Tuesday's Answers: Attachment Help for Parents

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

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

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

Jen said:

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

Audrey said:

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

Elizabeth said:

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

Dorothy said:

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

Sandee said:

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

Jennifer said:

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

Michelle said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please feel free to add your comments if you weren’t able to respond to the original post.

~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.

0 Comments

  1. Wendy
    May 26, 2010

    Thank you to everyone who shared their wisdom and experiences…so helpful!

    Reply
  2. jen
    May 26, 2010

    Oh, your story about the hand so touched me. Our daughter has never written it, but her attitude betrays those same thoughts so often. Or sometimes it just says, "Both my parents are a bummer."

    And recently I have caught myself asking me (mentally), "Really, what would Jesus do?" Maybe I should write that on my hand. Ha!

    But you are right, "it's the push and pull, the tears and joy, the love."

    Reply
  3. Nancy
    May 26, 2010

    This is good good stuff. The stuff that's suppose to come so naturally and easily and in reality doesn't. I've always felt a different love for my bio and adopted kiddos and wondered if that was ok. Sometimes a harder love, sometimes a gentler love, sometimes it's the same. But these differences are a little secret that I don't dare mention to many. thank you to all for your honesty and sharing from your hearts!

    Reply
  4. carla
    May 27, 2010

    We brought our two ET adopted children home a year and a half ago and I have to say it has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was in no way prepared for the differences in culture. It's almost like we have had to undo and then start over with training and discipline. I have struggled with a lot of guilt for not feeling "love" for these children, especially when I have three bio children that I feel lots of love for. The first year was the hardest…I went into a depression and dreaded getting out of bed each day, it was all so overwhelming. Adopting two older at one time, was just very overwhelming for me. Some people may have no problem with this, but it was a stretch for me. I am glad that more people are sharing this issue because I tried to speak out and be honest on my blog when we first brought them home and for the most part, people thanked me for being so honest because they felt the same way. But…there were those who either told me or made me feel like I was not glorifying God by sharing my true feelings. It is still hard, most of the time. I sometimes find myself daydreaming of how my life used to be, but not as often as before. Even though we were warned many times that these children may be older then we were led to believe, I wasn't ready to adopt a girl who was supposed to be five but was really more like seven. Since our youngest bio is the same age, it has made things that more complicated. I do hope the day will come when we feel completely bonded and not feel like there is a constant disruption in our family. Anyway, just kind of rambling, but am so thankful that there seems to be more of a freedom to share true feelings and not feel so alone. : )

    Reply
    1. Stonefox
      May 28, 2010

      Carla, I understand too. I have a bio daughter only 4 months younger than our adopted and from day 1, the differences were startling, both in how they bonded and responded to me and in how I felt for each of them.

      It is a hard journey. It has been 2 years for us and is still very hard. There are aspects of it that are getting better, slowly. The biggest change I think, is happening in me. My understanding of God is drastically changing. I am being challenged to open my heart to Him in ways I've never faced before and let Him do things in there that I didn't want messed with. (I'm not saying you need to do this, I'm just saying what is happening with me.) It is very difficult, messy, and is hard work.

      But do you know that I am so happy about it? I guess because I know that one day- hopefully soon- I will be at a point where I can look back and really enjoy what has happened in my heart and I will have the strength and ability to love fully. That's where I'm headed and though getting there isn't easy, I'm putting alot of "junk" behind me and away from me, sort of like a heart purge, and I can't wait to see how spiritually vital and healthy I will be.

      Hang in there, Carla. We are at similar places and I know God is doing a great work in your inner places as well, one that time will show to be both rewarding and beautiful.

      Reply
  5. OneThankfulmom
    May 27, 2010

    Carla, thank you so much for sharing your experience. So many of us understand what you are going through.

    Reply
  6. pookeber
    May 27, 2010

    Thanks for sharing that story about the hand writing, Lisa. There are many times when our new daughter clearly prefers my husband. He is not with her all day having to correct her and deal with her behaviors so she tends to want him more.

    It is encouraging to read of others going through this.

    Jen S.

