Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Story of Attachment-Part IV


If you haven't read "The Story Attachment I, II, or III, or V" you can click on the following links.
"The Story of Attachment-Part I"
"The Story of Attachment-Part II"
"The Story of Attachment-Part III"
"The Story of Attachment-Part V"

At times we faced misconceptions about the reality of attachment. No one has tried to be ugly in ANY way, but when attachment issues haven't been faced personally, there is no reason for the understanding to just automatically be there.

Common Misconceptions:
1. They will get over it. If you just treat them like you do a biological child, eventually they will trust you to come back.
2. Your being overprotective by not leaving them in a nursery situation, in an area with a lot of children, OR at all. They need to figure out what their world entails and they are just manipulating you by crying.
It's actually a "no" to both of the first two and often it's exactly the opposite. At times unattached children will just assume they have been left for good and are pleasantly surprise that you came back. The crying is actually a good sign when you leave (a sign of attachment) and a lack of crying can be a bad sign and a sign they are not attached. Those who may not have a reason to understand attachment may think the lack of crying means your child is totally secure in your love. Often it means just the opposite, that they aren't attached. They aren't bothered by the fact that you are leaving.
3. It won't hurt them for me to hold them. You are around them all the time and they KNOW they belong to you.
Sadly, often they have felt they "belonged" to many (depending the situation) and may take a long time and a lot of work to feel like they belong to you. When it bothers them that you are handing them to someone else (even occasionally)...this is a very good sign. We need to be their anchor in an unknown world. If they don't care if we hand them around (after what many have been through) that is more of a concern.
4. They look happy and well adjusted, therefore they ARE happy and well adjusted.
No, this CAN (though of course not always) just mean that they are not attached YET and are not bothered by your leaving or handing them over. It does not mean they are well adjusted, just that they may have no clue what well adjusted is.

All these things are just possibilities. Some children have IMMEDIATE attachment and honestly, that's what we are praying for when the twins come home. We know the reality though, we know that a child going immediately to someone new without being concerned...well, can be concerning. You see, we've been through it before and though (in the long run) our transitions have been easier than many. It was still rough at times. We think it's important to share the reality AND the rewards.

It was 2003 when Max came home from Russia. He was a beautiful little boy, that was used to the neglect he received (See "A Adoption Story-Max (Russia)"). He was underweight and extremely neglected. He had never been outside and most of his life was spent ignored in a giant wooden play pen with 10 other little ones. He didn't even have a chance to attach to friends because he was moved to the next "group" as he increased in age.

We read the books. We went to the seminars, yet when we look back we find we only recognized about half of the issues that were happening. He seemed to attach to us instantly. He recognized us as his security and cried if we left him, looked us in the eyes, and seemed to know we were his parents. We thought that would be it. That was not reality. Yes, he had started to attach, but other issues started cropping up.

Though we had some food issues, one of the biggest issues we saw was sensory related. It wasn't the fact that he hated touch, but EVERYTHING overstimulated him. A trip to the grocery story would bring about biting, hitting, and kicking. Too many people brought about high anxiety (even when we got past the biting, hitting, and kicking). He then started challenging us. We honestly didn't recognize this for what it was. He was seeing if he could drive us away. He had not completed attachment. There was a part of him (we believe) that didn't think we would stay and not abandon him.

Yes, at 13 months people generally attribute things such as this to the toddler years. I am the first to say, "Don't blame everything on the situation they came from." Yet, this was (what we now see) an issue from Max's year without us.

If it could go down the toilet, it did. If it could be challenged, it was. There was no saying, "NO!" on his part. There was just defiance in the actions. It was not easy. We love and loved this little guy, but it did bring a level of frustration that we hadn't seen before. Let's be honest. He instantly was/is 100% our son (as all our children), but training a child to trust you, to be loved, while you are facing open defiance is a challenge. We look at our little ones and our hearts melt, yet they are coming from hurt and getting past the wall of hurt and neglect can take a (obviously not literal) sledge hammer at times. It can be painful, but very worth it.

Max is now almost eight. He has a smile and a gleam that we just LOVE. We didn't do as intense "attachment work" with Max and did struggle longer because of it (about a year). Yet, he did come through and survived our mistakes and the hurt of his past BEAUTIFULLY. He is amazing and we are so thankful he is our son (and always have been).

Bekah came home from Ethiopia in 2007 at 15 months. She had spent the first year of her life with her biological family. In the small orphanage she was at, she was a favorite. Her feet hardly touched the ground. When our oldest son and I traveled to Ethiopia to bring her home, she wanted the nannies...not us much of the time. This was a good thing though. She was attached to her nannies, thus she knew how to attach (See "A Adoption Story-Bekah")

Once we arrived home, the challenge became obvious. My poor husband....

She decided to trust in me. She decided to attach to me. She decided to do everything she could to not attach to her daddy. If I was in the room, she would play with him. If I left the room for a MUCH needed nap, she would go catatonic and not respond to anything. You see, I had become her anchor in Ethiopia and when I went away (nap) he was the one that "made" me leave. In public, she still acted like she was "shopping" for a daddy, while keeping an eye on me. This is where attachment work was VERY necessary. My husband took over ALL baths. He tried to do all the feeding he could, while still working to support the family. It was rough. My husband handled it well, but occasionally it would hurt. How could it not? He had understood, this time, the possibility of this happening and expected it. Yet it took six months to START getting past this. A light bulb seemed to go on at about six months. She began to run to her daddy when he came home to give him a hug.

Then the moment came. The moment when we knew she had finally attached. All the kids LOVED to go to the store or "out" with daddy. They take turns, loving their alone time with him. One day Bekah FINALLY decided that it was her turn to go with her daddy. When those arms came up and she pointed to the door, BOTH my and my husbands eyes filled with tears...before he turned and walked out the door with our sweet Bekah.

Bekah's favorite necklace (at four) is now her "Daddy's Girl" necklace.

It does and will happen. It is worth the rough journey. Attachment is a wonderful, sometimes hard, exciting, painful at times, lovely journey. The work we do with and for our kids is worth it. If you will be facing it in the future or are facing it now. Don't give up. If you need help, get it. There is nothing wrong with asking for help.

Just know you are working for the Master Carpenter, God. You are rebuilding foundations that need a little more work and have some voids. You are helping create a happier and healthier child and family.

As I've said before, "God just leads us to our children, and we bring them home."

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

Stay Tuned for our final installment of this series. A short blog on a very touchy subject.


  1. This is really so informative. While I'm not a parent yet, I will remember these issues about attachment should my husband and I adopt. Thank you for these posts.

  2. Kat, thanks so much for sharing your insight on attachment. Such wisdom since you have lived this firsthand. I know your advice will be an encouragement for any new adoptive parents wondering if things will get any easier. (Thus, I'll be printing your posts and passing them along to friends.)

    I'm praying that the bonding process will be easy with Rachel and Gabe from the very beginning.

    Much Love,

  3. i just wanted to say thank you for writing on this subject! It has been so informative and I've been printing them out and holding on to them until the day comes when we travel to our kids.


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