The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, or Attachment Revisited


I've been thinking a lot about attachment recently, mainly because of a recurrence of raging by TM. For a while, the raging had almost stopped. We would see one every few weeks and they were pretty tame. But in the past week or so, it is almost as if we are back in Vietnam. The raging is back to being long, physical, and often. So, I've been doing what I always do when confronted by a problem, I read and research, this time on attachment. Now I had done a lot of reading on attachment before we adopted TM, but there is nothing like experiencing something first hand to add a bit of focus. Attachment can be a somewhat fuzzy subject. For instance, different sources of information have different lists of what might be signals of attachment problems. On one list, TM is perfectly fine. He has none of the behaviors listed. While this may be reassuring at first, how are other things explained? Those worries that sit in the back of your head and cause uneasiness. Finding some of TM's behaviors on another list I found is actually a relief. If things were supposed to be perfectly alright, why didn't it feel that way? For TM, the three behaviors that are on the list are also the three that drive me the most nuts. They are (1)somewhat manic behavior, (2) incessant talking and interupting, and (3) being "accident prone". (These "accidents" often happen to toys or brothers and sisters.) These behaviors don't happen all the time, but they tend to appear together when they do and we have learned they are strong indicators that a great big noisy fit is in the works.

So what do we do? We go back to the attachment exercises we did at the beginning. I need to keep him with me all the time and carry him in the sling more than I have been; to use more sugar therapy...feeding him something sweet (M&Ms work well) while keeping eye contact and having him feed me; singing more songs together and doing more laughing together; being sure I give lots of positive feedback as opposed to just telling him not to do things. None of these things is horrible to fact, the point is they are all enjoyable. Many are things I should try to do with all of my children on a regular basis. But, the fact is, it's just so easy to let things do that one more thing on my to do list instead of reading someone a story, or to do an errand instead of playing a game. It is possibly a blessing in disguise to have a child who reacts so negatively to benign neglect. Instead of worrying what effect his behavior is having on my other children, perhaps I should be grateful that he forces me to be a better mother than I would otherwise be.

My mental picture of attachment is a little changed from those first days in Vietnam. Then, the only image I could conjure up was of the metal spikes at car exits, the type you can only go forward on or you'll puncture a tire. I felt trapped into going forward because going backward wasn't an option. Now, it is as if my son fell into a deep pit from his fourth move in 3 years and the loss of his much-loved foster parents. Now it's J's and my job to get him out of that pit. We have a rolling cart and the road is often very steep. As long as we are actively pushing forward things are fine. Sometimes the road levels out and it is easier, but a new steep section can catch us by suprise and we'll roll back a little bit before we catch ourselves and go forward again. But at some point the level ground at the end of the pit will come. We'll just keep pushing up that hill until it does.


Joanne said…
What a wonderful way to think about what he is doing, even if it is hard. It reminds me of working with someone (with an intellectual disability) and being told to "pay attention to the message, not the behavior". This post helps me to think about what really counts for kids - attention and to know that they matter.
S. said…
What a wonderful reminder about what children really need--attachment issues or not. I will pray that the steep parts get fewer and further between. It sounds like you are on the right track!
You know I was just thinking how "easy" things have been with Zeeb lately... I appreciate your reminder not to take this for granted and to keep working at the attachment even if it doesn't seem so "necessary." You're right, it's easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of the day and forget that our kids need that special one-on-one time.
Alison said…
Oh, Elizabeth, It's good for me to read what you write, and to think about shaking loose my complacency not just about my mothering, but about my teaching also. Sometimes I think I just need more time and energy in order to be intentional...but there is limited time. I guess the challenge is to be intentional always...I am so pleased that you continue to post so we can keep up with your lives, and am also pleased and privileged to be learning along with you. Lot of love to you all always
BruBunch said…
Elizabeth, you are so good for my soul. As we prepare to travel in 2 days for our long awaited daughter and find myself frustrated now...before even receiving her, I have to stop and remember what lies ahead. I understand what you mean by making you a better mother. Our 3 year old, adopted from China has taught me not to take for granted the time I have, not only with him, but with our 4 older bio. kids. Appreciating all they have done for me and to me. Attachment is a learning process both for parent and child. Keep up the good work!!

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