Tuesday Topic: Attachment Help for Parents

Finally!  Here I am with a new Tuesday Topic!  Time on the computer has been limited lately and I feel that I cannot possibly justify writing about parenting children with hurting hearts if I am neglecting my own in order to blog.  I hope you will bear with me as I do my best to be a good mommy.

A reader emailed me recently with this question:

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

Let’s put our collective wisdom together and share our thoughts.  I’ll hold your comments until next Tuesday, May 25th, or possibly Wednesday, and share them all at once.  We have therapy appointments in Seattle and will be on the road Sunday and Monday, so we’ll see how Tuesday goes.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

~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.

12 Comments

  1. Jen
    May 20, 2010

    Hi there! First off, I just want to say that what you are feeling is NOT uncommon. It always makes me frustrated to read blogs or other writings that say "oh, it is exactly the same as having a biological child. . . I love them so much and I don't feel any different." In my honest opinion, this is almost never the case and if the person writing it isn't just flat lying, then they are probably still in the honeymoon phase! Please don't feel like you are alone in the struggle to feel attached to your adopted child.

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

    With our first adoption (a sibling group of 3 from Liberia ages 4, 5, and 7), I didn't have the CONSISTENT "mama-bear" type feelings for over a year! I often FELT more protective toward my biological child, especially when our adopted children were the antagonists. However, we kept on actively loving them, and praying – praying a LOT- and hoping that their little hearts would heal. And then, one day, I was talking to my friend about an injustice that one of my adopted children had suffered at the hands of a neighbor (and boy, was I mad!) and my dear friend pointed out to me that I was having that true "mama-bear" protective love toward my child. And, I was!

    Even though we look as different as night and day, I often do (NOW) almost forget that these children were not from my womb. BUT, it wasn't always the case. It took a long time to get here!

    We have found a similar thing to be true with our second adoption (a sibling group of 6 out of foster care). Active Agape (unconditional) Love leads to that Phileo (friendship-type feeling) love that we all desire to have with our children. It has been easier this time around, and I think that maybe it is because my heart has already been through this process once before and I can more easily see and hope for the light at the end of the tunnel.

    I also wanted to say that I also mourned the lack of the breastfeeding relationship with all of my adopted children (especially with the youngest – age 2). One thing we tried was skin to skin rocking time and bottle feeding with sweet milk. We only did it for about 3-4 months, but it REALLY was an awesome time of bonding for both of us.

    As far as whining goes, try not to give in to it, but do remember to give him a way to ask for what he wants w/o whining – I would suggest some simple "baby sign language" for "more," "please," "drink," and maybe "up."

    It has only been 3 months, please do not despair! Adoption is hard, it is a sacrifice, but it is SO worth it!

    Reply
  2. Audrey
    May 20, 2010

    Congrats on your new little guy! First thing I would say is give it time. I wasn't feeling very attached to my son in those first few months either. He turned seven shortly after we came home with him and I was pretty overwhelmed by all that had changed in our lives. Attachment works both ways so those things that are suggested for child to parent attachment are also good for parent to child. Bottle feeding is a biggie. Because of Jacob's age, he wasn't about to take a bottle from me but he did let me hold him with a sippy cup of sugar water when he had the hiccups. Skin to skin contact is always good and I love to stare into his eyes for several minutes at a time. It sounds strange but that was a sort of breakthrough for me – one day I was staring into those beautiful brown eyes and I felt a little leap in my heart. It was heartlove. After many months of headlove, I was so grateful to realize that I was finally falling in real mommy love with this little one. Please don't feel badly; take good care of yourself and give yourself time to adjust.

    Reply
  3. Chrissy Matthews
    May 20, 2010

    I am very grateful for this topic, as we just were blessed with 9 month old twins two weeks ago. I am feeling the same way and am looking forward to the advice that will come in!

