Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Our Story: Bonding

We are nearly six years into the in writing of our adoption story. Most days that doesn’t seem to be the focus of our lives. We are just like every other family living the daily grind of work, bloody noses, owies, laughter, dishes, brushing doll hair and hanging with friends. The creating of our family took a slightly different recipe: foster-care then adoption. But it affects how we parent, whether consciously or sub-consciously, because how we bond and attach with our children, and how they attach with others, is affected because of their loss.

When my husband and I took our foster care and adoption classes, I didn’t have six years into the future on my radar. For me the feeling of being a mom in six years was like looking into the future when I had graduated high school. I knew eventually I would graduate college and have to be an adult. But that seemed to play out in front of me like a Hollywood movie.  It was something I could visualize, but would never actually act out.  

But here I am. Here we are. We are a family six years after. And we are still attaching and bonding. We are still trying to navigate this road to healing and make a house of love. What has been a conundrum is that the bonding has been harder for me and my daughter than for me and my son. She was older when she became our daughter and I’m sure that is part of it, but gender, I think plays a roll, too. As we have walked this journey, I’ve had to do a lot of educating and re-educating myself beyond the classes and books from the beginning of our journey.

What I want to share are four things that have been a help and comfort to our family when we are in the trenches of working to strengthen attachment and bonding with our kiddos.  These four things keep us sane and keep us loving through the circumstances that sometimes seem to be isolated only to our family.

When we worked to start new attachments where there were none, beginning with trust can be a great option.  In our case, I was able to use the attachment our children had for each other to gain trust.  When Allyson, our daughter, began to trust me to take care of Aaron, her brother and our son, she learned she could trust me to take care of her, too.  She could depend on me and an attachment began to form.  This took small consistent steps in everything I did for them.  It began with having their cups and breakfast ready the minute they woke from bed and nap, to being there to kiss their scratches and bumps, and playing with toys after meal times each day.  While it sounds simple, I can attest that six years into our journey, my daughter still needs that reassurance that Mommy and Daddy are still watching her and that she can know her schedule each day.  She still needs to know that her mealtime and her bedtime will be consistent, that morning time will come and we will be there.  Those first two and a half years without a meal time and an adult who could protect and take care of her made a lasting impact.  She will test my husband and me, so before that testing comes, I MUST set my mind and heart to know that it IS NOT PERSONAL. 

Here we are in our journey about to celebrate SIX years of my children’s journey in our family. But the biggest surprise for me that I feel is (again) not talked about in the adoption books or classes we’ve taken: six years later we are still fixing and working on the attachment, especially with Allyson. Who knew that six years would not be enough to heal not having a parental attachment for over two years from infancy? Most days require me to step back and assess her words, the rules broken, to see if it is typical eight-year-old testing or if it is an attachment testing. Sure we’ve been told about the bonding process taking time.  Realistically could it take years?  Would that feeling in your heart of finally you being the mom or dad and her really being your child take a year? Two? Four? To really solidify? When we shift our thinking about this and open up to the time it could take to heal and enable ourselves to speak openly about the situation with our kiddos, we can freely have the safety to love openly without hurt. We also must know that there is more than just a feeling of being a mom or a dad. That it is being there consistently, time and time again, to kiss the boo-boos and to provide love unconditionally.

The bonding and attachment has been different simply based on gender, geography and genes and how we relate as daughter /mother and son / mother or daughter/father and son/father.  These attachments are taken for granted that first moment when you lay eyes on your child and portrayed in our media as magical moments. But as foster and adoptive parents, we walk in with guarded hearts prepared for loss in a way because of the realities we’ve been educated about. Based on our histories of who we are as an individual, our gender, geography and genetics play into how we will bond as a parent. In the book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open-Adoption by Lori Hold and Crystal Hass, the authors speak about a mind shift in the way we think about adopting.  It is not the birth family versus the adoptive family, whether you are having a closed adoption or an open one.  When we think this way you end up creating a split person in both biology and biography.  I think we can all agree we are striving to create whole little people.  The point the authors make is on being open with our children and encouraging them it is okay to love their biological parents, too. “…we acknowledge that parents are capable of loving multiple children. So why not allow—encourage—children to do the same with multiple parents?”  When we think about it this way, we can allow ourselves to open up in love, too.  Allowing for the attachment to overtake the hurt, neglect and histories that can get in the way. If we allow ourselves to open up this way, we can take out much of the history of ourselves and help heal the history/hurts of our children without taking things personally and allowing the child to open up to attachment and bonding.

Take a step back and prioritize your goals. Are you looking ahead too much at the future?  We all need incremental goals.  We all have hopes and dreams for our children.  Those will change shape and form as their God-given gifts morph and emerge throughout their lifetime, but what about today and living in the moment today?  Add to the mix our relationships with our own parents growing up, and our “parent glasses” we wear become quite foggy when relating to our kids. Taking a step back to notice I can handle this moment right now; that this is all I need to get through is this tiny moment will make the task of bonding seem much easier to take. One moment at a time.

Remember to breathe. Don’t  take it personally. Hopefully you found some encouragement in knowing that it takes time. Six years into our story, we are still tying up all of our attachment strings. Take the time, rethink your goals, step back and look at your history and that of your child and build trust. It is so worth the investment to stay focused.

But above all else, love.   

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