Attachment happens naturally with a bio child. They are helpless at birth. They are completely dependent on others to feed them, bathe them, change them, carry them, comfort them etc… I think God designed babies to come out as little, tiny and helpless bundles so that the family bond would form naturally. It happens to a large degree by default. Of course, we should consciously and intentionally spend time to nurture this bond, to cherish our children and help them to mature and grow in positive ways.
Sara and I are to some degree, experienced parents. While we have yet to reach the teen years, (6 months left!) we do have a 12 year old, 10 year old and 6 year old. All three of these children are clearly bonded to us. They are very accepting of their extended families, church family and our large group of friends, but all three definitely know who their family members are, and who is there to care for, comfort and guide them.
What Sara and I do NOT have experience at is something that we will be doing within the next week, and that is fostering attachment and bonding in a child that has spent the first few months and years in an orphanage and/or foster care. For children in an orphanage, attachment no longer happens by default. Their world has been completely turned upside down. They do not understand the concept of family. They have had a rotation of caregivers and they don’t know who to turn to when they are hurting, hungry or sad.
If a child has been in foster care (as Li Lin has) she may have formed attachments. We hope that Li Lin has. As she was lovingly cared for, fed, bathed and clothed by her foster-family, she would have learned to some extent what a family is and how to bond. This is a large positive. However, just think how she will feel when all that she has known will be taken from her. The person or people she has come to depend on and to trust will be gone. Instead, she will be placed in the arms of two people that look different, speak a different language, eat different foods, etc… Her whole world will be taken from her. She will need to learn once again to trust. She will need to re-establish who are her primary caregivers, who are the people who will feed her, comfort her, nurse her wounds and help to heal her broken heart.
Throughout our adoption journey thus far, we have been very touched by the very positive responses, the care and interest shown, the many prayers and well-wishes. Many of you are excited and looking forward to seeing, meeting and interacting with the newest little member of our family. We know that many of you can’t wait to take her in your arms and snuggle her and tickle her and smother her with kisses. We appreciate all of you and your interest in her. The thing is, during our first little while home, Sara and I will be just another set of people to Li Lin; easily replaced by yet another pair of arms with a hug or hands with some food. She will need to learn who mama and baba are. She will need to learn who to turn to when she is hurt, when she is sad, when she is hungry, etc. This is the process of bonding and forming attachments. This process does not happen in hours or days, but takes weeks and months (and years).
During the initial time home, we will have a small circle for Li Lin. Sara and I will be providing the care for her. We will bathe, feed, clothe, comfort, put her to bed and just be there for her. We will be the ones to pick her up, to carry her, to cuddle with her. Helping to establish that firm attachment to mom and dad as primary caregiver will enable her to form strong bonds and attachments to others later on in life. As she develops that firm grasp of who her nuclear family is, we will expand her circle and introduce her to our wonderful friends and family. We hope that you understand that you may have to wait a bit longer than you would like to be introduced to our little darling. And we ask that when you do meet her, to let her initiate the interactions. An infant grows up with family and friends around and as they start to notice and recognize faces, those special people are already familiar to them. To a toddler, everyone is a stranger. They must be introduced to the special people in our lives little by little. While you might want to pick her up in your arms, this might only serve to scare her or make her wonder if this is yet another person come to take her away from what she knows.
We look forward to this journey, though we do recognize that there are likely to be challenges. We hope that you understand our position and while you may not agree with our actions and decisions, we are doing what is best for Li Lin, both now and in the long term. We are not experts. We haven’t done this before. However, we are relying on the information of experts, what we have learned from courses, books and other parents who have BTDT (been there done that). There is no ‘absolute way’ and we know that every child is different, but there are principles to follow to help Li Lin in her attachment and adjustment to our family. We value your continued prayers and support.
Here are links to two other blog posts that may help you understand more about attachment.
The first blog post presents an interesting perspective. This lady is a psychologist with a therapy practice who also happens to be an adoptive ‘aunt’ – so she knows firsthand the excitement and anticipation of meeting a little one for the first time, but having to hold back on showing affection.
The second blog post first is from an adoptive mother. It is an open letter to family and friends about their son and how they will be interacting with him when they first get home. While not all of this would be applicable to our situation, the vast majority would be.