Have We Made Attachment an Idol?

Love my girls!

I spent last weekend with a small group of adoptive moms who are all ministry leaders; the time was deeply meaningfulOur conversations were rich, faith-filled, and honest. What a relief it was to know that we are not alone in our challenges, purposes, and joys.

One topic we wrestled with is attachment. We have all studied attachment theory and methods for facilitating its development. With some of our children, secure attachment has been achieved, while with others, it has not – all within one family. Among our children who came home at older ages, it has been more difficult to achieve.

We talked about the pressure we feel in the adoption community to go to tremendous lengths to facilitate attachment and simply make it happen. When it doesn’t, there is a sense of failure.

What would happen if we took this pressure off of our older children/teens and simply brought them into our families, loved them, prepared them for adulthood, and walked beside them as they grew? Would that be failure? Would that be unloving? I don’t think so. We provide safety, security, love, hope, and relationship – and maybe for some kids, that is all they can tolerate. Perhaps it’s enough.

One of my most popular guest posts is Joining a New Family at 16 [and Realistic Expectations]. The author, Rebecca, shared her story of living with a new family after her mother’s death.

…Recognizing the challenges, though, I argue that adoption and foster care of older children is absolutely positively worth it IF you can manage your expectations. Your expectations must be set very low. It may feel like that child is yours after only a short time. However, you may never feel like that child is yours. In the same way, children who come to you with a decade-long history somewhere else may never feel emotionally “attached” to you, either. That doesn’t rule out a relationship with an older adoptee that is just as good as any other relationship as long as you don’t impose your relationships with your other kids onto your expectations for your relationship with an older adoptee.

I’m pondering this today. I have people in my life whom I love with all my heart. I long to be with them, I would lay down my life for them; we don’t share parental attachment, but our relationships are rich.

Additionally, many people become adults without achieving secure attachment as children, but through their relationship with their spouse, and sometimes with Jesus, they achieve attachment. This is called being “Earned Secure” or Earned Adult Attachment. You can find a very simple explanation of this here as well as in the  books below.

What if we are laying the foundation for our older children to become Earned Secure by pointing them to Jesus, 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.

Can we let go of our expectations, lay down our idols, and accept whatever healing happens for our children?

Question: Do you think the adoption community has placed too much weight on parents to achieve attachment, especially with older children and teens? 

Ponder this with me – I would truly love to hear from you.

[Please read the follow-up to this post, “Attachment: We Serve. We Love. God Heals.“]

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

Lisa

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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.

148 Comments

  1. Katie Nelson Bradshaw
    October 8, 2014

    Biggest fib told by the agency: "At three months home, it will feel like they were aways there. Just get through the first three months" (Ok, maybe that wasnt actually the biggest!! We had some whoppers! But in terms of advise, the biggest). This come up on a fb post this past week, and I think more and more of us have come to realize that the bottom line is, you can feed them and keep them safe. Beyond that, the child has to want it too. Id even go as far as to question if all attachment efforts are fair to the child.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Katie, your experience highlights this so well. I admire you for the way you love, and love, then love some more.

      Reply
    2. Emily
      October 8, 2014

      They told you that "at three months home it will feel like they were always there" ??!!!!!!! Oh. my. word.

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        October 8, 2014

        Yep – it's been a long, hard road for my friend, Katie.

        Reply
    3. Karen
      October 9, 2014

      "Ethiopian children have attached once, so they can attach again easily." Katie, I agree — I don't know that attachment efforts are fair to a child — particularly one who has a secure attachment with a biological parent somewhere. I did read a blog post one time written by an older adoptee who really resented the attachment demands. She did ask to just be fed, housed, clothed, and kept safe, for her adoptive parents to be more like a benevolent aunt. That's hard for me because I've never been a bio mom. I've been a benevolent aunt and a step mom, but I wanted one of my own. Too much to ask of a child to fill that role.

      Reply
  2. Heather Snyder
    October 8, 2014

    This post is so freeing. I do put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure I’m doing all the right things to have my kids attached and when it doesn’t happen or I don’t feel attached to them I get very tired. I will say though that parents used to not understand attachment at all. We come a long way in the amount of resources and training we get. I think though we forget that we too need grace and compassion. I think the fact that we understand attachment is a blessing and the techniques are so helpful. However we over pressure ourselves. We forget that we also are human with human feelings. We don’t allow ourselves the grace to feel more love to another child. Sometimes I’m so focused on doing the steps right that I end up damaging my relationship with the child bc I really just need a break, not to keep them close. Good good stuff Lisa. Lots to think on.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      I heartily agree that understanding attachment is a huge blessing. I love the new information about children's brains too. I plan to write a follow-up soon and all the good there is in that knowledge; I am thankful for everything I've learned along the way. Thanks for bringing that out, Heather.

      Reply
  3. Lisa
    October 8, 2014

    Thank you for this post! We are home 2.5 months with 6- and 7-year-old siblings, in addition to our 9- and 12-year-old biological children. While they are not necessarily 'older' children in sense, I did feel that pressure and felt a strong message (even from our agency) that if you just stay home and cocoon with them for 6 months, you'll be attached. We haven't been home that long, but already based on our experience and in talking with other adopted moms, I see that this attachment thing is a marathon, not a sprint, and you can't force it to happen. You can love them and be loving, as you said, but we as adoptive parents are not a failure if attachment doesn't look they way we thought it would or happen as quickly as we think it should. Thank you for speaking the truth about this! I will save this post for times when I need encouragement.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Lisa. I feel like this is a risky thing to write in the adoption world! You are so right, it is a marathon. Blessings to you.

      Reply
  4. Emily
    October 8, 2014

    LISA. This post is epic.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Thanks, sweet friend. And I know how much you adore attachment theory, so that means a lot coming from you 🙂

      Reply
    2. Chantelle
      October 8, 2014

      I completely agree! I can't even respond because I need to absorb.. but I'm feeling so encouraged at the thought. Thank you sweet Lisa!

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        October 8, 2014

        I'm so glad it spoke to you, Chantelle. Thanks for sharing it on Facebook.

        Reply
  5. Tisha
    October 8, 2014

    I applaud you for bringing this up! My husband has been telling me this for YEARS. For whatever reason, he quickly learned to manage his expectations reasonably while I have struggled with the feelings of failure as a mother if I couldn't "get them" to attach to me. He tells me we ARE parenting – providing for the needs of the child in the way parents do – and that's enough. He has been able to release himself from the extraordinary burden I face and the pressure I put upon myself. Funny thing, he doesn't read the books but is just using common sense.
    I am so glad you are bringing this notion to light. For those of us who have spent years in the trenches, I believe a bit of a shift in thinking and a better way to define success is in order. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Tisha, there is something so deep in us that wants secure attachment with our children. It's that "high nurture" thing! I know I want it, and you want it, but not at the expense of simply loving our kids and pointing them toward the true source of their healing and the ultimate secure attachment. Oh,we could have a long conversation over coffee on this one.

      Reply
    2. missy dollahon
      October 8, 2014

      "he doesn't read the books but is just using common sense."

      Are we married to the same man? 😉

      Thank God for husbands who tell us to quit reading so much and basing ridiculous expectations on ourselves. Can't tell you how many times my husband and I have had that conversation!

