Attachment: Is There Hope For Our Kids and For Us?


I’ve been thinking about adoption and attachment lately – the challenges, the hard work, and the outcome.

Many of us have worked hard and achieved secure attachment with our kids. Many of us have worked hard and haven’t.

Or we’ve found the sweet spot of secure attachment with some of our adopted children and not with others.

I know a lot of adoptive families and we all want to be the best families we can be. Yes, we get tired and have days when we want to throw in the towel, parents and kids alike – especially teens.

While it’s not easy to be an adoptive parent, it’s no joy-ride being an adopted teen either, especially one adopted at an older age.

Let’s Talk About Attachment

In the ideal sequence of life, a baby is born and cared for by a loving adult. They establish a rhythm: the baby has a need and the adult meets it over and over again.

I cry and somebody comes. I’m hungry, and I’m fed. I’m cold, and I’m warmed. I’m frightened, and I’m comforted.

The baby learns her voice will be heard and she trusts her needs will be met.

This establishes a pattern of felt-safety and trust with the adult. She develops secure attachment with her primary caregiver who becomes her anchor.

When a baby’s needs are not met, or inconsistently met, secure attachment does not develop. In its place, a variety of insecure attachment styles form.

Most children from “hard places” do not come to adoptive parents with secure attachment. They come to us with trauma histories of varying degrees and a variety of attachment challenges.

Through intense therapeutic parenting, hard work in therapy, and meeting our children’s needs over and over again, we have an opportunity to heal wounds and help our child develop secure attachment.

This is a beautiful and amazing gift.

Russ and I spent hours rocking our adopted children, feeding them bits of food from our hands, giving them milk from sippy cups and bottles, developing eye contact, and meeting their needs over and over again.

What if Secure Attachment Doesn’t Develop?

As much as we all long for secure attachment, and as much as we work very hard to achieve it, sometimes it doesn’t happen.

Who’s to blame?

Should we blame ourselves? Our children?

What if we could all be free to say, “It’s not your fault. It’s not mine. The damage to attachment happened in the first year of life when neither of us had any control. We all did the best we could, and here is the really good news – there is always hope.”

Earned Adult Attachment

What if our kids can develop Earned Secure Attachment, or Earned Adult Attachment later in life?

Maybe our goal is to lay the foundation for our older children to become Earned Secure by teaching them to give and receive love, providing them with safety and security, and sharing joys and sorrows with them?

Perhaps in some cases, we’re preparing their hearts for a future of earned adult attachment — and that is all that God is asking of us.

I wrote about this in the posts, Have We Made Attachment an Idol? and Attachment: We Serve, We Love, God Heals.

Words From an Adopted Teen

I’m also reminded of one of my popular guest posts.

Rebecca, wrote the profound post, Joining a New Family at 16 [and Realistic Expectations] about her experiences as an adoptee. Later she wrote, There is Grace, about being an adoptive mother.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think about this – I really want to know. This topic has been rolling around in my head all week. I guess if you look back at the older posts, you can see it’s been on my mind for a few years.

Beza and I fly to New York tomorrow where we are speaking at a fundraising gala for the foundation that gave us a large grant to fund her adoption many years ago.

We’re quite excited! We speak Wednesday night, then get to sightsee in NYC all day Thursday and see Wicked that night. Friday we’re going to the ocean, then Saturday we’ll make the long trek home.

Russ is my hero for managing everything here while I’m gone while also wrapping up the semester. It’s not easy when one of us is away, but we want to say, “Yes” to this for Beza. It’s not often something this special comes along.

I plan to post on Instagram while I’m gone. Speaking of which, I posted my very first IG video on my “story” last night. I’m still not quite sure about it, but I’ll keep trying in addition to posting photos, especially during our week away.

Have a fantastic week, friends. Much love to all of you.


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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. Anna Jones
    May 15, 2017

    Lisa, we are only 6 weeks post adoption with our 2 year old and I am constantly obsessing over attachment and wondering if we’re doing too little, too much and how to balance it all. I always worry about her future. This article gives me hope that in the end, everything will turn out okay!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 15, 2017

      The fact that you are thinking about it and being intentional goes a long way, Anna! Good job. There really is hope.

  2. Julie
    May 15, 2017

    We are in the throes of the battle for Benjamin’s heart again. We seem to ebb and flow, but I can safely say this is the WORST season we have experienced with him.

