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Attachment and Trauma


In a recent comment, a reader asked if I’ve written much about siblings and I realized that, although I’ve spoken on the topic, I haven’t published much about the impact of adopting children from “hard places” on children already in the family. This article was originally published on another site, which explains the more formal tone, and it’s quite long, so I’m breaking it into two parts.

She was four years old.  Each night she woke with a tummy ache and most often went to her parents’ bed hoping for some relief.  Lying next to her mother gave her comfort, but the pain didn’t stop.  A doctor finally determined she had a stomach ulcer and treated her.  The pain went away, but her mother worried about the stress she was enduring at this young age.

K loves fall out

On Wednesdays I go to my vault of posts (there are 1700, friends!), and share a My Learning Curve post from the past. Today’s post is from June 2009, when we had just begun traveling to Seattle for therapy with Deborah Gray.

As the family cleared the table last night, Kalkidan began drawing a picture similar to one her therapist had drawn. She talked about the ways her heart was broken. Then she drew many small hearts spilling out of the broken heart. Her therapist had explained that when a child’s heart is broken, her mommy and daddy can try to fill it up with loves, but the loves keep falling out and the child never feels that she has enough. Once a child’s heart is healed, the loves can fill her whole heart.


This post, from February 10, 2009, launched My Learning Curve, a series of posts with practical tips for parenting children from “hard places.” I’m reaching back deep into my archives to share some of the best posts with you (with updates) over the next weeks. I hope you find them helpful.

Kalkidan is a lean girl – thin, muscular, and very strong. We thought that once she was home she would begin to gain weight, but in 21 months she has only gained 3.5 kg while growing significantly taller. She has the beautiful Ethiopian look of a long distance runner, but she doesn’t have much in the way of fat reserves.

When it comes to food, I am easygoing with my children. Food just isn’t a battle I’ve chosen to fight. We don’t struggle over finishing everything on our plates, or save dinner for breakfast if it isn’t eaten. That isn’t to say that I let them eat dessert when they haven’t had dinner, but I try to be relaxed about food.

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I found this post in my “Drafts” folder. Written on December 12th, I hadn’t gotten around to posting it. It’s a testimony to the dramatic healing that was taking place in Kalkidan and in our family. We felt “almost normal.” I could weep over not having more time to enjoy this sweet spot (and I do weep over it).  To be honest, I feel ripped off; after all the hard work for  Kalkidan and for us, she’s gone. It still seems impossible. Over and over I remind myself of what is true: God loves her, God loves us, he is good, he is sovereign, he is wise, and his plans are far better than mine.

Some days we feel it. We wake up, look at each other, and there is no fear in our hearts. We don’t dread the start of the day or wonder how we’ll survive. We don’t feel the need to shield our younger ones from a coming storm.

We feel almost normal.



Our dear friend, Dan Hamer, shared these words on Facebook following Kalkidan’s memorial service. Dan is a pastor at Overlake Christian Church and an adoptive father. He heads up the work in Kenya that allows Russ to do ministry as a hydrologist. He is also Kathleeen’s husband; together they have opened their home to us many, many times, especially during the years when we were traveling to Seattle every other week for therapy with Kalkidan. Now they’re stuck with us for life.

If you didn’t get the chance to know Kalkidan you missed an amazing young girl with a smile that would light up a room and melt your heart. She also had a tender heart of gold and a larger than life personality. She was adopted by our dear friends eight years ago from an orphanage in Ethiopia having lost both of her parents to AIDS. Just last week at the age of thirteen, Kalkidan was killed in a tragic car accident.

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Comfort in her father’s arms – 2012

Thank you, friends, for leaving comments of hope and encouragement. God answered your prayers in an interesting way – my child got sick and couldn’t go to school. I was able to give more nurture and let her rest. I could make a long list of the many possible triggers, but Christmas and sickness are big enough to account for nearly anything. I have a strong sense that giving a loving, warm greeting this morning might secure our progress toward landing in a better place today.

Two years ago we had a very big crisis just before Christmas and I’m sure that is impacting all of us. While we don’t want to linger in the past, those memories don’t evaporate. We need to build good Christmas memories, year after year, and regain our sense of peace about celebrating this holiday together. 


Life is filled with ups and downs. The last two weeks we’ve had more downs than ups with one of our kids and I find that fear is creeping in and weighing on me.  Each day I wake up telling myself that God’s mercies to me are new every morning, and my mercies toward my child need to be the same. But then the morning starts and challenging behaviors begin; the other children’s eyes grow big and they scurry to stay out of the way — and it’s difficult.

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Yesterday’s Tuesday Topic brought a lot of silence. Those who answered responded with wise, compassionate, transparent comments, and I’m so grateful for each one of you. Be sure to read those comments.To be honest, I didn’t want to answer this one, because even reading the post again this morning brought up memories I would rather forget.

It is terribly traumatic to parent a child who is physically and emotionally out of control. When a child rages and hurts the people around her/him, we are changed. Just writing this, I feel tension in my throat and pressure in my chest; PTSD is not uncommon in parents who have children from “hard places.”

I’ve never shied away from hard topics here at One Thankful Mom, so I’m going to give this question the best answer I can bear to write – and as quickly as I can write it so I can move on to happier things.



I missed writing yesterday and I have so many things I want to say, but I’ll hold off because it is Tuesday and I have a good/hard question for all of you. Tomorrow I’ll write about family, some old challenges resurfacing, and maybe a little about Advent (because it makes me so happy).

Today’s question comes from Lori who asks,

What you do to stay regulated when your home is being torn apart? Do you step in to stop the destructive behavior? I  am getting to the point where I get hurt if I try to intervene. I know the best defense is a good offense, so I try to intervene when the signs first appear and move in close to mitigate any damage or hurtful behavior that might occur, but sometimes it seems that is just has to run its course, then deal with the damage afterwards.


Today I bring you the final installment of a  four-part series from my guest, Sarah. When I published my post, Have We Made Attachment an Idol, she wrote a comment so insightful and beautiful that I asked her to develop it into a guest post. That post was so rich that I asked her to expand it, and before we knew it, we had a four part series. I am very honored that she is entrusting her story to me – it is tender, raw, and hopeful.

[Don’t miss Part 1Part 2, and Part 3]

When I read Lisa’s post about attachment being an elusive idol within the adoptive community I wrote to her.  I wanted to quietly, gently suggest to her and the group of adoptive mama’s who have done *the work that it is okay to let go of the expectation of a warm and secure attachment.  That it is okay to put that expectation down.  It is okay to let go of the crushing feelings of shame – the feeling of being a complete failure.  Your child has a role to play here – they have the right to decide – with their heart, their mind and their spirit if they are going to attach to you or not.  You, adoptive mamas, also get to make this same decision.