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 had already been parenting biological children for six years before our daughter came home. In some ways, that made it easier for us to prepare for our new daughter through adoption. In other ways though, it made things much more difficult because we had to “unlearn” some of our ways of parenting. We were set in a routine, and attachment truly wasn’t something we thought much about because we didn’t have to work at it. However, we knew from reading lots of adoption parenting books that we’d need to intentionally foster attachment with our new daughter. We bottle fed her, rocked her, and attempted to meet all of her needs to form a bond. We didn’t force her into situations she wasn’t comfortable with, and kept her physically with us as much as possible.
Fortunately within a short few months, my daughter had clearly formed a healthy bond with us. Not everything went as smoothly as this, but our daughter’s attachment journey definitely looked like what I expected and hoped. It was certainly different than the attachment journey of our biological children, but our new daughter responded well to our efforts in a relatively short amount of time. In fact, after having the experience of adopting a second time, I’d even say that her attachment to us was quite quick and relatively “easy.”
2. How has your attachment looked different from what you expected?
Even though I knew it would require intentionality, I had no idea, really, what that meant. I was prepared to hold and be close to our new daughter to help her attach to me. But I wasn’t at all prepared to have to work at my attachment to her. A healthy bond came so naturally for me with my other children, so I was surprised at myself for not immediately feeling the same way with my new daughter. I probably spent the entire first year struggling through that part. I made a lot of mistakes. Fortunately, my daughter was patient with me and helped me learn to figure it out. I formed a bond with her that slowly grew deeper and deeper over time. Parenting her forced me to learn new ways, and I am forever grateful because she’s taught me more about being a mama than I could have ever imagined!
3. Have you ever felt like you could say, “we are attached”? If so, when?
At one year home, I felt like my daughter and I were attached. But at two years home, I felt even more strongly that we were attached. At three years, still even more. At four years, more. And here we are, over seven years home, I feel like we are incredibly attached. But I also believe that attachment is a fluid dance, changing and maturing with the different seasons of life. I feel confident that we still need to be intentional about keeping attachment strong. Today, it looks more like pursuing relationship with our daughter instead of directing our efforts toward attachment, but this is something we need to do with all of our children, no matter how they came to us.
4. What are three things you are glad you did to build attachment?
First, I’m glad that we didn’t force our daughter to do things she wasn’t ready to do. For example, we were encouraged many times to put her in the church nursery, but she cried when we left her and was clearly stressed by the situation. My gut reaction was to run back to her, despite the encouragement of others that she would be “fine” in a little bit. After that first time, she didn’t stay by herself again until she was truly ready. I know in my heart that was the right choice.
Second, I’m also glad that I reached out for support from other adoptive moms. Especially during the very hard first months home, they were a lifeline to me and kept me grounded. Those mamas are still some of my dearest friends today.
Third, I’m also glad that we were open to trying new ways of parenting. Connected parenting completely transformed the demeanor in our house. I do wish, however, we had started much earlier. In many ways, I believe that my insistence on using traditional parenting methods in the beginning made my attachment journey longer. Even though I was focused on keeping my daughter close, I was still using the “old ways” of parenting that needed to be unlearned. They weren’t bad techniques for healthily attached children (they worked quite well for our biological children), but they simply did not work for a child from a hard place. Giving up control and truly focusing on the relationship with my daughter was a slow journey, but it was a complete game changer. It worked so well that we slowly ditched traditional methods for connected parenting principles with all of our children.
5. Seven years out, what is something you would do differently if you were to do it all over again?
I wish that we had implemented connected parenting sooner. Though my daughter truly did attach to us relatively quickly, I think I may have avoided some of my early struggles if I had wholeheartedly embraced that way of parenting from the beginning. I had read all of the books and attended live trainings, but I didn’t understand why we’d need to use those connected parenting principles. They were foreign to me, and the traditional techniques we were already using were working so well. But I realized much later that it’s impossible to separate attachment building efforts and your parenting style. Really, they need to be unified. And connected parenting is all about pursuing a relationship with our children, which makes it the perfect way to build attachment.
6. How would you encourage an adoptive parent a few years behind you regarding the attachment journey?
You are doing an incredible job! If you are reading this series of posts regarding attachment, you are clearly invested in your children and are doing your best to love them well. Always keep in mind that attachment is an ever-evolving dance, one that changes with the years. It takes intentionality to pursue our children in all seasons, but they are so worth it and give us far more than we could ever give them!