• “I Feel Like a Beast, but I Don’t Love My Adopted Child”

    Dawn Davenport

    Parental attachment in adoption

    What to do when you don’t love or even like your newly adopted child?

    Please share your thoughts and advice for this new adoptive mom. If you have experienced anything similar, please let her know.

    Dear Dawn, I am a mother of nine children born to me (ages 20 months to 18 years), all homeschooled, and have adopted my husband’s cousin as of 2 months ago. We did not know her prior to this and the adoption moved very quickly once the state determined that her mother would not get her act together. She is 3.5 years old.

    I think she would have an easier time overcoming her attachment issues if I could overcome mine. Everywhere I read, no one has a problem with loving and sympathizing with their adopted child, but I do. I feel like a complete beast. I am civil to her, often affectionate, and try to be fair about her rights in the family, but I am unable to fake expressions of love and do not like how the integration has to be so sudden and total.

    I feel like if I was joining a family I would be quiet and shy and try not to make waves and let people get used to me. Instead I have to treat her like the sister to my children from minute #1 and everyone has to act like she has always been here.

    I don’t want to bore you with the details, especially of how awful I am. She is a normal little girl, but I am choking on what is required of me. I listened to about 24 of your podcasts preparing for the adoption, especially anything about attachment and parenting, but now that I’m living it, it is a lot harder than I imagined. Do you have any resources on how to help adoptive families form the bond.

    Attachment is a Two Way Street

    I am so glad you reached out to us for help. You are wise to realize that attachment is a two way street. Yes, we talk a lot about the child attaching to us, but parents also have to attach to their child.

    You are Not Alone

    The first thing you should know is that you are absolutely not alone. The second thing you should know is that there is help. This whole adoption happened very fast and wasn`t necessarily your choosing. It sounds like there was a need and you stepped in, but you wouldn`t have gone out to seek this opportunity.

    You’re likely struggling with two issues: the rapidity of change and the lack of a real choice. Both are hard to stomach. And let’s face it, you are also adjusting to life with 10 kids, which is no small feat.

    Time is a Blessing

    My first piece of advice is to give yourself time. With a pregnancy, you have 9 months to adjust to the idea of a new child and to fall in love with this child. Even after the birth for many people the process is more growing in love rather than falling in love. It sounds like you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to love this child immediately. Change your expectations to allowing time for you to grow in love with her. Think in terms of 9 -12 months rather than 2 months.

    Growing in Love

    Adopting a 3.5 year old is more like the process of dating than the process of giving birth. When you give birth, the child is helpless and unformed (more or less). A toddler is neither helpless nor unformed. This child has almost certainly experienced trauma and loss. She is grieving and confused and acting accordingly.

    You need to get to know this person just like you got to know your husband when you were first dating. That takes time and effort.

    Growing in love would be enhanced if you can spend some one on one time with her. And yes, I do know how hard this will be with your schedule.You probably don’t have much one on one time with your other kids, but you did have this time when they were infants and you were involved with the day to day feeding and caring for them.

    Be Kind to Yourself

    You need to take very good care of yourself during this initial adjustment period. If there is any way you could get extra help for the next 6 -8 months, I would strongly recommend it. Also, lower your expectations during this adjustment period for your house-keeping and even your homeschooling. One of the blessings of homeschooling is that you have the flexibility to slack off just a bit and then pick up when things settle down.

    Fake It Till You Make It

    While you are growing in love, fake it till you make it. Continue to care and nurture this little being. The very act of caring and nurturing helps with bonding.

    Although what you are experiencing is not terribly uncommon and you are not a beast, I strongly recommend that you find a good adoption therapist to help you through this adjustment period. Call your local DSS office and ask who they have worked with. If a therapist knowledgeable about adoption issues is not available, then just go to a good counselor who can support you through this huge life transition.

    Resources to Help with Attachment

    I don’t want to overwhelm you with resources, but I would suggest finding time to listening to one of our shows on attachment at least 3 times a week. I love to listen to podcasts when I’m vacuuming, gardening, and running. Start with these:

    “I Don’t Have Time for All This Education”

    You may be tempted to say that you don’t have the time to spend doing all this stuff with 10 kids, homeschooling, and life in general. You’re right, you don’t have time, but you and your husband have to work together to create the time. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you, your family, and this child. The time spent now will pay off in spades as she ages.


    Image credit: Melissa Wiese

    16/07/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 25 Comments

    25 Responses to “I Feel Like a Beast, but I Don’t Love My Adopted Child”

    1. Diane says:

      Attaching is a process. It takes time. So. Much. Time. Try to be patient with yourself, understand that it is normal, take breaks if you can, and know that the feelings will come in time. We are 22 months in to our adoptions, and I can finally say the girls feel like my own. Try to rest and give yourself some grace. It’s okay. It really is.

    2. Diane says:

      You are not alone. I’m sharing an entire series about this on my blog. This is so normal and you should feel no shame. You are not alone. I totally understand.
      God bless you.


    3. Susan Sinclair says:

      I’d just like to add that I totally agree with the comments that parent bonding with the child should be raised in the adoption training.

