Once an Orphan: The Journey to Secure Attachment [Part 4]

Part4

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

[Don’t miss Part 1Part 2, and Part 3]

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

The healing that needs to happen to allow our children to trust, to love, to be loved is not within our control.   We must do *the work, we must then let go of the outcome.

How a child copes, processes and makes sense of their life-story is variable.  I know and love folks that have been adopted who are the most intact, resilient and loving people.  I call these folks ducks.  When the hard stuff of life comes flying at them it just rolls right off.  You will not have too much work to do if you are parenting a duck.  However, many of us are more like porcupines – the hard stuff gets thrown and it sticks to us, gets stuck in us.  Scares us.  Changes us.   If your child is more like a porcupine then you will have more work to do.  (And just to complicate matters even more, I would bet that many kids who have been adopted are actually porcupines masquerading as ducks).

Deciding what *the work is, is up to you, your child and your family.  I’d like to gently suggest that it goes beyond soccer camp and a beautifully coordinated family Christmas picture.  Love is not enough (unless your child is a duck).  The science of today supports this, just as importantly the stories of adult adoptees support this.

When you decide to adopt a child, especially an older child, you are making a commitment to a little life – a little heart, mind and soul that may have already been fundamentally changed by the loss of their first family.   What looks like ‘bad behaviour’ is often the outward signs that a child is suffering – anxiety, dysregulation and sensory-processing challenges may manifest themselves in response to loss, grief and suffering.  This is the stuff for doctor/therapist-types to be assisting with.  This is not the job of parents to do alone.

In my mind the work of parents is to create the safety, the stability, the support for your child to begin again.  For that, in essence, is what they are doing.  They had a life.  That life is now gone.  Their task is to make sense of that story and to begin writing new, hopefully beautiful, chapters.  A strong, supportive, fun, present family-life is the best place for a child to begin writing these new chapters.

The rhythm and ritual of family-life is where attachment will grow.  Family movie nights tucked under warm blankets with heaping bowls of popcorn help, Saturday morning breakfasts with pancakes and maple syrup help, colouring together at the kitchen table helps, predictable evening routines of calming baths and bedtime stories help.  Lollipops, whoopee cushions, frozen tag, dance parties, funny movies & favourite foods all help.  The things that bring about smiles and laughter help.

Healing work is not all about trudging through trauma – it is also about finding joy and cultivating light.  Look for the moments when your child’s eyes are shining – when they are smiling in a big, carefree, unabashed way.  Do more of whatever brings that about.

Attachment will grow slowly from these moments of ritual and comfort.  These warm moments will begin to counter what is happening in your child’s inner landscape – which may be darker and more chaotic than you can imagine, or that your child is capable of voicing.

Attachment is a relationship – it is the dance, the flow, the way we relate to each other.  We often only concern ourselves with our child’s attachment to us, let us not ignore that the other half of this relationship is our attachment to our child.   When many of our kids are acting out – violently, loudly, incessantly it is impossible to expect that we are going to securely and lovingly attach to this child.  I believe it is impossible to attach (warmly & securely) to a raging mess- we just aren’t hard-wired to do this.  Newborns are warm and cute and cuddly for a reason.  If your family-life feels like a constant war-zone then notice what it is doing to you and get some help.  Lower your expectations and get your feet on your own healing path.

Healing will happen in a relationship.  Support, facilitate and encourage that your child does the work that they need to do to make sense of their life and help them write a new beginning.  The chapters may be painful and messy at times but they can also be filled with the best kind of joy and beauty.

I’ve been looking forward to this post since Sarah and I first began communicating. Her voice as both an older adoptee and as an adoptive mother is so valuable to me. Two of our children came to us at older ages, Dimples at nearly six, and Beza at ten. Like Sarah writes, “They had a life. That life is now gone.” It is a very different experience to adopt older children, especially preteens and teens, and Sarah’s voice is a gift.

Sarah welcomes your thoughts and comments. She hopes this post will be a discussion and opener and we can engage on this topic together. She’ll respond to your comments and questions as she is able.

Once again, I thank Sarah for trusting her story to me and giving us a glimpse into the experience of being an older adoptee.

Encourage one another.

Lisa

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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.

