When Attachment Is Not What You Expected

August 30, 2018 Andrea Y., Attachment, attachment activities, attachment challenges, July 2018 Feature - Attachment Through the Years, parent-to-child attachment 5 Comments


I remember exhaling after I completed his five year home post-placement report and sent it to our adoption agency. Five years — and the last of seven post adoption reports – was done. Barely in time… because you know how life gets. You get the reminder it is due and suddenly you find yourself up in your child’s room measuring his head circumference to get all the required data report just right and scouring through the pediatrician’s last measurements to make sure it’s all reported correctly.

But. I have to be honest. For me, this was the hardest report I had to write as I had a hard time coming up with words. Because honestly, I thought when I wrote the first one – over five years ago – that now we would be “farther along” or in a different place than we actually are. Answering some of the questions on this report (how is your attachment? how are siblings’ attachment? etc.) — they just felt more real and harder to answer than ever before.

You see, everyone’s journey in attachment is so completely different. I learned a long time ago never to compare but rather be encouraged when our experiences look different than someone else’s.

For us, the first years home with our China love where blissful. Attachment was easy — our little prince charmed us in every way all day long, and it was a storybook connection. Even the moment we met in China was storybook — no grieving, no tears and just an instant connection many do not experience at first.

Kind of like peeling an onion, things were great coming home and for the first few years, but as the layers began to come off year after year, for us things got harder and the tears would come.

(I won’t speak to his tears to protect his story, but I’ll say that I’ve had my share of tears the last few years from mommy guilt wanting to feel differently than I do, or from fatigue because, goodness, being a mom and working through onion layers to the heart makes me feel incapable.)

So hear me… after year five I find myself back where many of you may feel you started. Or maybe you have also been home over five years and you are where we are. I wanted to share just two simple things that have encouraged me as we continue our attachment journey.

1. Never compare. Never compare yourself to anyone else. Never compare your children to each other. Never compare your feelings and connection to other children to each other.

Everyone will connect differently upon meeting their child for the first time — and everyone will be in a different place in 1, 3, 5 and 10 years. Keep your eyes straight ahead. Focus on each child individually. Ask the Lord to help you see each of your children as He sees them.

(This simple prayer has such power — and changes my heart daily as I pray for my children.)

As you pray to see your child as God sees them, any temptation to compare seems to vanish. Remember you can love differently because they are all so different. Each child is unique, precious and a gift from God. Yes, some will be easier in seasons than others, but God knew you had the ability to see this child like He does and He wants to give you this gift as you keep asking and seeking.

2. Keep it simple. When you feel discouraged, go back to the basics of relationship attachment.

This has been so big for me and my child! I tried all the Connected Child advice the first years home and my sweet boy would laugh at me. I would ask him to look in my eyes, declare my love and his value and he would laugh and say, “Mom! You so silly!”

Fast forward past year five – and I have to tell you – some times you actually feel more in the thick of struggling to connect than when you couldn’t speak the same language. (Maybe I’m the only one but I’m just being real with where I am personally in my momma journey with one of my children home through adoption.) Using strategies I was given to help us attach in the first year home have been more helpful this past year than ever.

I will also add now that most of the onion is peeled (aka raw behavior and melt downs in the house, my friends!) it can be more challenging to hold hands, gaze in eyes and declare my love and my child’s value. It can be harder, but it is also more powerful.

I truly feel as I practice this more and more — it’s not just his onion layers coming off, but mine too. I’m watching how much my child still needs this, and how he actually needs this more now that we both speak the same language and he is older and more mature to know what I am saying. He also knows my heart and no longer laughs — and no matter how disconnected I feel as I tell him my love for him, my commitment and his value — something happens in both of us. And while we have a ways to go, we are getting there.

I’m learning that often it’s the longer you are in relationships with your people, the more you realize you have work to do and farther to go. I think about my marriage and how five years in was our hardest year! I was so worried then where we might be in 10 years — but here we are. We just celebrated 15, and it’s sweeter than the day when I met him because we chose not to compare and to keep looking into each other’s eyes and talking a lot.

As I’m slowing down in this season to ask questions, listen a lot and re-apply connection strategies that are actually pretty easy to incorporate in our daily time. I’m getting to know my child in deeper, more genuine ways that I might take for granted if we were peas and carrots.

The onion peeling isn’t forever, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself years down the road in a new place you weren’t expecting. You may be there for many different reasons, but you are never stuck. And it could very well be the very same connection tools that you started with that you can use in new ways to take you deeper through the years.

Praying for you mommas whatever season you are in – know you are not alone. Never look to the left or the right, just straight ahead. Take time to slow down and look in to your child’s eyes, no matter how long they have been home, and remind them often how loved and valued they are. Keep asking Him to help you see your children as He does.

And slow down and take care of you! You were made for this!

5 responses to “When Attachment Is Not What You Expected”

  1. Christine says:

    What wise and beautiful words! Thank you! 🙂

  2. Heather says:

    I love this post! I have not adopted, but am a therapist for several teenaged clients who have been adopted. When I talked to the parents about how their behavior issues stem from attachment, they’ll often say “no, we 100% attached in the beginning….. they made eye contact, they cried for us, etc.”. And this gives such a wonderful explanation about how the process goes. I also want to encourage you that this process is onion peeling for SO MANY families that I see. It is such a good sign when kids feel safe enough for their “mess” to start coming out 🙂

  3. Elizabeth Ledford says:

    This is so insightful! Our little guy (also from China) has been with us for two and a half years. His transition was “picture perfect”…no bumps along the way. His attachment to me is solid as a rock and I am so thankful for that. He learns really quickly but is years behind in grasping concepts so we have not broached the subject of being adopted yet. I will certainly save your post to serve as a reminder for later if behaviors that we felt so blessed to have circumvented emerge. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  4. Julie says:

    As always, words of wisdom, Andrea. This is so helpful. We too had a very easy initial transition with our three year old son. But I do see layers coming off. I so appreciate your point of view five years later. So good to see you back on NHBO!! I’ve missed your posts!

    • Andrea says:

      Oh Julie! Thank you for these kind words! Praying with you and for you for your son. Thankful we have others to walk with!!!

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