      There was no mention of this in any of the training materials, and I had no idea at all that I would be unable to attach to my child. I was so worried that she wouldn’t attach to us; it didn’t even cross my mind that I would feel love towards her. Thus, no feeling anything toward her really caught me off guard because it was so unexpected. The feeling is so terrible it makes me want to die because I think she’d be better off without me.

    4. Susan Sinclair says:

      We adopted a 3.5 year old nearly 3 years ago and I’ve never felt connected to her. I have been gentle with myself and have feigned affection with her. I simply just don’t like her. Some days are better than others. It mostly feels like I am a servant to a stranger.

      I’ve just come to the conclusion that all I can do is help her as much as I can and accept that the feeling of love may never come. My husband has bonded with her and she has him wrapped around her little finger.

      I think one of the most unpleasant experiences being an adoptive parent is going to birthday parties and having to deal with insensitive comments that put be back in a downward spiral. I know people don’t mean to hurt me, but I really cringe when I hear comments like, “Oh, I’d totally adopt if I couldn’t have my own kids.” It makes me feel as if I chosen something second best. The other comment I hate is, “You must have a really big heart. There’s no way I could love a child that wasn’t my own.” Or the big heart comment frequently gets followed up by, “Raising your own kids is hard enough.”

    5. Abraham Cottrill says:

      You have hit my fear squarely on the head. We are looking at going into the adoption process again. Our first girl came to us when she was 6, and the paperwork is underway. Though the emotional bond has been long completed, it was a bit rough at the beginning. We also had a 17 year old boy come as what we thought was a permanent foster placement. That placement broke due to safety concerns. Now we are looking again, and have been presented with a 16 year old boy. I thought I was up for this. What i am finding is alot of fear and anger, and mostly concern about me not bonding, or it ending up being just another foster placement for this boy. And I feel like a beast for having these concerns.

    6. Megan says:

      Having not been in the same situation I cannot pretend to know what it’s like, but I do know that in the infertility world in general (and in pregnancy and post-pregnancy worlds too, I find), people are only just starting to open up about “what really happens” and I think that opening-up is SO important. It makes such a difference when you find that you’re not alone and that you can actually hear how other women are getting through it – and hopefully some of that guilt goes away too!

    7. Hope says:

      As a bio mom and an adoptive mom, I can tell you bonding can be challenging for either /both. I actually had more issues bonding with my bio than with my adopted. It is work and doesn’t just happen. I think the response was great. Though like another poster mentioned, the statement about “if I were joining a family…” is concerning. First that’s not really an appropriate expectation for a child, or anyone coming from trauma of who knows what. Plus I think it is unfair to think any one person mighty respond in the same way that you or anyone else would.

    8. Teresa says:

      I am so glad to see this post. I hear that this is a common occurrence but there really aren’t that many resources out there for this. I have really struggled to attach to my adopted children even though they very quickly attached to me. And since we have biological children too, it is hard not to compare myself and even harder when I know they can tell the difference. Parenting my bio toddler and infant in front of older adopted kids who never received the care and affection they needed is very hard. And they want that kind of attention/affection now and trying to fake it with older kids–very hard. I have sought therapy but I couldn’t find a therapist that had dealt with this, so I chose one that works with adopted/foster kids. I have sunk into a pretty heavy depression and feel like we have completely ruined our lives. We have very, very little outside help or support. With five kids, I would be a tired momma anyway, this just seems to make it 10 times harder. In theory, I know we did the right thing but day to day, it is a constant struggle.

      • Teresa, I’m sorry you are struggling and glad the blog gave you some comfort. I’m even more glad that you are in counseling. You didn’t say how long ago you adopted. It takes time to bond and attach in adoption for both kids and parents. In addition to counseling, I strongly recommend you do some reading and/or listening. We list some great books on attachment in adoption . We have interviewed most of the authors, plus lots more, on the Creating a Family show on this topic as well as on the topic of parental attachment. You can listen while you cook dinner or vacuum or whatever. You can find those shows listed on our Attachment Resource page.

    9. Angela says:

      I’ll be short and sweet. What your feeling is expected and okay. Don’t beat yourself up, assuming you’re not capable of bonding with her.
      Plan on 1-2 years to develop attachment and bonding for each year she was not in your care. Counseling for yourself is not a bad idea but may be premature.
      Resources to consider. http://www.empoweredtoconnect.org
      Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray
      Becoming A Family by Lark Eshleman
      I Love You Rituals by Becky Bailey
      As you get into doing some of the attachment activities and she responds to them, your brain will release neuro-chemicals that reward you with pleasure. That’s the biological magic :-)

    10. marilynn says:

      A lot of the families I reunite are parents who lost their kids in CPS actions where the parents fought and lost and had their rights terminated like I’m guessing your husband’s Aunt or Uncle must have.

