Thursday, November 05, 2009

Attachment revisted

Before we brought TM home, I read a lot about adoption and attachment. I knew the signs of anxious attachment; I knew a whole bunch of activities to foster attachment; and I knew that it was unlikely our new son would immediately fall head over heels in love with us. These were important things to know, but something vital was missing in everything I had read. All of these things dealt with the attachment of the child to the new parent; very little was mentioned about the attachment of the parent to the new child. It never occurred to me that this was something to be concerned about. I liked children, I loved my children, our new son was, by all reports, handsome and intelligent, why would there be a problem?

As I waited for our paperwork to slowly make it way through the layers of bureaucracy, I continued to read about adoption and read accounts of other's adoption experiences. Most of these accounts were of the 'hearts and butterflies' variety...the new parents fell instantaneously in love with their new child, and aside from a few bumps here and there, life seemed to be heading to happily ever afterward. While I certainly didn't go looking for the hard stories, they were not easy to just come across either. From what I knew as we headed out on our first adoption journey, parents fall in love with children, but children may take a while to fall in love with parents.

This all goes to explain why I was completely blindsided by what actually happened. Not only did I not fall instantaneously in love with my new son, his difficult transition made it very difficult for me to even like him. And because I didn't know that parents can have as much difficulty attaching to children, I also had a heaping dose of guilt and failure to go along with these incredibly unexpected feelings. We all made it through those traumatic first weeks, though I'm convinced it was solely through God's grace that we did so, and back on home soil, TM and I began a dance together that would eventually make us truly mother and son.

My first inkling that what I was experiencing was more normal than anyone let on was coming across an essay by Melissa Fay Green, where she described her first experience with adoption. Finally, someone who described what I had been feeling! Perhaps there wasn't something wrong with me. I have since had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Green and was able to thank her for her life-saving essay. My autographed copy is not something I'll be parting with. As I began to mention my difficulties with this part of adoption, I slowly began to hear other's difficult journeys which all began to sound remarkably similar. The theme running through all of them was the burning, gut wrenching question of, "Will I ever love this child as they deserve to be loved?"

In the beginning of my relationship with TM, I was convinced that it was his attachment which needed all the work. If I could just get him to the right place, then I would be able to fall in love with him. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it took me a very long time to realize that focusing on my attachment to him was just as important. As I look back over the past few years, I am struck by how much emotion follows action. The more I behaved as though I loved TM, the more love I was able to actually feel. I needed to hug and kiss him, play games with him, smile at him, and think positive thoughts about him just as much as he needed me to do those things. Even today, I must be vigilant to be sure we both experience positive interactions...it is too easy to fall into old patterns.

So, if these experiences are actually quite common, why don't we, as an adoption community talk about it more and more openly? I notice on blogs and message boards, that it is not a subject commonly talked about, but if someone asks a question about it (and often that someone is feeling horrible and ashamed because of their feelings), the flood gates open and story after story comes out about how it wasn't all rainbows and happy trees at first. Let's cut to the chase. It can be hard to learn to love a child you have adopted, especially one that is past babyhood. It takes time. And by time, I don't mean a few weeks or even a few months. I'm talking years. I think we get impatient and expect everything to fall into place right away, but how often does that happen with anything?

If you're wondering how TM and I are doing these days, I can honestly say we're doing well. There are still times we butt heads, but perhaps because in many ways we are remarkably similar. For better or worse, I think TM is as stubborn as I am, and it's not always pretty. But I love him...really, truly love him...stubbornness and all. A few months ago I had a dream which was very telling. In my dream I discovered that we were merely TM's foster family and that in a few days he would be leaving to join his adoptive family. I was devastated. I couldn't figure out how this could happen. I thought I was going to get to see him grow up and always be a part of our family. It was one of those dreams where I cried and cried; the kind that are a relief to wake from. It was a great relief to wake from this particular dream, both to know that it wasn't real and to know that I had finally found a permanent place in my heart for this little boy.

14 comments:

Heidi said...

Very insightful. I had the opposite experience. I was prepared to not fall in love instantly, and while it wasn't "instant," it happened really fast. I guess I'm a pessimist who prepares for the worst! But also I had read honest accounts, like this one, to prepare me. Who knows--it could happen with our next child. Thanks for your honesty.