40 Comments

  1. Susan
    December 4, 2014

    Beautiful post….and I have a therapy session this afternoon. I think I'll bring it along! Thanks again for a very timely reminder for me. Love the part about porcupine/duck–I also think the teen years bring out the quills in kids who may have been ducks until then. And of course, they earned those quills and the right to show them, deal with them, and hopefully tuck them down safely as they go through the process…our child is kind of a hybrid duck/porcupine!

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 4, 2014

      Thanks for your comment Susan. I completely agree, teenagers often show their porcupine-selfs during these difficult years. It is a tricky for parents not to be continuously stabbed 😉 Not taking anything personally seems to be the answer – so very hard to do though!

      Reply
  2. Joe
    December 4, 2014

    Powerful! Gives me lots to think thru for my bio kids that are struggling and for my own struggles of not having the life I imagined would be my story.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 4, 2014

      Thank you for reading and commenting Joe!

      Reply
  3. Mary Ostyn
    December 4, 2014

    Thanks again for this story!! I really appreciate this insight, and the reminder that it's not all my job or responsibility.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 4, 2014

      Thanks for your kind words Mary. Indeed – a relationship is the responsibility of both people in it. I really believe that helping our kids develop the tools to know 'how' to be in a relationship is the work of us parents, using the tools is the work of our children.

      Reply
  4. AmyE
    December 4, 2014

    This may be the most beautiful thing I have ever read! I will be forwarding to many friends and re-reading. Releasing the shame. Acknowledging that even our young children have to, at some point, choose to join in the dance. Ours is a porcupine who only pretends to be a duck with others. Fights us all the time. Even as we try to make fun memories. Catching those glimpses of joy in his eyes is hard. They are so fleeting. Thank you for sharing your beautiful, hope filled story.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 4, 2014

      Thanks for your sweet note Amy. I hear this a lot – kids who have been adopted are often ducks with the rest of the world and porcupines at home. Pretty sure this was exactly how I was as well. The risk of letting in love, of trusting, of finding safety is biggest/scariest within our own small family circles – this is exactly where the fear lives. How does a child learn to let go of the fear of losing it all again?

      Reply
  5. beaumc1956
    December 4, 2014

    So good, such wise words.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 4, 2014

      Thank you!

      Reply
  6. Alex
    December 4, 2014

    Sarah! You are brilliant! Any chance you write anywhere else? If you are writing, I need to be reading it. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Laine
    December 4, 2014

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Sarah
    December 4, 2014

    Thank you Alex. I am not writing publicly at the moment. I used to have a blog – it was firmly in my adoptive mama voice and I shut it down when I realized I needed to begin to integrate my adoptee voice/feelings with my adoptive mama voice/feelings. When there was a disconnect there my writing didn't feel honest and real, so I stopped. As I figure that out perhaps I will blog again!
    Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

    Reply
  9. Alyssa
    December 4, 2014

    Thank you for sharing your story. My fierce little porcupine is letting me get closer… so thankful!

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Glad your porcupine is letting you in!

      Reply
  10. Cindy
    December 4, 2014

    Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing your story and perspective. Our child wants to be a duck, but keeps getting sucked in. His behaviors are more inward rather than outward focused. Great reminders! Thank you so much!

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Thanks for your kind note Cindy.

      Reply
  11. Sarah
    December 4, 2014

    Sarah, thank you for sharing your perspective, and your thoughts and emotions. Would you ever consider writing about/sharing about how you navigated your journey with your adoptive family as an adult, and did you share with them what your internal journey and emotions, regarding the adoption and changes you experience as a child, had been?
    Thanks for illustrating your insights with your own story!

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Great question Sarah. I am still navigating that journey to this day – as much as there is love between my parents and I there is not a great deal of emotional openness. That is another story 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  12. Gina
    December 4, 2014

    Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Thanks for reading Gina!

      Reply
  13. Shannon Krueger
    December 5, 2014

    I have so much gratitude for you sharing some of your story!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!!

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      You are welcome, thank you for your kind words!

      Reply
  14. Julie
    December 5, 2014

    Thank you for being so transparent, Sarah. I think you verbalized a LOT of what goes on in my daughter's heart. Also, your words freed me up from self-condemnation and reminded me that laughter and joy are powerful tools in healing. God bless you!