      Reply
  6. Karen
    October 8, 2014

    Thank you for expressing what I have been pondering and debating whether to blog about. My son, adopted at age four, is securely attached — to his very much alive birth mother. After 4.5 years, I'm ready to throw in the towel on trying to get him to become securely attached to me. He's somewhat attached to me — as much as he needs to be. Is it as much as I would like it to be? No. But I think it's time to stop spending my energies on attachment and start figuring out how to lovingly raise a child with the level of attachment that we do have. It feels like step parenting to me, but I need to concede that it is what it is. I don't think he can tolerate being fully attached to me without feeling like he's letting go of his birth mother — and I don't want to force him to choose. He does well in the community, in school, with friends, and on his sports teams. He knows attachment. If he doesn't fully attach to me, I don't think that harms him in the long run.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Karen, that brings up the question (that we made need a professional to answer), what is our child is securely attached to a living parent? What should our goal be? Lovingly raising him is a beautiful goal.

      Reply
      1. missy dollahon
        October 8, 2014

        In our attachment seminar, I was told that children attaching to us should not be our goal, especially since we can't control it – it should be US attaching to THEM. Oftentimes, that's harder.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          October 8, 2014

          I see the wisdom in these words, Missy. It's just so hard to attach to a child who can't attach to us. Focusing on loving and accepting the child lifts so much pressure off of everyone.

          Reply
  7. Sunday Koffron
    October 8, 2014

    YES! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      You are so welcome, Sunday. Thank you for commenting.

      Reply
  8. Julie
    October 8, 2014

    I'm weary of the attachment fight and the struggle to earn the love my son may never have for me. I'm weary of that fight to show my son that I've loved him all his life. Please remember that some kids come home as babies and have the most severe of attachment disorders, as mine does. My heart breaks daily, and I'm weary beyond measure. So are my husband and younger son who deal with this daily fight as well. I agree with Lisa on the marathon part. This is the most painful marathon in which I've ever participated. And I was not properly trained.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      I hear you, Julie. Maybe we can focus on love, pointing them to Jesus, security, and helping them become the people they are meant to be without demanding attachment… There may be more joy in that for all of us.

      Reply
      1. Julie Blair Pitts
        October 8, 2014

        Lisa—we have done all of the above. We don't do "attachment rituals" or anything like that–never have. It's been the 9 longest years of my life. Truly. And I took care of my ailing father for 7 years through heart disease and cancer that eventually took his life. That was a cakewalk compared to this. My son knows Jesus. He loves Jesus. We try hard to focus on the good, but there is so much hard in him. And he came home as a baby! We've had him for almost 9 years. My husband and I are beyond the ability to function. Sorry to rain on your blog…I just don't know how one does all of this. How one stops trying to get the child that was placed on their heart 3 years before birth to love them? How does that happen???? How does that child ever get over being "betrayeded"? 🙁 How ??

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          October 8, 2014

          Oh Julie, sometimes we do all that we can, and God doesn't heal – or he doesn't heal in the way we hope he will. Maybe the important thing for you right now is taking care of yourself and your marriage. Can you get respite? Can you get some regular breaks? I absolutely am not saying you haven't done enough — it's just so hard sometimes. I am praying for you as I write this comment, I would hug you if I could.

          Reply
        2. numberingthedays
          October 8, 2014

          I wish I had answers, but I have none…just possibly some shared experiences. We have one son who never really attached to us…came to us at age six…ran away from home at age seventeen…I nearly lost my mind with the grief and the anger. Now, two years later, he has a steady girlfriend and a baby on the way. This isn't my dream for him, but I can say that I feel a glimmer of hope that he will stick with this girl and this baby…something about the baby has opened up a capacity for love and commitment that we had never seen before. We pray. Meanwhile, his little brother is walking the same path…came to us as an infant (but I was his fourth "Mommy") and is now a very trying thirteen-year-old that has already run away from home more than once. Will he ever love me like I want him to? I don't know. And I know that the emotional part of my love for him is wearing very thin. But we are trying to be wiser this time…to take care of ourselves and the rest of our family first…to not let his chaos-creating self take over our family. It seems harsh to say that we've had to take an emotional step backward, but we have. Our goal is to do the best we can by him (and so much of that depends on him) and leave it to God. I can't make him love me, but I can show him what it is to be loved…the everyday tasks of caring for him…even when he doesn't recognize those things as love…and may not ever. Praying for you and your family! Know that you are not alone!

          Reply
          1. Lisa Qualls
            October 8, 2014

            I'm so thankful you shared your story with us. Thank you.

    2. Kim
      October 10, 2014

      I just want you to know that you are not alone. We adopted one of our daughters from a Russian orphanage at 10 months, and we have been trying hard for 10 years now, with very little to show for it. It is the challenge of a lifetime. I pray for God's Grace daily, and sometimes hourly. I understand. We live it, too. I just wanted you to know there is someone who knows exactly what you mean.

      Reply
  9. Acceptance with Joy
    October 8, 2014

    It's sort of freeing if you think of it. I could feel utter guilt over the attachment – or lack of, between the adopted child of mine who still is not fully attached to me these 5 years in… Or I can accept what is and celebrate that. She still feels the need to control everything and everyone and that is partly lack of trust still and habit and the only way she knows how to operate. But it is freeing knowing that I am not a failure because the relationship between is not the same as that between the other girls and I.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      It really is about accepting them, isn't it. Letting them love as they are able, all the while being a strong, loving parent who is pointing them to Jesus.

      Reply
  10. Sheila
    October 8, 2014

    Thank you for this!! We recently brought our 13 year old son home and this is exactly what i needed to read.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Sheila, read that guest post – it was so helpful to me. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Reply
  11. Scoopy
    October 8, 2014

    I love this and agree. With older children in particular who have a strong connection to their first parents, focusing on attachment can be detrimental to relationship. In my experience trying to make a child feel like I am "mom" is like asking the child to betray a very much alive and wonderful first parent. Frankly, many children adopted frmo African countries have very much alive wonderful first parents and I feel strongly that adoptive parents need to erase the word orphan from their vocabularies. I have needed to try to build trust and safety like a step parent might. I am not here to replace mother, but acting as an adult who cares, loves and walks and guides. I don't know if some of my kids will ever see me as a parent, or feel the same kind of love they do for first parents. And realizing that this is OK has been freeing. We don't expect children from divorce to attach completely and the same to step parents when they still have positive relationships with their first parents and it has always felt like asking a lot of parents and children to expect it to happen in adoption. The kids are forced to have a new adult in their lives, there is nothing natural or easy about it and we can respect the children by not trying too hard to force things (while being as loving as we can, which isn't easy when parenting a child who doesn't feel like your other kids, or parenting a child who looks at you like you are not a parent.) How to build connection that isn't trying to replicate what happens naturally between kids and parents is the work of years, not weeks or months, I am still trying to figure it all out.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Your comment makes me think what would it be like if we had a child who came to us because a friend or sibling of ours died and we were named guardians? We would never try to force that child to attach if they weren't able. We would respect the hurt in their hearts, the love for their parent, the pain. We would care for them, love them, commit ourselves to them, all the while knowing they have another mother who loved them well. It's our expectations that seem to snare us. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
      1. shannoncl
        October 8, 2014

        Lisa & Scoop- this hits it on the head

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          October 8, 2014

          Thank you, Shannon.