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth
    May 20, 2010

    Part 1 (I have to split my coment)

    When we adopted our son who was nearly four, an older adoptive mom told me a bit about the adoption of her own daughter as a newborn. She found that for her, even adopting a newborn, it took her at least 7 months to begin to feel toward her new baby like she did to her birth children. I sort of nodded and smiled when she told me, thinking surely this was not going to be an issue; I loved children. I was sure I would fall in love with our new son. Well, I didn't. and not only did I not fall in love with him, I really didn't like him all that much at first. (It's difficult to love a child who causes you bodily injury at every turn.) But, her words came back to me as I struggled to love my new son. Seven months, seven months, I need to get at least to seven months as if seven months was some magic length of time. We did make it to 7 months, and while we were still working on learning the attachment dance together, things were much better.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth
    May 20, 2010

    Part 2

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

    One more thing I wanted to mention…love is far more action than feeling. And feeling follows action, not the other way around.

    Reply
  6. dorothy
    May 20, 2010

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

    Reply
  7. Sandee
    May 22, 2010

    This is such a hard one…One that has so much guIlt wrapped around it…at least for me. I know, when I brought my darling 2 almost 3 year old daughter home, EVERYONE was in love with her; she was so cute and outgoing. I was just not prepare for her behavior or prepared for my lack of feeling…. I knew nothing about attaching and bonding, my first adoptin, was pretty isolated from anyone else in the adoption community…and my agency never shared anything I should read on that…so OUCH…I found out the hard way.

    I just expected to immediately feel for her what I felt for my chldren that entered my family as my newborns….after being carried around inside for 9 months. And it was not so. And I felt I was a horrible person. I have since read tons and tons on attachment…but have not found much out there on the parents attachment challenges.

    Reply
  8. More to say
    May 22, 2010

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

    Reply
  9. more to say2
    May 22, 2010

    I am anxious to see other's responses…and any tips to "stir up" the feelings.
    I often try to imagine her as the little newborn baby, that I can remember my sons as, and think of that little newborn being left by the side of the road…rather than cuddled, like my sons were…and I try to do some of those baby things with her, as silly little playing house games.

    Reply
  10. Wendy
    May 23, 2010

    As we're still waiting a referral, I have no wisdom to offer, but this addresses my #1 fear about our adoption…I'll be anxious to see what others have to offer on this!

    Reply
  11. Jennifer Petry
    May 23, 2010

    You are not alone. My theory is that you become used to the children you have already and you cannot help but have expectations that the new little one you bring into your family will "fit in" and feel like yours sooner than is realistic. We can't help it. We want to love this new child just like we love the ones we already have, and we can't wait to do so. But your new little one is coming from a completely different experience, and won't fit in right away. The reality (at least for me) was that it took six months before I started feeling like I wasn't just babysitting, and a full year before I was ready to step in front of a bullet for my new baby. I really struggled when I experienced this with my second child, and sought help from my friends. I discovered that I was not alone, and that it wasn't just an adoption issue. Many women confided to me that they, too, had difficulty with their newborn babies.
    I went through what you are experiencing with each new child we brought home, all five times. It just takes time, and patience, and a continuous outpouring of love whether or not you actually feel it. It will come. It certainly has for me!

    Reply
  12. Michelle
    May 24, 2010

    Give yourself some time! I know that you probably feel that your love and attachment should come easily and quickly but that is often NOT the case. The year that I brought my son home (at 18months old) was the hardest year of my life. It was not because he was difficult or not attaching. Quite the opposite, he was doing everything he could to learn his new surroundings and new life. I have three bio. children and I REALLY struggled with feeling that I would always love them more. I had so much guilt over this. I really felt like a failure as an adoptive mom. This guilt and my own pride with wanting everything to be perfect caused me to be really hard on him. I look back now and realize how unreasonable I was on myself and on him 🙁 But God is good and He is faithful! My love and attachment to my son could not be stronger. We cannot imagine life without him. There was no magical cure… just time and God's restorative and healing power working in our lives. It's OK that you feel this way and it's great that you are reaching out to other's that have been there. Sometimes all we need is to know that we are not alone. God WILL accomplish His purpose in your relationship but it will be in His perfect timing.

    Reply

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