      You guys did the right thing to keep her in the family of course. You buckled down and prevented her from being adopted out to another family. You are good people. Why do you have to go whole hog and treat her like she’s a sister to your kid’s when she’s their 1st cousin 1r? Would it take pressure off you, your husband and your kids to just treat the situation and her as who she is which is a cousin that you have parental responsibility for? Yes they will be raised as if they are siblings but they are not. You’ll rear her the way a mother would but your not her mother and they are not her siblings your all cousins and your family and you’re in charge and everything will be fine.

      If God forbid something tragic happened to you and your husband where would all your kids go? Could they become wards of the court? Wouldn’t you want some members of your family to step forward and raise your kids for you? Would you want that aunt or cousin calling themselves your children’s parents, just because they were raising them? They’re your family, they have their titles and rolls already doing a different job and more work just makes them more awesome and wonderful but it won’t take away your parenthood (other than legal parental authority).

      It’s so cool what you did and she may really love growing up surrounded by all her cousins in a big family home. You did the right thing and this way she’s got a shot at having a relationship with her parents if they ever pull it together and think how much less threatened you are by her absent parents than someone who adopted with the goal of becoming a mother. Seriously you are the perfect person to adopt because you are not doing it to become a mother or get a child your doing it because that child has a need and so does his cousin and your doing it to keep a family in crisis from being separated forever.

      Don’t beat yourself up maybe you just need to look at the same situation differently cause what you did is beautiful and YOU are going to teach her how family should have each other’s back when things go haywire. You are a very good roll model. Don’t worry. Most people who relative adopt I have met don’t go trying to say their kinship changed because of that. They don’t call grandma mom, not that I have met.

    11. Anon AP says:

      I think this speaks to a continued need to improve and expand PAP education. Difficulty attaching – especially to 3 year olds, who are not known for a degree of passivity and compliance – is absolutely something known “out there”. It would be great if people were both introduced to the idea that this could be an issue and pointed in the direction of good resources before the need for help arises. It’s sad that the mother is feeling so strained and guilty right now, and I sincerely hope that good therapy, adjusting expectations, and time will help everyone involved.

      One thing that I can imagine being tricky is a fear of disruption if one asks for help. In the post-placement visit period, it’s the ideal time to ask for help, but I think there’s sometimes a temptation to show a strong, got-it-together face to the social worker during follow-up visits. What a loss of an opportunity to talk to a knowledgeable person and get help.

      Good luck to you and your family, letter writer. I hope you can find a solution that brings you all peace.

      • AnonAP, you are preaching to the choir on the need for pre-adoption education. Education, both pre and post adoption, is my life’s work. I have found that it isn’t unusual for education to be lacking in kinship placements–after all, the child is a relative, so what education can be needed–right?!? ARGHH!

        The good news is that this mama found a safe place to share and a place with lots of education. I pray that the experts interviewed on the radio show/podcasts are speaking to her heart and she and her family are starting the healing process. It is not at all too late. (I’m becoming an even bigger believer in post adoption education! :-))

    12. Cory Hodgerson says:

      It’s been 2 months. Change your expectations. You are putting way too much responsibility on a 3.5 yr old to fit into an overwhelmingly large family. That has to be intimidating for a toddler. Try to spend one on one time with her.

    13. Ginta says:

      I am in the same boat- a month away from finalizing first adoption of a child I am struggling to love. Through talking to other adoptive parents and reading Creating a Family Facebook posts I came to realize that it is a very common struggle for adoptive parents. Before this child came to into our lives I was so passionate about the idea of adoption, I envisioned how I would snuggle poor neglected orphan in my arms all day long. In reality I dread the time when she gets home from school and look forward sending her off to a week long summer camp. I feel like a monster, but I know I am not one. Because of the same experience adoptive parents have shared with me I have a lot of hope for the future. If I though I was the only one feeling this way, this adoption would have been disrupted a long time ago. It’s been a year with her in our house now and I am starting to have tiny moments of affection toward her. I believe this will continue to increase with time, but right now I feel your pain!

    14. Melanie says:

      It is hard not to compare, but there is always adjustments when new family members are added, via marriage, birth, or adoption. You are not alone. Post-partum in adoption is just as real as post-partum in giving birth.

    15. You are right on Dawn with your advice. My one son and I did not bond right away and it was hard. I had a biological son already and once the new boys came it was hard to get attached. I knew I didn’t want these boys to stay in the orphanage but falling in love with them once they came home and the chaos started was not as spontaneous as I had thought and I did go through a time of feeling nothing but guilt.
      I did work out in the end with a lot of help and support from friends giving me creative ways of dealing with things. Support is so important as is unity between you and your husband. My experience led me to write a book called “From Half to Whole” and it is about our journey and how we survived. there wasn’t always love in the air! Good luck I wish you well.

    16. anon says:

      I’d add that personally, I’ve found that adding to the family via adoption and birth are just different – please refrain from trying to compare the two. You might not have the same relationship with your adopted child as your biological ones, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have something good nonetheless. It took me a looong time to come to a good place with my adopted child on this. I tried therapy, research, etc, but the bottom line is that you feel what you feel, and there’s no magic fix for this, only time. I’m always glad to see this discussed, because it seems rather taboo in adoption circles, and I always feel isolated and judged by it.I hope this person finds some support to get through this tough time.

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