          Reply
    2. Cara
      October 11, 2014

      Wowzers, from a divorce, remarriage, stepchild, stepparent perspective… Why hadn't I ever thought of that and how attachment is not forced or expected in those cases!? I have been carrying a needless burden. Thank you!

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        October 11, 2014

        You're welcome, Cara.

        Reply
  12. Christine Weaver
    October 8, 2014

    Oh wow! something to chew on. We brought home a 10 y.o. 4 years ago and quite frankly I doubt he will ever REALLY love us. Respect, be agreeable (mostly), and work "on the team" maybe, but fully identify as "a Weaver"….I don't know. I wondered if we are doing a disservice to him, not to push for more attachment, before he launches as an adult. Gotta read your links, and maybe I can clear my mind of that worry….so I can concentrate on other things 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Christine, that guest post was so powerful and helpful to me. I hope it speaks to you too. There is something beautiful about accepting our children right where they are and not demanding more than they can give.

      Reply
  13. Just a mom...
    October 8, 2014

    Lisa, thank you for bringing this up! YES, I agree. We are a family with 5 children, 2 bio, then 3 adopted from Ethiopia. Two of our Ethiopians came to us at about a year old and their attachment is incredible, and then last year we adopted a 16 year old via a disruption (she came to the US as a 10 year old, to a family who was clueless about parenting adopted kiddos…). Then she came to us at 16. We do allll the adoption stuff and have so badly wanted her to have a "family" where she belonged, because, heck, doesn't every kid need a "mom and dad" and family of their own.

    But… while the process has been amazingly good, one thing is that she just can't get "too" attached to us. For example, we went away for the weekend for a conference, and allowed her to stay home with a friend due to some school activities she wanted to attend, when we got home after 3 days she didn't even give us a hug or ask how it went. When I told her we missed her, she said "why, it was only 3 days." What I realized is that we miss her because we have become attached to her, but she didn't really miss us because that would just be too much for her.

    I finally told my husband that we need to love and treat her like our other kids, but maybe we need to lower our expectations, and really just be thankful that she is in a safe home rather than on the streets, and that we can help prepare her for adulthood. But we must accept that that may be it. She will probably never call us "mom and dad", and when she moves out someday, she may not even really stay in touch like the other kids. Up until this point we have had "secure attachment" as our goal, and anything less felt like a failure. BUT, you are right, maybe for some kids it just can't/won't happen.

    I believe the Lord has been preparing out hearts for this reality, and used your post as further confirmation.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Your story is so helpful; thank you for sharing it. You are loving her and giving her a safe place to learn and grow.That is a wonderful gift.

      Reply
  14. michele
    October 8, 2014

    Wow that hits home. I think I am far to anxious about our older adoptees lack of attachment. So much so that I often neglect all the growth she has had in other areas. And yes pointing her towards a relationship with Jesus and "Earned Security" may be far more beneficial to her. My parenting skills and techniques have had to change so radically why not also change my expectations for attachment?…thank you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Michele, such good thoughts about changing our expectations. And that darn anxiety – it's a hindrance to love, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  15. Not attached
    October 8, 2014

    Thank you so much for this post. After struggling for more than a year without attachment to our adopted child I finally “gave up” and decided to just raise her. I continue to provide for her needs, teach her and be there for her knowing I don’t feel the same way about her as our biological children. It is not something that I share because of the “bad parent” stigma that goes along with it. This is the first time I’ve heard anyone tell me it’s okay she isn’t attached. I don’t have to feel like an incomplete failure. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Thanks so much for sharing this – you are not a failure. One brilliant thought in that guest post is that perhaps it is enough to be like a "benevolent aunt". I've thought about that a lot.

      Reply
    2. BeckyS
      October 8, 2014

      Wow, I can't thank you enough for having the courage to put those feelings into words: "…I don't feel the same way about her as our biological children." This is something I too have struggled with inwardly, for the fear of judgement that comes along with it by most. Unless you're a mother whose had to deal with attachment disorder, biological or adoptive child doesn't even make a difference, you have no idea what that can feel like inside…esp in comparison to other kids in the household with no bonding issues. I've struggled with this for so long, certain that I was and am to blame. What an interesting perspective to take that maybe our role isn't to create that attachment and bond, but prep them for a time much later in life where it may come. Riveting. I'm printing this one out and plastering all over my walls so I don't lose sight of it.

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        October 8, 2014

        I'm glad it is helpful – thanks for reading and commenting.

        Reply
      2. Acceptance with Joy
        October 8, 2014

        I can relate to this sentiment as well. I LOVE the kid…. but I am not bonded to her like I am to my other girls, because relationship is a two way street and when foraging a relationship is such a struggle it is hard to feel that attachment on my end of it either. My husband reminds me that we are providing all her needs, and the offer stands to build a close relationship, but she has to want it… we can't force it, and she might actually not be capable of it, but we've given her a second chance and that is ALL we can do. I talk of "her" but her twin is not completely bonded, either…. but his relationship has made it to a different level. I really appreciate all the comments along with the post. Blessings.

        Reply
    3. momofoldersusan
      October 9, 2014

      Same here. I've just recently started.sharing my feelings with a.small group of women. They don't understand.but they support me. It is nice to have others that understand too!

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        October 9, 2014

        It is so helpful to have friends who "get it." My fellow adoptive moms have been a huge blessing to me.

        Reply
  16. Sammie Fick
    October 8, 2014

    I want to thank you for taking this risk. We can't grow unless we are willing to step outside of our own comfort and take a look at our lives, by asking this question you are helping me to do this. My kids are now 15 and 18 both adopted when they were 5. There are so many things I wish I would have known then, and that I had done some things differently. I am at a stage of parenting where I need to let go a lot, and know that this is where we are, and they are launching out into the world and that their road will be a lot rougher then I had hoped for them.

    Now I can be a solid place for them to return to as needed. My oldest is not all that attached, I can see it has a lot to do with brain wiring that was impacted by so many things that happened in his first 5 years. I can also see that much of what I tried with him did get through, just not as much as I would have hoped. He is still growing and learning, but now it is more about his journey, as I learn to step back and focus more on my own.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Being the solid place for him to return to is a gift that so many kids don't have. I love that you have come to this as well – we love as well as we can. Thanks for commenting, Sammie.

      Reply
  17. Shari Hall
    October 8, 2014

    One of the best definitions for "idol" I have heard is: If you are willing to do the wrong thing in order to get what you want it has become an idol for you. So, if you are willing to pressure, manipulate, yell, give the cold shoulder, break relationship, lie, etc. then you need to look at what you want and trust the Lord with it. Often the things we want are perfectly fine things to want. I want to be loved. I want my kids to grow up to love the Lord. I want peace and quiet. Nothing is wrong with the want. But we can know it has become an idol if we are willing to sin to get it.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Shari, thank you for this great definition! I always appreciate your wisdom. It seems to me that in regard to attachment to our children, when it becomes more about creating attachment to fulfill our desires and achieve our goals, than just to simply love our child, then it's an idol. I think that fits with what you are saying.

