Developing Attachment in Kinship Adoption
Q: 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 second 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.
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. I thought there was one with a mother/author who had trouble forming the attachment to her child and cannot figure out, especially with the present set of demands on my time, which podcast it was and who the author was. I am also interested in the resource, if any, about kinship adoption and how to help adoptive families form the bond.
A: I am so glad you reached out to us and to our Creating a Family community 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. 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 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.
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.
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. 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. It also takes scheduling one on one time with her, which I suspect is hard to do with your schedule.
You need to take very good care of yourself during this initial adjustment period. Think in terms of 9 months rather than 2 months. Be kind to yourself. 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.
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. Get Deborah Gray’s book Attaching in Adoption and work through some of the activities with your new daughter. You can involve your other kids to. Also read Toddler Adoption by Mary Hopkins-Best.
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 you 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.
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. 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: Travis Swan