Disclaimer: We are not adoption professionals.
We are adoptive parents hoping to help other adoptive parents.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Attachment Disorder: A Parent's Viewpoint

"Any child can be transformed with enough love and consistency." That was something I said while we waited for our court date to bring our son home from Russia. Boy I'd love to travel back in time and smack myself in the back of the head... Here is when I say, "Self.... welcome to reality."

Attachment Disorder is a lot like lightning. I read about it, prepared for it... but deep down I knew our son wouldn't have it. Our wait between meeting our son and traveling for court was exceedingly longer than average (2 years) so when recommended by another adopt-mom, I decided I might as well read "Becoming a Family" by Lark Eshelman. Thank goodness I did...

I had expected a small array of attachment issues, but did not anticipate the destruction it would do on me personally. I never dreamed that such a small child could transform our peaceful family home into a war zone. And yet - there it was. Within the first 12 hours of our nearly 3 year old son stepping foot into our home, he had given our oldest daughter a black eye, and he had hit our other daughter in the back with a ruler. It was fear that caused him to lash out at my daughters when they crowded him with too much love and too many hugs.... fear that I assumed would subside over a few weeks once he realized he was safe. I was wrong.

It was 8 months of pandemonium before we met the right psychologist. She's a local doctor who had focused a lot of her training on attachment. And since I believe God is the Almighty, I don't count it as a coincidence that our meeting with this psychologist happened during our arrival to what some like to call "rock bottom". During that eight months, we were just barely surviving and slowly but surely anger and discontent made itself at home inside me. Our son destroyed his room, peed and pooped in numerous rooms in the house, he was aggressive and full of hate. His presence in our home made me actually consider leaving my husband so that I could stick the boy with him and be free... I would much rather pay monthly child support than deal with him anymore....

Thankfully, while those thoughts of separation were a fantasy, my marriage was strong enough and my husband was secure enough to survive it. We never seriously even considered it - although I'd be lying if I said it didn't (and doesn't still) pop back up and seem like a viable option for my sanity. This boy who called me Mommy, he was only my son on paper. He didn't love me and to be quite honest, I didn't love him. What was happening...???? I assumed that attachment disorder was something we'd have to counsel our son to overcome.... then why did it seem like I was also becoming a roadblock? I didn't even want to try anymore.... and I felt like a monster.

Fast forward another two years and I would love to say that things are all better. That's not the case. But on a quiet day while the kids are in school I am happy to report that I'm able to see the progress. He still struggles with a lot of hurt, a lot of anger. And at this point, I can't help but feel responsible for some of his hurt and anger. During these couple years of just barely surviving, I haven't always had the right response. When he was pushing me away, I was hurt - and I withdrew from him when he just needed me to love him. Most of the time I don't feel strong enough to be his mom.... my brain knows what he needs but my human-ness, my heart, just can't do it sometimes.

Parenting a child with attachment disorder goes against all my natural instincts of parenting my other two. Discipline approaches like Time-Out only reinforce his feelings of being an outsider when he misbehaves, and spanking only creates more anger and aggression. When he lashes out at me, I'm supposed to stay calm and tell him I love him. Some days, I just can't do it. But one thing that our psychologist has said that will probably stick with me forever is that "Being a good parent doesn't mean you do the right thing every time. It's reconciling when you've messed up."

So for my son, every day I try hard to be the mom he needs me to be. Some days I fail, but my desire for him to have love continues and so do my efforts moving forward.

Attachment Disorder is not only about the child. It has a lot to do with what you as an adoptive parent are willing to do for the child. It's a daily decision to pin your heart on your sleeve and risk it getting trampled on - and then starting over and doing the same thing tomorrow. All in the name of love.

One thing I recommend to all adopting parents is to find a good therapist before you ever bring your child home, no matter how old the child will be. Find one that you can talk to, feel comfortable with, and trust. I met quite a few therapists during our 8 months of desperation and they were a waste of my time - and theirs. I knew right away when we found the right one, there is just an unexplainable chemistry with her. Had I known to get one before we needed one, then we wouldn't have had to go through 8 months of floundering before we understood what was going on and how we should handle it.

This morning when my son was getting dressed, I heard him say to himself, "I wish I had a new mommy." Recognizing and understanding Attachment Disorder doesn't make it any more pleasant - but at least I know what I'm battling, and with the perfect amount of love and consistency from God, I can hope for a better tomorrow. For all of us.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Before I adopted, I wish I knew...."