      Reply
  18. Donna
    October 8, 2014

    Great post. thanks for saying what needs to be said. The feelings of failure when what is considered a secure attachment is not attained are devastating. We have slowly come to the place in realizing our job is going to look very different this time around, but that is not bad or wrong, just different. It is being what God has called us to be in this child's life. We are not called to save him, but to love and parent him to the best of our ability with God's leading hand. I know this is not what we expected, no matter how prepared we were, but it is good to guide a child into adulthood and into a loving relationship with his heavenly Father. Bless you for sharing what need to be heard to help a lot of people struggling with this burden.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Donna, I know your heart on this – and you know mine 🙂 It's so good to have friends in this journey with us. I'm glad this spoke to you.

      Reply
  19. Tammy
    October 8, 2014

    Amen! I came home with my 7 year old – 4 years ago. Of course I want him to be attached and in many regards he has attached quite well. What I found throughout this journey, is when I have over-thought attachment, I have become stressed and feel that I became more rigid with him. But.., when I have simply loved him, welcomed him and listened to him he attached because he felt loved and had the where-with-all within himself to trust enough to attach. I have tried to gather wisdom and respond in ways that will build trust – and I believe he is attaching well.

    I realize that kids come with different levels of desiring attachment, and for my son – what he wanted more than anything from day one of landing in America was to feel and be seen as being here all his life. He didn't want attention being brought to the fact that he was adopted, or that he was from Africa. He just wanted to blend in…. It's not that there weren't struggles – there were! But, he has grown so much in the area of attachment – and I am often in awe of his level of trust, when there was so little that he could trust before he came home. When I think it through, I realize that his attachment has more do with his desire to trust and attach than anything I did or could have done other than loving him.

    One thing that I know is when I put too much emphasis on attachment and all the reasons that it could be hard for him – I got in the way of his naturally being able to receive love in his own time and on his own terms.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      That is so insightful, Tammy. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

      Reply
  20. Julie Gumm
    October 8, 2014

    This is so right on the money Lisa! I've struggled with these same thoughts. We brought our kids home at 8 and 6. They are now 15 and 13. We haven't had any issues with our son but sometimes I feel like he's "just there." With the 13 yr old daughter it often feels like she's biding her time til she can escape the house. (Although I think a lot of that is normal 13 year old stuff 🙂 But my heart is for them to know that we will always be there for them. They don't get to walk away at 18 and say "thanks for feeding me and putting a roof over my head." But that might look more friendship than what I think a lot of us think parenting should look like. Looking back I would say that me and my siblings probably most likely have an earned attachment style – and we have a great family. We get along great, we enjoy each other but we're not on the phone to each other every week etc. (My husband's family is the complete opposite and he thinks we're weird) 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      It's so thought-provoking for me – as you can see! Letting go of expectations is very healing. So good to hear from you, Julie.

      Reply
  21. Michelle B.
    October 8, 2014

    As an adoptee myself, who was adopted as an older child, from a hard place….I will tell you I only "felt" attached when I had children of my own. When that happened, I felt it. I felt what my Mom(s) must have felt..giving me up, and adopting me. My relationship with my adoptive mother has NEVER been stronger. I spend more time with her than I ever did (or wanted to) as a child. I want to be around her all of the time now. I call, visit, spend the night, and just enjoy her company, words of wisdom, advice, etc. I didn't realize what attachment really "was" until I felt it for some one else. When someone started calling me Mommy, I wanted my Mommy. Then I realized I had a Mommy. And what a wonderful relationship we've grown.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      That is beautiful, Michelle. Thank you so much for sharing your experience; I'm quite sure I'm not the only mom who will find herself with tears in her eyes.

      Reply
      1. Lana
        October 8, 2014

        Made me cry. The ways things are with my 13 yr old (home 2 years) I imagine her just walking out the door at 18, calling my husband and all the kids (4 others) all the time and just being happy to not have to see my face every day. If you as an adoptee 'got it' after you had kids, I can look towards that. I wish it didn't have to be so hard.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          October 8, 2014

          I do think that is hopeful for so many of us. Thanks for commenting, Lana.

          Reply
    2. Sarah
      October 8, 2014

      That is beautiful Michelle! This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
    3. Alex
      October 8, 2014

      Thank you, Michelle! To be a safe place for my sons…as close as they can be to me, that's what I'm working on. They set the pace. Yet it can be a challenge when they don't seem that close. Your story is so beautiful! I may print your comment and paste it on my fridge to remind myself to press on when I feel inadequate.

      Reply
      1. Michelle
        October 10, 2014

        I am glad to have shared. And if I can just say one more thing…I can see the love in my Mom's eyes when she is with my kids. She has played such an important role in their lives (they are 4 and 3 now). She has them for sleepovers all of the time, and she has afforded me many breaks when they were just wee babies. They are very attached to her, and watching them with her has made me cry many times over. Why couldn't I have just accepted her love when I was 7? Why did I have to push her away? All I know is she has loved me unconditionally, through all of the VERY trying times. And now, with my children, she is my "go to" for everything. And honestly, every time I see her with them, I "get" how much she "gave" to me. It only took me about 23 years after I came home to "get it".

        Reply
    4. Debbie
      October 11, 2014

      Michelle, this brought tears to my eyes….

      Reply
  22. Angela
    October 8, 2014

    Thank you! Love this!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      You're welcome, Angela.

      Reply
  23. Sarah Gilcrist
    October 8, 2014

    Again…Thank you!!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      You are so welcome, Sarah!

      Reply
  24. Luann Yarrow Doman
    October 8, 2014

    As another reader said, this is epic. This changes everything. Thank you for freeing me from the burden of accomplishing something that is beyond my control
    I will do all I can do and leave the results to God.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      My heart feels lighter for you, Luann! There is so much peace in loving and not striving so much.

      Reply
    2. momofoldersusan
      October 9, 2014

      Amen

      Reply
  25. peaceliving
    October 8, 2014

    I am working through this in my life, too. We have fostered two kids ages 6 and 7 for almost a year and a half and their adoption will be finalized next week! Hooray! But I've spent much of that time waiting for that golden day to come when I feel like we're completely attached to each other, as I felt with my first foster daughter whom we had from age 7 months. It hasn't happened. And I'm trying to open my mind to the fact that it may never happen with one of my new kids. I find myself changing my parenting to reach her where she is, rather than pounding her (and me!) over the head with how I think things should be! I consider activities for her that I never considered for other kids. I realize that for this child, it really does take a village and that's okay. The most loving thing for her sometimes is to give her some time with someone who isn't fed up and frazzled. Then the time we have together is more positive and a better witness to her, especially since introducing her to Christ is my main goal. That, and of course, giving her a loving home with examples and opportunities she'd never had before, where she will have the ability to go out and function in the world as an adult. I'm curious to read about Earned Attachment because I'd never heard of that before, and I think it's quite likely that might be what happens with my daughter.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      I completely understand how hard it is to accept that the most loving thing for one child might be completely unlike how we love and parent our other kids. There is a lot of great information about Earned Secure attachment online that you might find illuminating. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
    2. Rebecca
      October 10, 2014

      I love your statement, "The most loving thing for her sometimes is to give her some time with someone who isn't fed up and frazzled." I have had these days, and I have this kid. Sometimes the best thing I can do for us is give us a break from trying so hard. 🙂

      Reply
  26. JeffCindy Blair
    October 8, 2014

    Yes…..yes…..yes…..I believe if we point them to Jesus and they attach there we have done thee best attachment ever!!! What freedom we pocess when He is in charge. Love this post:)

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Cindy, the truth of this is settling deep in me. He is the healer and my greatest hope is that my children know him and receive his love. Attachment is a wonderful bonus!

