautiful to watch.
It wasn’t immediate.
The first hug, kiss, and I love you mama made my heart explode.
It took months to get there, but it was worth it!
We have been home 15 months now and our relationship has only continued to blossom. I am so thankful for the work the Lord has done in our son’s heart and in his life. We could not have walked this journey without patience, and so much prayer, but it has been worth it.
So I encourage you parents, if you find yourself being the one your child did not choose, I feel your pain, I have been there and it hurts. But the work and effort you put in to build that relationship with your child will be worth it all… for they are so worth it.
Attachment is not a one and done process. It is a relationship.
Think of it like a dance. There will be moments when all you can do is dance side by side – just barely holding on – where even eye contact is a struggle.
And then there will be times that will be sweet and intimate – like a slow dance – and it feels effortless and easy.
We won’t do everything perfectly every time, we will have parenting fails. But God is redeeming our children’s stories and us. He is in the healing.
So keep pressing on!
– guest post by Stephanie