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Laughter and joy are very important! Thanks for commenting Julie.

      Reply
  15. MommaFoster
    December 5, 2014

    I really enjoyed your story. Thanks again for sharing it.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Thanks for reading it!

      Reply
  16. Brenda T.
    December 5, 2014

    Sarah — beautiful. honest. convicting. THANK YOU! I am both an adoptive mom (to a 9 year old adopted 5 years ago and a 14 year old just adopted in October). One is a porcupine and one is a duck. But sometimes I think she's a porcupine acting like a duck. Sometimes I get so caught up in the day to day "stuff" of just getting them through life with clean clothes and clean sheets, and I forget about the fun that bonds us to each other and creates lasting memories. I am also an Adoption Recruiter for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and I am going to share this post with several families I work with, all of whom are in the process of adopting an older child. Thank you so much for sharing your heart. You have a gift.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Thank you for your kind comment Brenda. I completely agree with you – the 'stuff' of life often gets in the way of the connections that bring about healing and lasting memories. I am just as guilty in getting caught up in the busyness-of-life as the rest of them. Very pleased to hear that my story may of use to others. Thank you!

      Reply
  17. Marti Wiser
    December 5, 2014

    Sarah, one of our Child-Specific Recruiters shared this insightful advice with our other seven recruiters and suggested they share it with every parent considering adoption or guardianship. You are making such a difference and perhaps preventing a few sad disruptions. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      It means so much to know that bits of my story may help another child or family walking a similar path. Thank you for your kind words!

      Reply
  18. prayingintruth
    December 6, 2014

    I have loved this series and will be keeping it forever. Thank-you Sarah. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed this little series.

      Reply
  19. Jaime K
    December 6, 2014

    Thank you so much for sharing this. What a beautiful story and told so well. God is faithful. I'm sad that you had to lose your mom as a child but I am so glad God had Kevin for you and a beautiful future as well. Thank you again for sharing your story. Also, for the encouragement and good reminders to us adopting parents.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      December 8, 2014

      Thanks Jaime, I'm glad to know that my story felt encouraging.

      Reply
  20. Kohana
    December 6, 2014

    Sarah, thank you for sharing this with us. It was very thought-provoking and encouraging. Recently I was talking with a dear friend about her sister who was adopted as an older child, and who contributed to a family dynamic that was challenging. My friend said that it is just recently, as her sister is an adult, that she is really seeing a manifestation of wholeness as her sister is doing her half of the work that her parents invested in all these years. I found it really encouraging, that "it's not over till it's over" is really true, and that healing can take a long time before we see the fruit. It also encouraged me that we shouldn't beat ourselves up as adoptive parents if we are not seeing the result we want. Our job is to love steadily, and let go of controlling the outcome.

    Reply
  21. Lisa
    December 7, 2014

    Sarah – thank you so much for opening up and being strong and vulnerable enough to write this series. I'm sure it took courage to say 'yes' to the request and I just want you to be encouraged that you will impact many lives just by sharing your life story and insights. If you do blog again, I would love to follow it so please ask Lisa Q. to let her audience know! As a relatively new adoptive parent (4 months home), I'm finding that the voice of adoptive mamas is very loud in the blog world (mine included) yet the voice of adoptees is still relatively quiet. I hope you will be a part of increasing the volume of that voice – it's so valuable to adoptive parents.

    Reply
  22. Isabelle
    December 9, 2014

    This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. It is very helpful. In particular I love:
    "Healing work is not all about trudging through trauma – it is also about finding joy and cultivating light. " Thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply
  23. Judy
    December 16, 2014

    THank you for writing this!! It was beautifully written, and so enjoyable to read. Not because it wasn't a hard subject, but because of the way it was written. You have a gift. Thanks for sharing your story, and helping us all understand both sides of the story.

    Reply
  24. jody
    January 1, 2015

    I love this. We have three munchkins from Russia ages 9, 8, and 5, one surprise bio age 2, and a five year old whom we are very close to becoming the legal guardians for. Life is hectic. Our eight year old was breaking windows and punching holes in walls by age five and our family life is filled with porcupine moments. You give me hope. And I so desperately needed to read your words tonight. Thank you Sarah.

    Reply

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