      Reply
    2. Heidi
      February 17, 2017

      I whole heartedly agree with this.

      One of our primary desires is to show Jesus to our children and walk the road of faith together.

      However, here’s the struggle for me. My now 14 year old boy adopted apx 18 months ago struggles more than any of my other 2 adopted kids with believing in Jesus.
      He and I have recently finally been finding more calm waters, but we have faced the most difficult attachment road of any of my kids.
      He cannot fathom believing in something he cannot see.

      And I would add, if I’m the one he struggles attaching to in the physical world, and I’m the one teaching him to “trust in Jesus”….why would he even desire to know Him? He struggles with Trusting me. He struggles with listening to me (has often referred to me as “being like the nannies in China”). Then I am the one telling him we base everything we do on our love for Jesus.

      I’m a firm believer in prayer. But I’m being real, I’ve struggled to even pray for him. (Worn out from months of living with someone who still “doesn’t know what a family is”—just said that 3 days ago…)

      I absolutely love this article.

      However, please tell me how to teach a struggling teen boy who is barely attaching to earthly parents, to love His heavenly Father and even care about God. To Trust an “invisible” being and follow his “rules” when he just wants to be autonomous and not listen to the parents God has given him.

      I even had a life altering dream about this several months ago and woke up completely sobbing . “Maybe just maybe he will Never love me/ attach like the other kids”. It was a harsh reality to take to the depth of my soul. But, it was actually also very freeing once it settled on me.

      Much like this article articulates.

      So good. Thank you.

      Reply
  27. Lana
    October 8, 2014

    In our house (pretty normal and mentally healthy until adopting 3 from Ethiopia,) our whole family has been turned upside down due to 'attachment.' I've grown to hate the word, because I am the one who has not been able to attach to our 13 year old, but have turned into a mommy who is constantly trying to maintain my attachment to her younger 2 siblings – instead of her taking over the mommy role. It's exhausting to be the MOM and not have any desire to even try anymore. I also have 2 bio sons and my husband. She has become the apple of everyone's eye-except for the contempt and underming of mom. I'd love to see any info/advise you have for families with a dad who is attached, and mom has been left out in the cold. In our case, my husband is solidly for me, and this is not something he has done, or had any part in, other than loving and caring for a child-who has chosen him and rejected me. In such a weird way it has caused our marriage to be strained, as if we have another little woman in the house, and in some ways trying to mother or be a wife. (nothing inappropriate here-I just mean, spending time with my husband insteaad of me at times because she has worn me down, or triangling us against each other with manipulation.) I'd be very interesed in this perspective, and how couples have battled this. Good article. You must be spying on my family. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Lana, your situation sounds very hard; I'm so sorry. Have you found a good therapist who understands trauma and attachment? Or even a wise therapist who can offer support to you and your husband? Make sure you are getting time to care for your marriage and one another; you need each other for this parenting marathon. Would you like me to share this as a Tuesday Topic question? You might get some great responses.

      Reply
      1. Lana
        October 13, 2014

        Thank you. I'd love it to be a Tuesday topic. We have been working for over a year with an excellent adoption/attachment (agh-that word!) and answers have not come easily, even with help. My parents live 10 minutes from us and have generously offered her a place with them, where we are all still a family, but the pressure cooker can be released and I can spend much needed time with my other 4 hurting children. My other 2 adopted kids are at a stable place right now-one of my bios is on an anger collusion course, and this is not the child of 2 years ago. At some point I have to put my heart into his life and right now it seems my parents offer is the best for us all. I would never have dreamed this path, that's for sure.

        Reply
    2. Lauren
      October 9, 2014

      I would agree with the above post. We brought out 16 yo home two years ago. We struggled with who each of us individually were to her for about a year. We had to fight against allowing ourselves to take sides. We had a therapist who helped us and her with this. We couldn't not have navigated that without the therapist. I would also suggest therapy for you and your husband to work out that strain. You can't be strong parents together if you aren't on the same page. It takes strength and courage to recognize that and I can see that in your post. It's going to take your daughter a long time to understand her role in your family, she was replaced in a sense by you. And that's probably very difficult for her to understand. Hang in there.

      Reply
      1. Lana
        October 13, 2014

        Thx Lauren. Lots of therapy going on here. The breaking point has been the messed up relationships with the other 4 kids. It's been just heartbreaking. It seems her living with my parents might be a viable option. I would have never asked them, but they have offered. They live 10 minutes away, and we will see each other all the time, just not in the day to day.

        Reply
    3. Rebecca
      October 10, 2014

      I have no wisdom for you, but I'm wondering aloud if you have had the opportunity to name your concern that she is taking the mommy role? So many of our kids have parented themselves and others for so long that it's hard for them to give up that role. So many of our kids have had to depend on themselves and other children for safety. Once they have accepted this role, it's hard to go back (and sometimes they don't even realize they need to go back or have good reason to). Does your child know she's taking on battles that you could be helping with? Can she see you as an ally in her fight?
      Blessings to you as you navigate this hard place. May your marriage be strengthened as you work with your husband to re-align yourselves and care for your children.

      Reply
  28. shannon
    October 8, 2014

    Such an amazing post! Yes! We have been discouraged by so many who, while meaning to encourage us, have done the opposite by suggesting heavy-yoked expectations that our kids obviously aren't ready for. People will rave over a certain book or method in a "just do this and things will be fixed" manner, and we're like, that's great, but my kid doesn't do his part of the script you're suggesting. Thanks a lot…now please, go away. 🙂

    Thanks also for the link to Adult Attachment…important stuff there, too. You are a huge blessing to me today!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      There are so many great tools, some of which have been powerful in our relationships with our children. But I have yet to find a perfect formula 🙂 Our kids are all so unique in their needs. I hope we can lift this heavy-yoke off of one another – I love that. Thanks so much for commenting, Shannon.

      Reply
  29. Alex
    October 8, 2014

    Love this, Lisa! I do think the adoption community idolizes methods to attach with our children and then we feel like failures because we haven't "arrived" at attachment (as if it were a concrete place). The type of relationship you're discussing in this post seems much more natural, less forced, and more humble than what I feel like I hear daily in the adoption community. It seems less threatening. Loving your child where s/he is at. Walking beside him/her. This post has me thinking and is helping me connect some uncomfortable feelings I've had over the years in the adoption community. Wish I had been in the conversation and I'm so glad you're sharing your thoughts with us!!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      I would love to have this conversation with you too! One of these days… I'm so glad you found this helpful and encouraging, Alex.

      Reply
      1. Alex
        October 9, 2014

        After submitting that comment, I realized it sounded like I had been saying I wished I had been invited into the conversation. Which just reminds me how socially awkward I've become. It reminds me of the time my husband invited himself to his friend's wedding. To this day, when I ask him about it (the event was 15 years ago), he says, "I wouldn't have missed it for the world!" We are so strange. What I meant was: it would have been nice to be a fly on the wall. Thank you again for sharing your insight.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          October 9, 2014

          I didn't think that at all! I just love the deep fellowship I find with moms who share my challenges and would love to have conversations like this with more of you.

