Not so rare

My post where I described the sometimes rocky journey of attaching to my new daughter evidently hit a nerve. I can now say without a doubt that I am not the only one to experience this. In fact, I'm pretty comfortable asserting that my experience is far closer to the norm than the love at first sight adoption fairy tale that everyone imagines to be the norm. And because I think it is so important, I will repeat it again, attaching to a new child, even a child who is thrilled to be in a new family, can be hard. (I'm sorry to sound like a broken record, but the more I write about this, the more I hear from or hear about others who struggle with this. If I have to be a one-woman campaign to say they are not the only ones, then I will.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a parent who struggles with the absence of happy, lovey-dovey feelings. There is nothing to feel ashamed about because this is a normal reaction which many adoptive parents have. Adding guilt to the whole cocktail of emotions that a new parent experiences is not helpful and probably is more than a little hurtful. Guilt and shame can cause even more avoidance toward building a relationship because every time a parent interacts with the child and those warm fuzzy feelings don't appear, guilt and shame are ready to jump into the breach. Trying to avoid feeling these negative emotions often means avoiding the child who is seen as the cause of them.

But the child is not the cause. The child is merely trying to make sense of the sometimes terrifying situation he or she has been thrust into. None of us is at our best when confused and scared. None of us is at our best when thrown into a new situation where we are unsure of the rules. None of us is at our best when trying to communicate in another language, especially one we have no familiarity with at all. These are the things we have to remember every time an annoying behavior repeats itself. We are allowed to help ease the child out of that behavior, but we aren't allowed to act as though the child is doing it on purpose, solely to annoy us.

And this is where the hard part comes in. We are the ones who invited this child into our home... annoying habits and all. We are the ones who have to be the grown-ups, whether we like it or not. This means embracing the idea that love is a lot bigger than how we feel. We need to take it upon ourselves to do the things which are going to help us to love our child. Even if we don't feel like it. Even if the child doesn't respond. Even if it takes more than a few months... or years. It's not easy. It takes a good support system, lots of rest, and the grace of God, but it can be done.

But most importantly of all, there is hope. If you continue to act lovingly toward your child; be careful not to avoid him or her; work to have more positive interactions than negative ones; smile; and get professional help if it is called for, one day you will wake up and see that small person (or not so small as the case may be) come into your room and you will be surprised to find that your heart is flooded with love at their mere presence.

You will make mistakes. You will lose your patience, You will have set backs. But keep trying. Nothing is too hard for God. Ask Him to help you to not harden your heart towards your child, but for you to find how to love him instead.
My relationship with H. continues to grow. I try to be careful to get enough sleep and rest which gives me the patience that I need. One thing I am making myself do is to only have positive thoughts about her... thoughts that dwell on any negatives I try to be quick to shut down and think about something else. Learning to love and attach is sometimes more a battle of the mind than anything else.


LawMommy said…
So...this morning we had a huge setback. HUGE. We had a ragey tantrum the likes of which I haven't seen in...years? I don't even know. For the first time in years I felt like I didn't even know the child raging like a lunatic in my kitchen. My immediate response was the rage right back until we were both sobby, sniffly, wet messes. It was ugly. I was mad at her. She was mad at me. A horrible thing came out of my mouth. ("What is WRONG WITH YOU? I CAN'T EVEN BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND YOU. THIS IS CRAZY. WHY ARE WE HAVING THIS RIDICULOUS FIGHT??") She was laying on the kitchen floor, doing the spastic grasshopper leg rub that has been absent for a very long time. I sat down and put my head on the kitchen table. She kept laying on the floor. I told her to take her lunch box and go outside to wait for the bus. (It was at least 10 minutes til the bus would come, but I truly just wanted her away from me.) She sat up and curled into a ball on the tile and said, "I need you to give me a hug before I leave mommy."

I didn't want to give her a hug. But I walked over and picked her up and she wrapped herself around me like a...a thing that wraps itself around a tree tightly...a lemur? Maybe. Anyway, I hugged her and she said she was sorry and I said I was sorry. We sat down at the table together for a minute. I fed her a piece of toast.

What is my point in sharing this...I don't even know. Sometimes it's still hard. Not usually, but everyone once in a while. are right. "This means embracing the idea that love is a lot bigger than how we feel." It is certainly bigger than how I felt this morning.
thecurryseven said…
Oh, LawMommy, that is so hard! I think it is the helpless feeling I have when watching my child rage that I hate the most.

(The following is my interpretation of what I've read... I'm not an expert!) It seems that around the age of 9, there is a huge developmental jump that happens and can also be the trigger for behaviors that seem to have disappeared. Children of that age who have a trauma history seem to need extra support as they navigate through it. It's actually not surprising that TM is 9 and has reached a point that I have sought out therapy for him. This age seems to be the last great mental organization in order for the brain to be prepared for adolescence. It is also the age that children begin to noticeably fall behind their peers if they have been having academic problems. It seems to kind of a watershed period.

I'm not sure this helps or not but I found the information useful in trying to figure out what was going on with my son.

I'll be praying for both of you.