None of us have a crystal ball to see the future. As we are waiting to bring our child home, our minds are flooded with thoughts. What will the child be like? How will I be as a parent? Does it really matter that this child isn't biologically mine? When is the child coming home? What issues will we face as a family once the child is placed in our arms?

No two answers will be the same, of course. But there are many who have been-there-done-that who are willing to share some thoughts here on this blog.

This is not one person's thoughts, but many from people who have already adopted.
  • Biology is never a factor once the child is in your arms. Forever.
  • I never knew parenting was such hard work.
  • I never knew parenting was such a blessing.
  • I knew more about being a parent before I was one.
  • Even though I am a mom now, the thoughts of infertility never really go away.
  • Having this child in my life made the infertile years worth it.
  • You can't spoil an adopted child, meaning - don't let the child cry it out. Meet his or her needs as quickly as you can so that he or she can begin to learn to trust and to count on you to be the person who will meet his or her needs.
  • Having the child bond with the adoptive mother is of upmost importance, even before bonding with the dad. He or she had a biological bond with the birthmom and it is natural for him or her to have that as a primary bond. However, that is who "abandoned" the child so in order to build trust and learn to bond naturally to others, he or she needs to form that bond with his or her adoptive mother first.
  • Skin to skin contact is very important.
  • Join a support group (like yahoo or other forums) of others who can advise you and support you during this time.
  • Don't waste the wait. Wait wisely. Prepare for the child's homecoming. Spend time with your spouse. Read alot of adoption books that will help prepare you. Enjoy the wait instead of wasting it away.
  • Attachment issues are real. Love isn't enough to overcome them. Get the help your child needs. Get yourself the help you need. Find an attachment therapist "just in case".
  • Your social worker is a great resource once the adoption is finalized.
  • You are your child's advocate in school.
  • While you are waiting to adopt, read, read, and read some more. Be familiar with issues your child may face once home and know how to seek help if necessary.
  • Regress your child when they come home. Even if they are older and can dress, feed and bathe themselves, do it for them. You need to teach your child that he or she can depend on you.
  • Have patience with your child. It will take awhile for the child to trust you and to love you. It will be alot of hard work on your part to gain that trust.
  • Do not give time-outs to newly adopted children. Use "time-ins" instead. Place the child on your lap and bear hug the child. Say "I love you" over and over until the child calms down.
  • When you first bring your child home, clear out the bedroom except for the bed. A new home is very overstimulating to begin with - let alone new toys, books, etc. The bedroom should be a quiet place. You can slowly bring toys and things into the room after about 6 months post-placement.
  • Rock your child to sleep even if he or she is "too old" for that. This is a great bonding exercise.
  • Have daily holding time where you are doing nothing but holding your child. You can read books, do a puzzle, etc. but the key is - you are holding the child without distracting that hold.
  • Make eye contact with the child. Sounds simple but sometimes it isn't.
  • Make up catchy "family phrases" to teach the child what a family is. You can use things like "We are together forever!" or "I love you forever!" The words together and forever are very important for the child to hear over and over.
  • Don't forget about your marriage. Yes, alot of energy will go into raising your child. But your marriage should be your first priority.
  • If you adopt an older child, that child may scream at you, try to hit you, and try to push you away during holding time. It's okay. That child is scared. Show unconditional love and teach that child how to love.
  • Go "into hiding" after you adopt your child. Keep visitors to a minimum. This is your initial bonding time, you will never get this time back. This is an important trust-building time.
  • Your child really will be your child.

If you have any more insight, please leave a comment!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Welcome to the Adoption Help blog. We are hoping that this will be a resource to other adoptive families.

While there seems to be an information overload on the internet about adopting, we still found it hard to determine what help we needed during each of the 3 adoption stages. And although we by no means claim to be experts - we have talked with many adoptive parents and professionals to gather helpful information.

While each adoption journey is different, we are hoping that this blog will turn into a resource for adoptive families, where we can all share information in order to help each other on our individual life journeys.

Check back often. Hopefully this blog will be updated frequently with new resources regarding all areas of adoption. And if you have any links or books to add - or if you'd like to post an entry, please leave a comment!
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