          Reply
          1. Alex
            November 6, 2014

            Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt! It would be great. One of these days…

        2. Emily
          October 9, 2014

          I didn't think it sounded like that. And I love your husband's comment… 🙂

          Reply
          1. Alex
            November 6, 2014

            Thanks Emily, if you aren't married yet, you may be getting an invitation from us to attend your wedding! 🙂

  30. Doing our best
    October 8, 2014

    Amen….excellent points. We cannot force love or attachment but we can foster it. We have two biological daughters and an adopted son. Even thought we have had him 14 years, and since he was an infant,we still have some attachment issues. Maybe they are just issues that he has that present that way. Whatever the case, we love him and get as much help as possible when needed. However, we cannot get a second mortgage on the house and use every penny in our retirement on some experimental attachment therapy…and then what? There are no guarantees and we don't feel called to live like this. We pray and love and care for our family but spending every penny and every minute on a child does not mean that you love them….possibly just want to look that way. Most of us are just doing our best to the best of our abilities. I have just chosen to weigh options for our son carefully and prayerfully. Great article!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      I admire the balance you've found of choosing your options carefully. Thanks so much for sharing.

      Reply
  31. heartbroken
    October 8, 2014

    Oh…coming from a mom of a Russian adopted son 12 years ago at age 6…and still rejected and not attached I have felt not only the rejection of my son as his mother, but the silent condemnation of the christian community to silence the painful reality of our adoption because I might spoil the pot for the rest of the families who are or will adopt children. I had three biological children when we adopted and felt we had so much to offer and were told that all we needed to do was "love more". That was clearly inadequate to meet the needs that this child has, and at almost 18 it breaks my heart that he will choose to continue to live as a victim and recreate the painful cycle he lived in his formative years. Only Christ can penetrate and transform his brokenness…but its so painful to watch and know that all I can do is pray, Ive tried everything else.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Thank you so much for sharing a small bit of your story. I'm praying comfort for your heart tonight.

      Reply
  32. sharimcminn
    October 8, 2014

    Paragraph 4 says it all. That is our job as parents anyway, but especially for our kids from hard places. Thank you for writing this. I think especially in the lovey-dovey church, people do not get this at all, and that is where many adoptive parents are coming from. We need to be realistic. Also, behaviors are not necessarily sins. That is another post maybe you could write about! There is a middle ground between 'everything is sin' and 'everything is okay aka Freud'. The middle ground is where are kids are and we need to help them from that point.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Thanks for the encouraging words – I think reality is important for all of us on this adoption journey – kids as well as parents.

      Reply
  33. Wanting to connect
    October 8, 2014

    I want so much to attach to our adopted son as much as I do to our two (younger) bio sons, but he treats us like junk so much of the time, asks questions that are so insulting, questions almost everything we say, disobeys all the time, and often I feel like he makes my life miserable. By God's grace, he attaches to us well, but I wish it was reciprocal. I feel like one of the big things he needs is to be in a loving, nurturing environment, but it is hard to make that happen when he creates conflict just about everywhere he goes. I feel bad that I have so much less of a bond with him than with my younger sons, mostly because I think it is detrimental to him, to see such a strong connection between us and them, that that just adds to his issues. How should I view this?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      This has been very hard in our family as well. One of the moms I spoke with last weekend said she talks openly with her daughter who was adopted at an older age and says that their relationship is not the same as with some of the children who joined their family when they were young simply because they don't have as much shared history. She explains that their love is not diminished by that, but it does feel different. Those are hard words, but sometimes our kids just want us to be honest and not pretend that it is all the same. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
      1. Wanting to connect
        October 9, 2014

        Does that work for me- we met our adopted son before our bio kids, so we have more history with him than the others. I think the real reason is that he is so unintentionally cruel and mean to us, and our other kids are sweet and affectionate.

        Reply
        1. Lauren
          October 9, 2014

          It may be helpful to you to try to think of his "meaness" not as something to try to hurt you, but because he feels that love and it scares him to death. Pushing you away feels safer to him because if he's pushing away then he can't be pushed away by you. His behavior can be taken as an indicator that he at times feels love/care from and for you.

          I struggle with this with my 16 yo daughter. She pushed me away because she's scared. She's actually asked me why I haven't left her yet. It's been two years and we still struggle with trust and she still reacts to situations in what I'm learning is her fear response (even though it looks like anger, insults, and out of control behaviors). It's very hard for me to hear the insults. I've been trying to counteract those effects by building up positive memories with her. When we are in a good space spending as much time building up us. So when we get in a tough space and her fear response kicks in I focus on the day before when we got lunch together or went shopping and remember that's the real us. Don't give up!

          Reply
        2. Acceptance with Joy
          October 9, 2014

          That's exhausting. I know. We experience what you are saying to a degree here, also. There are mornings it's hard to get out of bed and face it yet again… So sorry. Sometimes I have to create peace for the rest of the family in small spurts by having the children who make the chaos have outside activities away from us. I would have homeschooled if this was not the case, but I can't because I need the peaceful morning to regroup and recharge so I can face them again when the bus arrives in the afternoon. I have an in-home caregiver for one of my children so that she gets someone's full attention for a couple hours while I spend time with the others.

          Reply
    2. Rebecca
      October 10, 2014

      This is such a difficult place, when one child is significantly less connected than another. Behavior is so hard when it's hurtful and you are the object of the hurt. I am trying to learn as a parent that hurtful behavior is often communication. Sometimes my child can't tell me that he's hurting or scared or overwhelmed, but he can hit his brother! It's not easy to re-interpret this behavior as the only way he knows to communicate with me, but when I do, I can approach the behavior with less offense.
      Blessings to you as you seek connection and seek to decrypt what your son is trying to communicate to you.

      Reply
  34. Susan
    October 8, 2014

    Not too much weight, too much of not recognizing the limitations and how to live with them. There seems to be this adoption culture out there about saving and fixing kids. The traumatized and attachment compromised kids become the problem to be fixed. But, if we broaden our minds a bit, we realize that these adopted, traumatized, attachment wounded kids are really parts of and reflections of our own brokeness. Those who look into that mirror have my utmost respect.

    Reply
  35. Linda S
    October 8, 2014

    When we first thought about fostering, I heard a sermon about "standing in the gap". It was all about the times that God calls you to do nothing but be present and get someone from one place to another. We all want to get the accolades for helping to get someone to the finish line, but that may not be what we are called to do. It's hard to be a "Gap" person. We want acknowledgement or strong feelings or a sense of accomplishment. But most of life is getting from one stage to another, and if no one is there to be the bridge (or in my mind's picture, the one who stands in the pit so someone can walk across their shoulders, head, heart, etc.) than that gap widens. God might just have a ministry for you that is nothing but standing in the Gap. A tough place to be… But He'll bless you because you did it.

    a for helping to get someone to the finish line, but the reality is that most of our life is simply growing from one step to another. And sometimes God wants us to be that safe place where someone can just be. It's hard to be a Gap person, because there is no acknowledgement or great emotion or fanfare. But it still might be the ministry God has in store for you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      Such good words, Linda. You are always a source of encouragement to me. Our expectations as adoptive moms are so high, and we need to be willing to do just what God calls us to do, which may mean that it won't look at all like we had hoped. Thank you for standing in the gap for Dimples and our family and for helping me become a better mother in all of our brokenness.

