Attachment Help for Parents

This Tuesday Topic was originally posted in May 2010 and was one of the most popular Tuesday Topics that year. I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you to everyone who responded to this week’s Tuesday Topic:

I’ve read lots of books about getting the child to attach; that’s not a problem here. We picked up our son 3 months ago. He was 11 months, and he seems to have a very healthy attachment. My problem is I don’t feel all that attached to him yet. I miss my two older kids, I mourn the breastfeeding relationship I don’t have with him, his whining just grates on me, etc. I’m not finding any resources to help me figure this out. My husband does not seem to have the same issues. It seems like the topic nobody ever discusses.

Here are excerpts from your comments.  The full comments can be found following the original post.

Jen said:

…Secondly, if you are not “feeling love,” it is O.K.! The reason it is O.K. is that true love is not a feeling. . . it is an ACTION. If you are not “feeling” loving or “mama-bearish” toward your child yet, just keep on ACTIVELY loving them – for an infant, that means rocking, singing, feeding, changing, holding, feeding, changing, bathing, rocking, feeding, changing, talking, feeding, changing. . . well, you get the picture! LOL! The feelings will follow the actions – eventually!…

Audrey said:

…Skin to skin contact is always good and I love to stare into his eyes for several minutes at a time. It sounds strange but that was a sort of breakthrough for me – one day I was staring into those beautiful brown eyes and I felt a little leap in my heart. It was heartlove. After many months of headlove, I was so grateful to realize that I was finally falling in real mommy love with this little one…

Elizabeth said:

All that to say, 3 months is still such early days. Give yourself time (and the grace) to fall in love with your child. I understand about missing the closeness of nursing; I missed that too with my adopted sons. But you can do things that encourage closeness: enjoy and touch and kiss all that wonderful baby skin; play peek-a-boo; rock your baby and sing songs; carry your baby in a sling all the time; rub noses; and say to your baby over and over, “I love you!” As you act in a loving manner to your baby and you hear, not just in your head, but out loud that you love him, you will start to feel all that wonderful baby love…

Dorothy said:

This might sound totally strange…but when I have had really hard times bonding with some of my FASD/Autistic kids due to irritating or disruptive behaviors I have mentally allowed myself to shift into ‘foster mom mode’ which seems to take the pressure off the behavior modification. If I am not trying to ‘change’ them but just love them exactly where they are at I can allow the attachment to grow a lot more freely. It’s like instantly giving the child extra grace and myself permission to not ‘get down to business’ on ‘fixing’ the child. It seems backward – but being one step emotionally removed helps me to be more loving and kind to my unbonded child and to not play the ‘what I gave up game.”

Sandee said:

It is very hard to wish up a feeling …especially if you are handling difficult behavior. Compassion for her past and even for her present…yes. Then I think … love is not a feeling….always, right? ITs a choice, its actions. But you want it to be a feeling at least SOMETIMES. So I just started praying about it…that God would give me the love. That he would fill my heart with love that would flow over to her. Again and again, I see with all my kids..ONLY if I fill my cup with God’s love for me, do I have anything of worth in the love department to share with them…

Jennifer said:

You are not alone. My theory is that you become used to the children you have already and you cannot help but have expectations that the new little one you bring into your family will “fit in” and feel like yours sooner than is realistic. We can’t help it. We want to love this new child just like we love the ones we already have, and we can’t wait to do so. But your new little one is coming from a completely different experience, and won’t fit in right away. The reality (at least for me) was that it took six months before I started feeling like I wasn’t just babysitting, and a full year before I was ready to step in front of a bullet for my new baby…

Michelle said:

…The year that I brought my son home (at 18months old) was the hardest year of my life. It was not because he was difficult or not attaching. Quite the opposite, he was doing everything he could to learn his new surroundings and new life. I have three bio. children and I REALLY struggled with feeling that I would always love them more. I had so much guilt over this. I really felt like a failure as an adoptive mom. This guilt and my own pride with wanting everything to be perfect caused me to be really hard on him. I look back now and realize how unreasonable I was on myself and on him 🙁 But God is good and He is faithful! My love and attachment to my son could not be stronger. We cannot imagine life without him. There was no magical cure… just time and God’s restorative and healing power working in our lives…

Thank you again to each one of you who shared so openly from your own lives.

We had seven children before we adopted our children from Ethiopia.  Little Man and Eby came home in March 2007 at the ages of five months and 23 months.  Dimples followed two months later at five and a half.  Honeybee followed in August 2008 a month before her tenth birthday.  If I am completely honest, I would say that the bonding and attachment process continues with our girls.  We love them and are committed to them, but it takes time to build intimacy and overcome the wounds to their hearts.

Children who have experienced trauma, neglect, abuse, and come to us with broken hearts, don’t quickly believe that you are going to be their parents forever.  It takes time to gain their trust and win their hearts.  They want parents and they want to feel secure in the family, but they also don’t know what a family really is.  They don’t know yet that love is a decision and commitment, not a feeling.

I cherish the moments when those loving feelings rush over me; I recognize them as familiar and natural.  I wish I felt them all the time!  It is challenging to have those lovely feelings when my child is pushing me away.  Just today one of my daughters wrote on the back of her hand, “I like Dad.  He is nise.” On the palm she wrote, “I don’t like Mom.  She is mene.”  Somehow those words don’t fill my heart with joy, but I look in my daughter’s eyes and I tell her I love her.  Then I tell her to go wash her hand.

Such is the dance of attachment — the push and pull, the tears and joy, the love.


I’ll be back to posting new Tuesday Topic questions next week and I am ready for some more Tuesday Topic questions. If you have something you would like to ask, please email it to me at Please put “Tuesday Topic” in the subject line. All questions are welcome, and they don’t have to be adoption-focused. If you have a question about parenting, managing a large family, or anything that might be relevant to all of us, feel free to send it along.

Encourage one another,



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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Jessica Burchett
    June 14, 2013

    I like the term "heart love." It implicitly acknowledges an important part of loving someone that we crave. I have never been any part of the adoption triad, at least in the earthly sense, but I am an adopted daughter of the Lord. I have often grieved the lack of a feeling of passionate love for God my Father. It seems so fleeting for me. Over the years, well meaning friends have offered me comfort by telling me that love for God is a choice; it's actions, not feelings. I know this is true in a very significant sense; at the same time I feel like something real is not being acknowledged there. I want the other kind of love as well: the heart love. The Lord has shown me this last year that a significant part of my trouble attaching to him probably has much to do with my abandonment-past with my own father (through a book called "God Attachment.") Incidentally, I have a lot of trouble believing that God feels that heart love for me either. So I guess you could say I feel a little piece of what some of you must feel. A desire to love with my feelings, but a lack of ability to conjure that up of my own accord. It's a miracle of healing that spans over time.

  2. amy
    November 7, 2013

    Thank you so much for sharing. I can certainly relate to "I like Dad, not you, you're mean." It's SO tough, but makes it a little easier to know I'm not the only one. In our case, we're so thankful that our son spent his whole foster time (almost 2 years) with one family, that was absolutely wonderful and we keep in contact with a little. But, after almost 3 years, he still grieves for them (understandably), but it cuts me to the core to hear "I'm going back to [foster mom]" when he doesn't get his way. The adoption day anniversary really triggers him missing them and acting out, so much so that we probably just won't mention it next year.


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