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.

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