      Reply
    2. Jenn
      October 11, 2014

      Thank you for your words. I have tears right now because I know in my heart right now I am only standing in the "Gap", but oh my is it so hard. It's comforting to know there are others out there that understand, because they are few. Thank you Linda.

      Reply
  36. Mary Ann Day
    October 8, 2014

    . If we are seeking an attachment for our own sake, so we get something out of the relationship, then that could be an idol, pretty much for any parent. If we think attachment is all on us, up to our success or failure, our hard work, well, then we are mistaken again. This is a relationship we are talking about, and there is more than one in the relationship. It is not an achievement. Parenting a child from a hard place, an older child adoption, is a hard long process and yes, it is more like a marathon than a sprint. Six months of cocooning and then you are done? Not likely. This writer might not be aware that the resources that encouraged how to help children heal and attach have only recently be available with such solid and wise teaching. Having a community of families traveling this journey together is not always available to everyone. Being encouraged that there is hope for every child to heal along with solid ideas on how to help facilitate that is so valuable. God does not want us to ever give up on building a connection of love and security with our children. Do we need to evaluate what our expectations are and if they are in the best interest of our children, of course, especially if we are hoping to win some reward for our achievement. The greatest reward I could ever get is that warm genuine hug I get every day from my tall and handsome 18 year old son.
    Thankful to God for so many things including solid education on attachment and so much grace for my many many mistakes along the way,

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 8, 2014

      I absolutely am thankful for everything I've learned about attachment and I agree that we should never give up building connections of love. It may not look the way we hoped it would, but sometimes it needs to be enough. We need to love our children for who they are, in their brokenness and their healing. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Reply
  37. momofoldersusan
    October 9, 2014

    Yes!!! We brought a 13 year old daughter into our family 3 years ago. It is still very hard with her! But over the 3 years I have come to this conclusion, finally! God has freed me from this lie. Now I can just be. I believe this has let much pressure off her, my husband, and myself. I wish I would have known this before we brought her home! It would.have saved all of us much frustration and heart ache. God has used this past 3 years to teach me this. It is OK if you don't feel attached. And yes it is hard to live with someone you don't exactly like to be around. But as you learn to treat this child in a way Jesus treats us, you prepare this child for other connections. It's OK. It's not easy. And you are not alone.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 9, 2014

      Good words – thank you.

      Reply
  38. njccrawford
    October 9, 2014

    Your post is so timely as my husband and I have slowly been reaching the same conclusion. We have five boys, four are adopted. The older two adoptees came to us from Vietnam at ages 10 months and just shy of 3 years. We came home from Colombia last year with the youngest two who were 13 and 14. For the first six months or so we labored under the delusion that, because our older sons were completely attached this would, of course, happen again. Over the past year or so we have been slowly grappling with the fact that it might not happen; we may never have the same kind of relationship with our two younger boys that we have with the three older boys, but it can still be a GOOD relationship. We've also come to understand that we simply don't have the same amount of time before adulthood with these guys that we had with our three oldest, so we have gotten very simple, very specific and very focused about what we are trying to accomplish with our parenting. Our "goal" (that which we hope and pray for) is that we can build a foundation here for our sons to have: (1) a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, (2) an opportunity to be self-supporting with meaningful work, (3) an emotional base with our family and the knowledge that they have a safety net and place of belonging from which they can build other strong relationships, (4) a sense of personal responsibility and understanding of actions and consequences. If we can get that down, we will consider our parenting to have been successful.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 9, 2014

      I love that you have figured out your "goals" for your boys and that you are focusing on having a good relationship. There is so much grace there. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Reply
    2. Rebecca
      October 10, 2014

      Your goals are so beautifully stated. As you have said, if you do these things, you will have been VERY successful, and your children will have much!

      Reply
  39. Alyssa
    October 9, 2014

    Being the kind of people who would adopt, I think most of us have a high ideal for family relationships anyway. It's who we are and what we value.
    This makes me think of all the kids who don't have much of an attachment to their bio parents either. My husband grew up in a family where things looked good on the outside but he was always made to feel not good enough, there was verbal abuse– from the time he was probably 8, he was at home as little as possible. To this day he barely has a relationship with his parents and only as an obligation. I would say there was a lack of attachment there in a different way. He struggled with anger and shame. When he was 18, God worked a great healing in him after a teaching on The Father Heart of God. It was deep and supernatural and began him on a path where he could have healthy relationships. Twenty -five years later, he is an awesome dad, our family relationships are everything to him, he considers my family the family he never had…. I know it's not the same trauma as adoption, but just want to encourage people that God can bring amazing healing and he may use someone besides us to do it. And that it's not too late, healing and attachment can be lifelong. I also have a friend whose younger adopted sister is now connecting more and more and she's in her 30's. This is a great topic and I appreciate the discussion.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 9, 2014

      So encouraging, Alyssa. Your husband's story is a perfect example of earned secure attachment. Thank you for sharing that with us ; I'm sure other readers will find it very helpful.

      Reply
  40. Karla
    October 9, 2014

    And let's not forget to give this freedom to our children both bio and adopted. My three adopted daughter (who are biological sisters) survived together after much loss in their lives. Will they ever be as close to my bio daughter as they are to each other? Can I help her to accept relationship with them that is different than that of close sisters? I need to help her accept these relationships as valuable on the emotional level that is being offered not forcing something that may never be…or will come with time invested.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 9, 2014

      Good point, Karla. Thanks for mentioning that.

      Reply
  41. Tricia
    October 9, 2014

    Wow – what a great thought and question. Will ponder along with you. All children are only on loan to us for a short time…

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 9, 2014

      That's so true, Tricia.

      Reply
  42. Sandra Zimmerman
    October 9, 2014

    I didn't read through all the replies so forgive me if I am repeating wat has already been written. Yes, I do think to much responsibility is placed on the parent. A relationship is a two way street and while you can love someone you do not have a relationship with you will never be able to have a bond with them unless the reciprocate that love. CYS told us they trusted us with our son and we failed him because we didn't bond with him. We tried, we went to many therapists, psychiatrists etc and no one has been able to reach him. Yes a child needs to bond to grow to be an emotionally healthy adult but as someone told us, God chooses who harvests the fruit of all the bonding work you do with your child and that someone may not be you

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 9, 2014

      Sandra, I am so sorry that CYS said that to you – thankfully somebody else spoke wisdom. Blessings to you.

      Reply
  43. Lauren
    October 9, 2014

    I think attachment should always be an expectation… Our kids can get there, but thier attachment is going to look and feel different and thier journey towards attachment is going to look different. As a mom, that's where I have to adjust my expectations. I have a 16 year old daughter. She's been my daughter for two years. It's been a rocky road and we still struggle but when I look at our relationship now from two years ago it's amazing where we've gone. I don't compare our relationship with my birth daughter and my relationship. Because my 16 yo and I have a different journey together, harder, more complicated and influenced by 14 years of trauma and loss. I expect her to be attached to me someday. But I am ok with knowing that might be when in 90 😉 because we are in a relationship and growing together and that's a beautiful thing.

