Attachment. It’s a word that, at some point of the adoption journey, will bring every parent to their knees – either in frustration over all that seems to be lacking or gratitude for heart-shaped milestones reached.
This month we are focusing on attachment over the long(er) term… not weeks or months home. But years down the road. And we’ve asked our contributors to share their experience – exactly what attachment is like with their child, exactly where they are on the attachment journey.
1. Every adoptive parent starts out with certain expectations for what attachment and bonding will be like. How has your attachment looked like what you expected?
We read up, of course, on attachment before our adoption of our son. We prepared ourselves the best we could with books, the training our agency provided and by listening to experienced parents who had gone before us.
Still, the attachment (and for us the grieving that came right along with that) became our full time job once we got off that airplane onto U.S. soil. Looking back I know I never really grasped the commitment and sacrifice that would go along with our journey of attachment with our son.
2. How has your attachment looked different from what you expected?
It was more work than I expected and required some sacrifice from all family members.
3. Have you ever felt like you could say, “we are attached”? If so, when?
Yes – but the journey of attachment is never over. Some seasons have been better then others. Our son was almost four when we adopted him and we attached to him relatively easily. And he attached to us within weeks.
The levels of attachment have gone up and down over the last five years… depending on any grief our son was dealing with, medical issues, etc. We waited almost six months for his first surgery and experienced a big regression. But ultimately it helped us show him we were here no matter what and his attachment to us grew deeper.
We were very blessed that our son had a foster mom and dad for a few years and had experienced some family like structure.
4. What are three things you are glad you did to build attachment?
Cocooned once home. This can be hard for a lot of families who have multiple kids with lots of activities. Sacrifice was required from all of us but in the end I think this was the key to good attachment right off the bat.
Limited caretakers. My husband and I were the only ones to feed, hold and care for our son. We were very strict on this rule and it worked wonders in our son adjusting to his new mama and baba.
Set the ground rules early. We told family and friends the “rules and changes” before our travel, and reminded them during our time in country and once home. Believe me, it’s hard for a lot of outsiders to grasp the why and how of attachment with your newly adopted child and why it can look so strange and different. Back up your rules and requests with a research and an open letter to friends and family.
5. Five years out, what is something you would do differently if you were to do it all over again?
I would likely hold off even more time on surgeries if you possibly can. Most often our kids from hard places have not had good experiences with medical staff, had traumatic surgeries and, as a result, end up not having a lot of trust. Make attachment your number one priority. Creating that safe place in which your child can heal reaps wonderful rewards in the journey of your child in his/her new family.
6. How would you encourage an adoptive parent a few years behind you regarding the attachment journey?
– There is never a “end” to the attachment journey. Taking cues from your child – recognize and know that they will always struggle with trust so we
– Always be on the path to pursing their heart.
– Know that some seasons may be harder. When it’s rough and you see signs of regression and grief – pull back from all the extras, make your world small and keep things simple.