    Do I believe we will ever see attachment? I used to. I still want to. Yet, EACH AND EVERY DAY IS A NEW CHALLENGE AND RAGING IN MY FAMILY AND HOME.

    I have loved this boy since long before I laid eyes on him. I carried him everywhere from 13 months to 3 years, which is exactly 3 years before I even knew about attachment disorder. I would have done so many things so differently.

    Now,he’s pushing 13. We are in the middle of all kinds of assessments to determine what our potential prognosis is. Seeking new hope in the middle of the biggest battle, ever.
    Our family is a wreck. We are trying. We are tried and worn.

    Some days, we battle well. Others, we just battle.

    I don’t know that he will ever attach to us. To me. To anyone. I’m not the one he longs for deep inside. He still longs for a woman I’ll never be.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 15, 2017

      Julie, I hear you. Can you have hope for Earned Adult Attachment – maybe?

      1. Jacki
        August 31, 2017

        I hear and feel your pain. My son is 17 and we adopted him at birth. We have so many behavior problems, mental health diagnoses (and other ones likely to come) and pain in our family. I deeply wish I had known about trauma and adoption from the very beginning. I was naïve and truly believed nurture could overcome nature. How wrong I was.

        Praying for you, and for all of us, parents and kids for insight, wisdom, and strength to continue when all you want to do is escape.

  3. Liz Copp
    May 15, 2017

    I have two children adopted at 10 and 16. We too fought hard (continue to fight hard) to meet needs and form secure healthy attachments. My 10 year old has pursued healthy coping skills, attachment, healing, and Jesus with every fiber of his being. He is 13 now and flourishing. Is trauma still a part of our everyday life? Of course! But there is so much hope that his adult life will be filled with healthy relationships. Our older son has struggled differently with trauma and the power it continues to hold over him. Seasons have been beautiful. Right now is not one of those. With 5 weeks left in his senior year he walked away from us and more importantly from his brother. He is living semi homeless, angry, around broken influences and unhealthy people. He is 18. We are not without hope, but his choices and those that trauma is driving are going to make his life harder and more painful. I love them both and trust that God isn’t done with any of us yet.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 15, 2017

      Thank you for sharing your story, Liz. Our children’s stories are complex and not one looks like another. Hope seems to be the keyword – or maybe perseverance.

  4. Krista
    May 20, 2017

    Attachment. Never on my radar with my 4 biological daughters. Then we brought home our sons at ages 12 and 15. Wow. It’s hard work. It requires intentional praying, thinking, speaking, loving – all day long. My younger son fought hard that first year home and we have hit a sweet spot with him. But, he, like Liz’s son, accepted Jesus and is being daily changed by following Him. Praise God!! My older son still struggles and keeps his heart very guarded.
    It’s the small victories that it is hard to explain to non-adoptive families. The looks, touches – merely brushing by me in the kitchen instead of avoiding any kind of contact. Lingering to visit with me a moment more. Engaging with family on – anything. Such simple gestures become huge with attaching.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 22, 2017

      Krista, thank you for sharing and describing this so well. It really is the little things sometimes that most people would never notice, but we feel and see so clearly. Eye contact is huge, initiating conversation, smiles – all of it. I appreciate your comment!

  5. Feeling Like A Failure
    May 24, 2017

    We have two daughters, adopted in 2008 from Africa. They were 6 and 9 when they came home (now 15 and 18).

    Our youngest daughter was so traumatized when she came home, that her attachment issues escalated into severe RAD within a couple of years. She has lived in an out-of-state Treatment Facility for the past 5 years. Heartbreaking.

    The older daughter also has severe attachment issues, but she pulled her heart in, rather than becoming outwardly violent. She has been home 9 years, and has not attached to any member of our large family. She turned 18 in November . . . and moved out the next day. “I’m an adult now. I can do what I want.” Another total heartbreak for this mama.

    The biggest lie that we hear in the Christian adoption community: “All they need is for us to bring them home and love them.” Sometimes . . . love is not enough to heal their broken/traumatized hearts.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 25, 2017

      It is heartbreaking and surely not what we hoped for, yet I have to believe God is still in the midst of it all – he is writing a story in their lives and ours. Maybe secure attachment didn’t happen in the adoptive parent relationship, but there is still hope. I remain encouraged by the guest post written by the woman who was adopted at age 16. You are so right that love is not always enough.


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