Thursday, March 2, 2017

Surprised by Attachment: Time

Today I’m beginning a series called “Surprised by Attachment.” The only reason this subject is becoming a series is because I’ve had way too many failures (or, “learning opportunities”) to fit them into one post. It isn’t my intention to make this a weekly series or anything because you know I don’t really have my stuff together enough for that.




When we began our two-day journey home with our two new sons, limbs were flailing and voices were screaming. Within an hour, my seat had been violently kicked one too many times and shoes had been removed from the terrified offender. By hour three, we had already stopped to use the bathroom no less than sixteen times- only three of them yielding any evidence the stop had been necessary in the first place- yet all accompanied by dramatic potty dances until the confused moment of truth arrived. By hour six we had resigned to the fact that our entire trip was going to move to the rhythm of the question, “Us going on field trip?,” repeated every forty seconds by one of our sons.


I now realize the behavior that was (at the time) driving me quickly out-of-my-mind was a manifestation of my sons’ anxiety rooted in their early childhood trauma.


Prior to that enlightening road trip, I was adhering to a set of ideals that I knew were going to transform me into a super-mom to my sons who were coming home as older children.


With my ideals, attachment would be a breeze.


So I thought.


My first ideal was this:  What children need to attach to their caregiver is time. Spending every moment with our children would result in securely attached children.


And because my best attempts to sign our children up for our public school lottery had already failed, I planned to bring my children home and spend time with them. All day. Everyday.


...Until about an hour into our drive home, when I began frantically making calls to our school district because I knew my son had to go to school the following Monday. [In my (and in my son’s) dreams!)]


Slowly, in the years since our drive home, I’ve been processing the relationship between time and attachment in older child adoption. In the beginning of our relationship, I ignorantly believed my child’s behavior was communicating a hatred for me and an unwillingness to attach. Slowly I came to the realization that my child was threatened by me because he had no reason to believe a mother could be trustworthy or capable. He acted the way he did around me because he was facing his worst fear every time he was in my presence.


Eventually I even began to realize that I, in the face of my child’s behavior, was also living in a state of fear and stress.


I had to let go of my ideal. So, I began to simplify the situation for myself and here's what I came up with:


  1. I need to do everything in my power to lower my child’s stress level so we build a solid relationship and enjoy attachment even if that means what my child needs most is predictable breaks from me, and


  1. I need to do everything in my power to lower my own stress level so my child and I can build a solid relationship and enjoy attachment (while managing my child’s needs first- which is no small feat) even if that means what I need most is predictable breaks from my child.


Every family is different and every child has unique needs. Attachment comes quickly for some families adopting older children. For other children who haven’t yet known safe adults outside of school or group living situations, small opportunities to build trust with caregivers could be key.


Getting long, predictable breaks for children to process their decision to trust a parent for the first time in their lives could also be key.


I always have to remember, it isn’t my child’s responsibility to attach to me. And it isn’t my responsibility to try to force attachment in my relationship with my child.


It’s my responsibility to lead the attachment process by being trustworthy to my specific child. In my experience that’s meant limiting our parent/child interactions and focusing on how to make the limited interactions we have safe and fun- for both of us- and then growing from there.


I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences!

We can connect here or on Facebook.



13 comments :

  1. Somehow, your post come to me with just the message I need at just the right time. I think you're spot on, and I think even when you know what to do, it can still be really hard.

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    1. It's so true, Lori. The most challenging part for me is learning not to take intense parts of this journey personally.

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  2. Great post. It is hard to keep one's spirits up and not take the process personally. (It's not us, rather the mother figure they fear. When they first arrive they do not even know us.) Ironic isn't it that we often offer similar advice to adoptees (to not take being placed for adoption personally because it was adult problems that drove the decision, had nothing to do with them personally etc.) Truth is, rejection feels personal. Very personal. What is it that keeps the fire of hope burning? I believe that healing and mutual attachment grows from that fragile, intangible. Few people understand the magnitude of the commitment. Got to live it to understand it.

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    1. Exactly!

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Gayle.