    Reply
  44. Margaret
    October 9, 2014

    Thanks. This helps me so much, although it is too hard to write about how and why yet.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 9, 2014

      I'm praying comfort for you, Margaret.

      Reply
  45. Jules
    October 11, 2014

    I think as a society, we as women have a savior complex and want to go in and fix the world. That combined with having the luxury of time to super analyze everything makes for unreasonable expectations for our selves and our children. I took my cue from my husband – I think guys in general rely more on common sense than the latest theory in parenting and seem to navigate adoptive parenting much more easily than moms. I've never heard of a dad group that discusses the deeper nuances of adoptive parenting!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 11, 2014

      Thanks for commenting, Jules.

      Reply
  46. Jan Wilberg
    October 13, 2014

    My adopted children, all from Nicaragua, are adults now – in their late twenties. I think this essay is right on target. Adoptive parents would do well to relax their expectations about attachment and just do what parents do. It will work out in the end. Not all kids will become as 'attached' but I'm not sure for whom that matters – the child or the parent. Just be the mom or the dad and stick with it. Each relationship with a child will be different and that's okay.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 13, 2014

      Thank you, Jan. I love the acknowledgement that not all relationships with our children will be the same. That doesn't diminish the quality or love we share.

      Reply
  47. kim
    October 13, 2014

    This is a welcomed message to hear. My daughter will be 18 soon and still struggles with attaching to us, her parents, to whom she has been with since she was three. We have provided love, security, care, and support and often this has not been enough for her to attach. She struggles with consistency and now has met her birth mother who is not a positive role model and struggles with attachment issues also. My prayer is for her to move forward into adult with some of what we provided her with!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 13, 2014

      You've given her a gift, and even if it is imperfect, or she is not able to receive all that you would have wanted to give her, her life has been forever changed by you.

      Reply
  48. Mary TheMom
    October 13, 2014

    I'm torn about this. Our children were 11 and 13.5 when they came to us. Both with severe RAD (an extreme attachment disorder) although they dealt with it in different ways. If a child has an attachment to ANYone then I can see the point here, but our kids had never really attached to anyone.

    We've spent the last 8 years working with an attachment therapist and our daughter (19) is anxiously attached. She now has Borderline Personality Disorder so will always have great difficulties with relationships, but she's learned a lot about how to have a good relationship and knows what one looks like. I believe without the basis of trust (which we fostered though attachment work) she wouldn't have made a lot of the developmental progress that she did.

    Our son (21) did not receive attachment therapy and we were not able to do much attachment work with him since he was so violent when he first came to us. He is not able to maintain ANY relationship more than a few weeks (girlfriends, employers, roommates…). He has not made as much developmental progress as his sister either. He wasn't able to accept the structure and support that he desperately needed. He eventually ended up in prison where he receives the structure and support he needs, but that he can't accept, maintain or ask for from anyone.

    I do think it was very important to try to help our children attach to us, because these are skills they will need for the rest of their life. If a child does not learn to attach when there is a loving parent who refuses to be pushed away, then attachment to anyone else, including God in the future is extremely unlikely. I do not feel I failed because we were only partially successful. I feel we would have failed if we didn't try.

    Reply
  49. Karen Twombly
    November 19, 2014

    We adopted a sibling group of 4 and that has added another layer to attachment. They have each other so it seems easier for one struggling with attachment to live as though there are 2 families under the same roof.
    Here's something I wish I had more support in…how to help the children already in my home at the time of adoption. It seems there is support for the adopted child and for the adoptive parents. How about the children (our were bio) in my home when we adopted? Who helps them as they struggle through the behaviors present in older kids that are adopted out of orphanages and with the attachment when it is not reciprocated? That part, I have to ashamedly admit, I was not anticipating.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 19, 2014

      Karen, that is a conversation I've been having with lots of folks this past year; In fact, I'm doing a workshop on it at Refresh and facilitating a panel of siblings. Giving voice to siblings is so important and needs to be addressed more in the adoption community. Thanks so much for your comment.

      Reply
  50. Laurel
    February 25, 2015

    Great post! Something I've never discussed with anyone, but definitely where we are at with our 16 year old (adopted from Africa at age 9). Yes, I think that the adoptive community places too much emphasis on the need for "perfect" attachment. I also believe that the adoptive community as a whole has very unrealistic expectations of "All they need is love. Just bring them home and love them and they will heal from the trauma of their childhoods." I love my daughter dearly, yet I don't think she really has any idea of how to return that love (or see a need to).

    Reply
  51. Malia
    October 8, 2016

    Thank you so much for this, Lisa…I had never heard before that adult attachment could be formed with a spouse, apart from first forming a parental attachment. I will definitely be reading the books you recommended. I think that this topic alone would be a wonderful book for you to write based on you and your family’s experiences. Thank you, again. Blessings.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 10, 2016

      I’m so glad you found this helpful, Malia, and thank you for the book suggestion.

      Reply
  52. Marta
    February 17, 2017

    My mom – who adopted me at 8 made the mistake of seeking something from her adoption of my brother and I. Seeking something for her own personal gain. When that was not returned by us kids things got ugly. My brother who was 10 – rejected her, pushed her away – he never attached properly. This cause led a lot of tension and heartache between them. They do not speak to one another and I am just now healing from the damage done – I have been able to forgive and move on trying to mend what was broken. This article is a beautifully and truthfully written piece…the one following it as well. I would not put so much weight on receiving the fruit of your hard labor, but on loving your child without condition. Building a relationship based on that very love which God has for us! So so good!!! Thank you for sharing. I am healing through adopting my daughter! It’s so beautiful.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      February 17, 2017

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Marta.

      Reply
  53. Karen
    February 11, 2019

    I just found this blog. I have always looked forward to having kids. But I didn’t find the love of my life until 36, and married at 37…several years later….still no pregnancies. We had always planned to adopt either way. We took in a 14-year-old who had been in a group home for a year and a half, who wouldn’t be reunified with his bio family. We both believed (and still do) that God called us to parent him, specifically. It’s been over five years since then. How I’ve longed to connect with him, but he’s plainly refused that….just too much for him. But man, it really feels personal when I see him hugging my best friend from college days who acts like a mentor, and my sister visiting from out of town….He’ll push past me to talk to my husband down the hall. I could give 500 examples of rejections subtle and overt. I guess it’s best to stop counting them, but despite giving my hurt to God, it still comes back to haunt me. But it doesn’t unhinge me quite as much as it used to. He’s my only child, and often I can’t wait for him to grow up enough to leave… on that day, the daily in-my-face rejections will end. Yes, I’ve been trying to kill the idol of “feeling like a mom”–it’s incredibly hard to kill. It’s hard-wired into my DNA and personality! Basically nobody I know gets it, but apparently you guys do. Thanks for all of your postings and your honesty.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      February 12, 2019

      Karen, I understand these feelings all too well. I don’t know if you’ve found my podcast and website: http://www.theadoptionconnection.com I have a private Facebook group you are welcome to join too. I hope I can offer you some support.

      Reply

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