1. Keep his world small.
I scribbled notes furiously onto the pages of the legal pad I kept for adoption related info. This particular page was titled “Attachment and Bonding.”
2. Don’t let others hold your newly adopted child.
3. No hugs or kisses from friends and family. Waves or high fives are ok.
4. Make sure you and your husband are the only ones that act as caregivers.
Obviously. Who else would?
5. Plan on staying home as much as possible for at least three months.
Wait… three months?
6. If you have children in preschool that must be walked in, arrange for others to take them. You shouldn’t be exposing your new child to so many people at first…
And at that piece of advice, the color must have drained from my face.
What had we gotten ourselves into?
I read everything I could get my hands on regarding adoption and attachment both before and during our process. I recall feeling big time guilt when I read Facebook posts from moms who literally did not leave the house ever with their new kiddos. For months. They waited until Dad or Grandma could come relieve them for a very much needed mental health trip to Target or Starbucks.
I couldn’t fathom having the tolerance for being home so much.
Not to mention that there were errands that had to be done during business hours, kindergarten programs in the morning, and a full evening schedule. And there was no Grandma within a day’s drive! I worried that we were already setting our new baby up for attachment issues.
Navigating the unique challenges of attachment with a newly adopted child can be overwhelming, especially when you’re adding to a big family. While there are endless online trainings, seminars, webinars, books, articles, and blogs related to “cocooning” (simplifying life, keeping the child’s world small, and having the child rely solely on mom and dad to meet his needs), ultimately you must decide which of the recommendations are most important for your child and which ones will work best for your family as a whole.
We adopted a 12 month old in 2015 and a 17 month old in 2016, adding kiddos number four and five to our busy brood. Our children are currently 15, 13, 7, 3, and 2. Here’s how we chose to handle the process of cocooning for our family.
Siblings: We read that siblings should offer no caregiving whatsoever. That meant no feeding, no diapering, and no comforting their new brothers. We chose to adapt this recommendation. We did allow the kids to feed the babies their bottles and help with diaper changes. We didn’t want them to feel any resentment over the new little guys who got a lot of Mom’s and Dad’s attention, while they were told that they couldn’t be involved. We did most of the feeding and caregiving. The kids were able to bond with their new brothers over bottles and bath time. To be quite honest, we saw no harm in this at all, as the “new” wore off rather quickly. Then all the responsibility fell back to Mom’s and Dad’s hands anyway.
Grandparents: We broke a big rule as soon as we arrived at the airport. Two grandmas and a grandpa traveled from another state, and they were waiting to meet their newest grandchild. Not only were they filled with excitement about our newest addition, but they had been taking care of our other children for two weeks. We chose to overlook the recommendation of not allowing others to hold the boys. After all, they were only in town for a few days, and we knew we wouldn’t see them again for months. We weren’t going to deny letting them hug and kiss the boys as much as they could before they had to leave for home.
We do not have any family that lives within an 11 hour drive, so there was no real need to explain the importance of us being the primary caregivers to our new kiddos. When our families left a couple of days later, my husband and I were the only adults in our house caring for the kids, offering them comfort and reassurance. When we did travel to visit the grandparents months later, we were mindful of whether the boys sought us out to meet their needs, or if they began choosing others over us.
Friends: I saw a group of friends and their kids regularly at our church moms’ group meetings before and after our adoptions. We had already talked about me playing the role of primary caregiver at all times when we were at meetings or playdates. No one attempted to hold the boys or give them snacks. Instead, they directed the boys back to me to meet their needs.
Public spaces: Any time we were out and about, the boys were either in the stroller or the Ergo carrier. This made it far less likely for people to just scoop them up and hold them. Our first adopted child was a mama’s boy from day one, and even two years later, he declines being held by anyone other than Mom, Dad, or his siblings. However, our second adopted child had to be kept very close at all times. At church, I wore him in the carrier. He would lean and lunge trying to get into the arms of literally anyone passing by us in the hallway. We had to be far more proactive in reminding him that “Caston stays with Mama.” A year later, he is very attached to his dad and me, but he is a little social butterfly, visiting everyone at his brother’s baseball games. (We call him our little politician!) We are fine with him engaging everyone, but if he tries to sit with them, we bring him back to our family’s space.
Staying home: The three month intense cocooning period at home simply was not going to work for our family. We wasted no time in breaking this rule. We went to the grocery store the morning after we returned from China. We attended birthday parties and baseball games within 24 hours of deplaning. We went to church a week after we returned home from China both times, keeping our babies with us all the time. Our kids participate in travel baseball, competitive cheer, track, softball, and church activities. We don’t have the option to not be on the go, especially since we don’t have family nearby to help out.
So what did our cocooning look like? Our modified version was quite simple. Our big family didn’t follow a rigorous list of rules, but we did help form secure attachments by:
• Keeping our kids close to us when we were out and about. Close proximity ensured that they weren’t readily available to leap into someone else’s arms.
• Co-sleeping. I’ve been a fan of co-sleeping since 2002, mainly because it allows everyone in the family more sleep, but also because of the snuggle factor. (Ok, so it’s mainly because of the snuggle factor.) Being the last one he sees at night and the first one he sees in the morning has definitely helped in building attachment and trust with our kiddo who lived in four places with many, many caregivers prior to joining our family.
• Politely declining help from others. A lot of people are naturally inclined to help, especially when they see you at a baseball game with a herd of jet-lagged children less than 48 hours after getting off a plane from China. (Another story for another time. Likely not my best parenting decision.) I had to turn down offers from very sweet, well-meaning people to give our new kids snacks or hold them while I attended to another child. Only Mom, Dad, or siblings were allowed to hold or feed them.
• Baby wearing. Both toddlers spent quite a bit of time in the Ergo. We began this on day one in China and continued it for several months after coming home. One child resisted it for the first few days, but I stuck out the wiggling and crying in hopes of him finally relaxing his little body against me and learning that I would comfort him. After we were home, it was a big plus for bonding, and it was really the only way I could accomplish any cooking or cleaning. Baby wearing was also a life saver for sensory overload situations like church or the grocery store. When it all became too much for our son to handle, I popped him in the Ergo and put the hood up over his head to calm him.
• Following our children’s leads. While it may appear we were pretty laid back in some of the areas of cocooning and attachment, we likely made up for it in other areas. For example, we waited two years before putting our first adopted child into Sunday school at our church. His little brother still isn’t going after being home for 14 months. We have decided that it is better for the him if one or both of us stays in the family room with our son to watch the service there. He simply isn’t ready to be in someone else’s care (even briefly) outside of our immediate family.
These are a few of the ways we were able to make a big world a little smaller for our adopted kids.
If I had to offer you one piece of advice, it would be that cocooning and attachment don’t necessarily look the same for every family. You may need to return to work after your adoption. You might be adopting a 10 year old, so baby wearing isn’t even an option. Your child might need a more intense cocooning period. Research and read multiple sources on the subject and find the fit that optimizes attachment for your new child and your family.