Friday, September 14, 2012

Attachment: Challenges

August 2011

Attachment: What adoptive parents read lots and lots of books about.

The term attachment describes the connections that keep a family bound together. Attachment is the net, the glue, the bond.  For most biological families, new babies begin to form this bond with their moms and dads from birth (and some say, before birth).  New parents hold and kiss and watch and listen to and admire their infants for hours at time. New babies get lots of time smelling and tasting and hearing their parents. Their first sight is of their parents' faces.  All that time holding a newborn, playing with an infant, cuddling a baby, and chasing a toddler is the foundation of what keeps families together.

So for adoptive families, there is often quite a bit of catch up to be done.  Most adoptive families don't start at birth, even in newborn domestic adoption.  All international adoption is done when children are older, often toddlers or school-aged children.  Most children adopted from another country have experienced a major loss, some kind of trauma and some period of living in an institution. All those are major factors is how the attachment process will go. For some families, it is really rough going.  It can take years for children to feel safe and whole in their new families. This is why adoptive families read lots of books about attachment (or was it just me?)

Our family attachment process has had its challenges, but for the most part the kids are doing really well. (Which saint do I thank for this?)

By far the biggest challenge was simply that we adopted two children at once. My sister, God bless her, has twins.  Once she left me in the room alone with them, and they both started crying.  It was the longest hour five minutes of my life.  Who do I pick up first? Who will calm down first? Can I hold them both at the same time safely? OHMYGOD please just stop crying!

There have been only a handful of times when Daniel and Lily both needed me desperately at the same time.  Those few times have been the most heartbreaking and terrifying of the past year.  I can't hold them both at once; I can't meet their desperate needs right now.  Who will calm down first? Who needs to eat something first? Who can I safely hold while I talk calmly to the other? Those were tough moments. Lucky for me, my kids tend to tag team their tantrums.

Two children at once was a great blessing for our family (no more adoption paperwork! hooray!)  However, having two children to bond with made our attachment process a bit... jumpy.  Three steps forward, 2 steps back.  Daniel, who came home at age 5, heading off to Kindergarten just weeks after we came home. So bonding with Lily went on the back burner while I made sure Daniel was secure enough to spend all day at school.  Rounds of sleep issues put Lily on the front burner, then trying to explain holidays and birthdays made Daniel the focus of our bonding.

The best decision we made was for me to take a maternity leave (unpaid- ouch!) I stayed home with Lily for 3 months.  It was great for our family, and for Lily and I to become closer. The fact that I missed the first few months of school made going back to work really challenging.  And we are still digging our way out of the financial hole we fell into without my salary. But, it was the best thing for our family and our attachment process.

The other thing we did to promote our family attachment was to prioritize our family time.  We spend our weekends together- at the park, visiting family or friends, having fun. We try not to drag the kids around running errands or over schedule ourselves. We make sure that the weekend is simply the four of us, together.  We keep to the same schedule as the week. We don't stay up late or skip naps or have meals at odd times.


Evenings are the same. At this point we are nearly religious about our evening routines.  Even Lily can recite it now: home, bath, dinner, TV, books, bed. When Daniel was first home and learning English we would go over our daily routine each morning. It became a litany for him; it helped him ground himself in our family life. Dinner, bath, books, bed.  Wake up, school, park, dinner, bath, books, bed. 

Are our kids completely and perfectly attached to us? No. That takes years. In "family time" they are both just over one.  We've been family less than 1/2 of Lily's life, and only slightly longer than they lived in an orphanage.  Maybe in 4 years, maybe in 10 years. But are we growing closer every day? Yes, most days. :)

August 2012

1 comment:

  1. It is definitely a challenge with two at once but as I told you ... it's whoever is crying the loudest!


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