Anonymous said…
Once again thanks for being willing to share and for being truthful. I agree too many people act like adopting an older child is easy. Then when you talk to them and they are truthful you find out just how hard it is and has been for them. Also I find I can't share any of it with people who have not adopted older children, they just don't get it. My family and friends are always saying things like "oh he's so cute, isn't he cute." Yes he's cute but somedays I don't want to live with him, but I never say it. When he is stressed, even after 3.5 years the old behaviors can still show up, things that are tiresome and hard to deal with. When I see something start and intervene people just don't get what I'm doing and occasionally I say sorry, I can see where this is headed and take him aside or out of the situation. I have stopped pushing us to bond in ways that make one or often both of us uncomfortable. He can sit next to me, he does not have to sit on my lap. A kiss and a hug goodnight and an I love you works fine, with out over doing it. He had a family for almost 5 years, we are not always sure he really gets who we are and why we disrupted his life in ways that can never be changed back. It's not for lack of trying, we just think he would still like to go back to VN, though he has not asked lately. We do the best we can, we love him, we work with him and advocate for him. But it's hard and what we expected is not what happened, it does take years. I try hard to be positive and not avoid him, somedays it's all I can do to be in the same room. I try not to pay too close of attention to everything he says and does becasue he has some behaviors that if we never saw them again we would be very thankful.
As you said we invited him ,we disrupted his life and we owe it to him to do the very best we can and love him for who he is, it's just not always easy.

So thank you once again, you help keep me ontrack.
Evie said…
Charlize Theron was on Ellen today, and she was saying that it took her 2 years to really love her adopted baby. I thought it was neat that she was admitting that without apology.
Joy said…
Thanks for writing about this - I haven't decided whether to tackle the topic on my blog, but this has been so true for me with one of our three in particular. I hoped things would feel a lot different after a year, and it is about the same (some days feels like I have fewer positive feelings toward him than I did initially)...I continue to be hopeful and committed to our future together, but I sure wouldn't mind if things magically changed overnight!
sandwichinwi said…
Oh, my word, yes.

And LawMommy, a big hug to you AND kudos for doing the hard mommy, opposite what you really wanted to do. I hope you can step back and reread what you wrote and find all the positives in that interaction. SHE asked you for a hug. And you gave it. BTDT, but not as well as that.

Hugs all around! (anonymous, too.)

Sandwich, mama to a 9yo rager, too
sandwichinwi said…
E, this is so well-done, I've linked your post on the Holt India board. I think EVERY adoptive parent and all their family and friends ought to read this.

Paula said…
I also had a hard time attaching to my son. He was 13 months when we picked him up. He didn't have a very tough adjustment. He grieved for a day or two and then accepted us. And that is what made me feel even more guilty for not loving him. We had to deal with typical toddler bad behavior, but we didn't have rages, annoying behaviors, or anything else out of the ordinary for his age. I didn't get to blog about it because he was his foster family's first baby. They loved him very much and read the blog every day. I felt too guilty to post about how I felt like a glorified babysitter and have them read that. Also, my sister (who has adopted twice) and my parents just didn't understand. They made me feel like something was very wrong with me. How could I not be totally in love with my child? He is sweet, bright, laid-back, and charming. It took me 6 months to feel like his mother. And it took me even longer to realize that what I went through is not uncommon or wrong. Thank you for sharing.
mom2super6 said…
Still dealing with the same emotions here and I have been trying to love for almost 6 yrs. I too give the hug and the kiss on the cheek with the "I love you" But it is never returned and never a hug given to me unless I ask for one. Annoying behaviors, lying and acting out when I am not around do not help matters either. Guilt is huge. I would love to adopt again but my husband is not wanting to because of this experience and I feel like God would never allow it because I am not loving the one He has given me. Hard emotions to deal with. A lot of praying and spending time in the Bible get me back in the state of mind to trust that He knows my heart.
The hard part is not being able to share with others. I would love to write a book about this "thorn in my side" which keeps me leaning on God every moment but don't want my son to know of this and ruin what relationship there is.
Praying for you all and praying that there is hope even at the 6 yr. mark that the feelings may still come.
Anonymous said…
To: mom2super6 from anonymous

I'm sorry to hear you are still having so much trouble after 6 years, for some reason I always hope more time will help us. This is our second adoption and number 1is such a joy that we thought we could do this again, knowing and trying to prepare for all the worst things but never imagining how hard it would be to bond with him or him with us. I do worry what he is going to be like as an adult, that he will not have the family ties he needs or end up with too many problems. I always feel guilty because after all I am the adult, I should be able to do better. So I just try and try again and hope for the best because I don't know what else to do. I have learned to not say anything much to people who have not adopted an older child. I used to be a big advocate for adoption and I still am, but unless you can really do this well with an older child and be prepared for things to be bad and stay bad. Than go as young as possible and don't believe the "everything is wonderful stories". I think people hide too much and make things look much easier than they really are. I do beleive that some people can do this well with an older child and accept all the issues and move on. For most people that I have met and who really tell the truth, we live with things and do the best we can and unfortunately really question the decision we have made.
Stephanie said…
This is such an important topic! Would you be willing to let us feature this post on "We Are Grafted In"? ( It is a Christian adoption website that seeks to encourage adoptive parents and those considering adoption as well as those with a passion for orphan care and foster care.
If you are willing, I'd just need a brief bio and a picture to use when it is featured so we can direct our readers back to your blog.
Just let me know!
co-administrator of WAGI
smurphy28 @ juno . com

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