His Hands His Feet Today said...

Excellent post! I think I'm going to link to it :)
Love,
K

Dana said...

Thanks for posting this!! We are foster parents, and one of the child we foster we are adopting, and most days I do really love her, but there are days I dont like her and even times when I think about sending her away. I think that is becuase we are still falling in love. We are still bonding and attachting!! The other 2 we have, we have only had a very short time and Im still feeling so fake when I hug them. I do beleive I love them, in a way... becuase our hearts have longed for them for so long! But I havent expeirienced that instant love thing with any of our foster kids... but I have grown to love each and everyone of them in their own way.

mrsbroccoliguy said...

Thank you for talking about this, again. It was your posts that helped me to know what I was going through with my son wasn't horrible or abnormal... though the guilt feelings were/are still there.

"Even today, I must be vigilant to be sure we both experience positive interactions...it is too easy to fall into old patterns."

This is SO true. And a very good reminder to me. I do fall into old patterns too easily, get annoyed too quickly, forget to just stop and cuddle because now he's 6 1/2 and doesn't seem to "need" it so much.

Thanks again, for putting yourself out there. I know how hard that is to do.

Jena said...

Great Great post, I too had the same experience, even though our son was adopted at 7 months, it took me a long time to attach to him.
Thank you for writing about this

Anonymous said...

Thank you for you being honest. My husband had a really hard time when we brought one of our sons home. This was our second adoption (the first was great)so we didn't expect this. He hated our son. He even told me to call the caseworker and send him back. Our case worker (very wise woman) said she wouldn't take him and with counseling and patience he has come to love our son.

Because of the difficulty with my husband, I didn't really learn to love our son either so actually I am still dealing with it. It does help that my son now comes to me and wants me to touch him and hug him. It has taken 3 years to get to this point. And, you are right, it is sooo easy to fall back into old ways of interacting. Sometimes the loving feelings aren't there so then you "fake it til you make it".

LawMommy said...

Thank you for talking about this. You and I had a similarly difficult time adjusting, and I was also blind-sided by how hard it was. I think it is important that we keep talking about this, especially now, when so many people are moving from China's non-special needs program into the waiting child program, where children are more likely to be older...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This post is needed more than you know. I am struggling now with 2 children (1 more than the other) we adopted a year ago. I had wondered if it was because I have biological children and then adopted older children? I fake it and fake it, but it still has not happened. I was feeling very guilty and alone until I read this post. It has been very hard for me. I will keep trying and faking until those feelings come. Thanks again!

Joanne said...

Hi E, Could I copy this and post it to an adoptive families group I belong to? rruuttaabbaaggaa72@yahoo.com
Thanks! J

Helping Africa said...

Will you pray for this little boy who lost his home, (a one room mud hut ) in a storm
He needs lots of help and prayer. http://helpbosco.blogspot.com

sandwichinwi said...

Yep, BTDT, still working on it, although, I'm in the place you are--I love him now, but it's easy--oh, so easy! to fall back into old patterns.

Lots of faking, taking a deep breath, and sacrificing your real wants for what he needs.

Thank you for speaking up.

Blessings,
sandwich

Stevens Family said...

Wonderful post! I blogged about this shortly after bringing home Autumn and I was reluctant to talk about it but when I did, like you said, the flood gates opened. So many people responded with similar experiences. Love grows.

PhoWises said...

E, Matt and I went to AZ for a week in October. It was the first time I was away from Maya that I actually missed her instead of feeling relieved to get a break from her. You are right, it has taken me over a year.

thesleepyknitter said...

Thank you for this post! I know it's an "old" one, but I'm just now finding it. We have one adopted from Taiwan and a second one coming home from the same orphanage in about six weeks. He'll be nine months, and he is, in the very loving, Godly, orphanage director's words, "quite a handful." In fact, she almost didn't offer him to us because she was concerned that I couldn't handle him, but I had been telling God that I would take any baby, any gender, any problems, so when the referral came, we accepted. Now I'm terrified that I will have troubles loving this little man. I have been planning to do exactly what you said in this post, "practice" loving him, but I guess I'm afraid it will always be practice. I think your dream was reassuring to me, somehow. Thank you!

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