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  3. This is great insight. I suggested early on to a counselor that I might homeschool my oldest/one with most attachment issues. She looked at me and very plainly told me that was not a good idea! haha! And her reasoning was in line with yours. They NEED those scheduled breaks from us. My son's been doing much better this year in all day kindergarten (as opposed to the last 2 years in morning only preschool). And guess what? It's better for me too. Because like you, and the others that have commented, said... even though we shouldn't take it personally - we do some times. It's natural. I told my husband how much harder my oldest's tantrums are for me because he makes them personal! My youngest falls apart or throws fits but it's not directed at me. My oldest knows that making it personal hurts me the most, so that's what he goes for. Sigh. I agree they need predictable times with us that will be safe and fun.... sometimes it's hard for me to do that because of his behaviors earlier in the day. Any tips for letting it go and truly enjoying time with the one who's so pointedly been digging at you all day?

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    1. Where in the world did you find such an excellent counselor, Brittney?!? I'm so happy for you and slightly envious.

      You have great insight- understanding why one (seemingly equal) action is more hurtful or just generally a heavier load to carry is helpful to process.

      Tips on letting go, goodness! I wish I had wisdom for you. Finding ways to help my kids do the best they can so we don't have friction all day has helped the most, but I'll be honest, it's taken me years. Finding ways for us to enjoy our own space while only fifteen feet from each other has also been helpful. But, I'm not currently getting the predictable breaks I need to be the best mom to my children so I can't share a perfect solution.

      Best to you, friend!

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  4. Again, Dear One, you have touched the hearts of so many with the truth- and hope- of your words. As Spring Break erupts around me, I am re-learning Grace from you. Thank you for this timely blog! Well done...

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    1. Thanks, friend. If only I could fix Spring Break for you. Ours hasn't yet arrived. And I bet you can relate- I've already been experiencing an overwhelming burden that I have to get summer vacation figured out- just so we can survive. Hugs to you!

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  5. Wow. Here I was feeling guilty and worrying I was doing it all wrong. We are two years into parenting our daughter with attachment issues. This makes perfect sense. My husband's work schedule changes during the winter months each year. With him home during the evening lately, things have been going much smoother due to more balance in the attention given to each child. My stress level has gone down dramatically because she is not 24/7 clingy & demanding my attention. But I never thought this in of itself could be promoting attachment. I think my soul just let out a sigh of relief.

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    1. That's beautiful, Martha! I have noticed my husband often has an easier time with one of our children and I think it's because our child has an easier time with my husband than he does with me. My children have never once seemed to fear dad figures. I'm no expert, but it's starting to make some sense. Removing fear lowers stress and a person who is less stressed is better equipped to connect with others. Thanks for connecting!

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  6. Thank you. I am looking forward to learning some more...

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  7. I just came into my room to have a cry and nurse a sore eye that was just shot by a nerf gun. My son just ranted at me for the last hour. He's 9. He's adopted since 3. We were playing a game, the 3 of us (dad too) and he was getting restless, silly talk, then swearing at me. His behaviour escalated to the point where he bombarded me with the nerf gun and hit me in the eye. I don't think he was aiming there and I cried as it hurt. That made him madder. He seems to hate me and says he wishes he didn't have me etc. I just went to me room and cri d. The I read your post. I was ne to him today. I made cookies, and the soup he likes, I offered to play a game. I didn't get angry. It really felt like he wanted to make me mad. I feel,like he will never attach to me. I just needed to share. I'll rbe admthis post again. Probably again after that!

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    1. Hang in there! Thanks for sharing. One of these days I'll write a post on tolerance pertaining to good gifts from mom. One of my children could not handle fun with me or getting good things from me (even food!!!) for a very long time. He now gives me the menu for his birthday dinner- unsolicited, tells me he enjoys my cooking, and likes having fun together. I now truly believe my kids from hard places have never been "ungrateful" or purposefully "disrespectful." They've been survivors and they've felt threatened by me. I truly think it's better-than-okay to take a step back from games together and special treats IF (and only if) my child's behavior is telling me that those things are freaking him out. Hugs to you!!!

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