    Reply
  7. Paula
    May 27, 2010

    I wish I would have read this post an hour ago! Just put the twins to bed and had one of our epic bedtime struggles, culiminating with a very mad mom and dad and a very mad and STUBBORN six year old. When I went upstairs later, she really poured the guilt on, and I felt like the worst mom imaginable. We both felt better after some cuddling in bed… but I still felt like a horrible mother for losing my temper and making her miserable. Somehow, your story of the writing on the hand made me feel a whole lot better… I guess we're all the "mene" mom sometimes. I love the twins so much, but it does take time and it is a lot different than starting from babyhood with my bio children. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you lifted my very depressed spirit tonight.

    Reply
  8. Kim
    May 28, 2010

    Thanks for all the comments. We have only had our ET daughter (7 years old) home for two weeks now, but I think I have woken up each day with a "what have we done" and gone to bed each night wishing I could undo it. I know it is what God has called us to do, and I knew it would be hard – but I didn't know how hard. Your comments have given me hope and helped my guilt feelings.

    Reply
  9. Renee
    May 28, 2010

    This is all so helpful. Thanks to all for sharing.

    Reply
  10. Kelli
    May 29, 2010

    We adopted our sweet peas 8 months ago. They began attaching to me much faster than I to them. This was shocking since it took us almost a year and half to get them home. It took us ten years to be able to finally have a family and my expectations were that because I prayed for instant bonding that it would come to be. But God works through our situations and at times answers our prayers differently. I found that my expctations of myself were that I needed to be perfect and I wasn't. Motherhood after 15 years of marriage was hard and humbling. I felt like an utter failure for not instantly bonding with our babies. I struggled and spent a great deal of times on the floor literally crying out to God. He has been faithful in answer my prayers. My advice as a new mother of adopted babies is to give yourself time. It wasn't until the 6th month before I began to see my actions of love produce a deep love in my heart for my children. It is ever growing inside of me. One thing that has made a big difference for me has been to take the time to pray over my babies each night before I go to bed. I gently rub their back as I thank God for the blessing of having them and then begin to pray over their lives. There is power in prayer.

    Reply
  11. Catherine
    May 29, 2010

    Thank you so much for this wonderful site and your gracious spirit that is an encouragement to all!

    Reply
  12. Jen
    May 30, 2010

    but I look in my daughter’s eyes and I tell her I love her. Then I tell her to go wash her hand.

    LOL! That is SO funny! and exactly what I would do!

    Thanks for posting my comment!

    Just wanted to encourage all of you to keep at it! Adoption can be really hard (especially the first year or two!), but it is also an incredible blessing!

    Praying that God would fill our hearts with His Love towards and for our children.

    Reply
  13. Cathy
    May 30, 2010

    How I am enjoying this post and comments…

    I (not my husband, he's completely bonded) am struggling and feeling so awful about myself. We adopted our daughter (2nd adopted along w/3 bio) 1 year ago at 11 months of age and I never ever ever ever dreamed that I would have trouble attaching. It was not even on my radar and here I am 1 year later still struggling. I have a deep love for my daughter, but I seem to be more conditional on the "liking" side of things. I am humbled by this experience and have no desire to give up, yet wonder how it will ever get better (although it is easy to predict it getting worse). I have experienced the mercy of God in a more profound way than ever before and daily (hourly) beg Him for help. It has been extremely helpful to read the comments from others and know that I am not alone. Everyone, know of my prayers and please keep me in yours!

    Thank you, LIsa for your blog, it has been helpful in so many ways!

    Reply
  14. AmyAJ
    June 3, 2010

    Ahhh! This post scares me and encourages me all at the same time. As our "his-hers-ours" family explores adoption, I am struck by the unimaginable hard this will be. The only advice I can give others is to never expect to love any of your children the same. Love means you give them what they need and they all need different things at different times. I have struggled with similar issues as a stepmother – I don't love him the same way I love the children I birthed, yet I don't love them the same way as one another. Once I forgave myself for the (inner) discrepancies, the outside seemed much more loving! Also, remember to communicate with your spouse – sometimes I just tell mine that so-and-so (and they've all had plenty of turns) is grating on my nerves a little more than the rest and he picks up my slack.

    Reply

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