Finding Balance with “Cocooning” Newly Adopted Kids

Dawn Davenport

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cocooning and nesting with newly adopted kids- finding the balance

“Cocooning” or “nesting” with newly adopted children has become the holy grail of adoption. Some have cited my book (The Complete Book of International Adoption) as having perpetuated this idea. While I think settling in, simplifying, and focusing care with newly adopted kids is a great idea, I think maybe, just maybe, we may have gone just the tiniest bit overboard.

Cocooning with Newly Adopted Kids

The idea of “nesting” is to simplify life, settle into a routine, and limit the care of the child to the mom and dad. This is especially important when adopting a child past the newborn stage – in other words, when adopting from foster care or internationally. With adoption, the baby/child’s life has been turned topsy-turvy. The idea of cocooning is to allow life to settle down for the child and parents and to firmly cement in the child’s mind who are mom and dad.

The general gist is to hang close to home for a while: simply life, reduce the number of toys and trips away from home, set up a predictable routine. Generally allow time and space to get to know each other, and to allow the child to learn to trust and rely on her parents. It is the first step in establishing attachment.

Cocooning is a great idea and I’m a big proponent, BUT as with all things in life, moderation is the key.

Human Nature Leans to the Extremes

I suspect that the idea of cocooning has teamed up with the general movement of attachment parenting to create this form of attachment parenting on steroids where mom never leaves the house and absolutely no one touches the child other than mom and maybe dad.

My friends, in my opinion not only are these extremes not necessary, they can also be harmful for everyone, including the child. Here are a few examples of what I’ve heard people are doing in the name of cocooning. These people contacted me because these situations were causing problems in their lives.

  • Parents wouldn’t allow grandparents to hold or feed the child for the first six months.
  • Parents not allowing great-grandmother to hold the toddler in the obligatory four-generation photo even though the family had posed every grandchild the exact same way for this photo for generations.
  • Mom whose major stress control was going to the gym stopped going for six months because she didn’t want anyone else to care for the children for even an hour.
  • Families who stop going to church for nine months, even though it was their major social and spiritual support because they didn’t want their 4-year-old child to be exposed to the stimulation or to have people other than them interact with him.

The Number One Thing Parents Can Do For Their Child

No doubt adoption is stressful for the child, but it is also stressful for the parents. It’s not only the child’s life that has been turned upside down. The number one thing you can do for your child is to take care of yourself and take care of your marriage (if married) or primary support relationships (if single).

Yes, it is important to settle in for a while so your child understands the routines of his life and learns to predict them. Yes, it is easy to over stimulate newly adopted kids. But it is also true that you need to do things during this newly adopted period that support you, that give you pleasure, and that allow you to blow off steam. You also need to allow time for just you and your partner to remember why you married each other in the first place and to make each other feel important and cared for outside of your role as mom or dad.

Role of Grandparents

In many ways, I think the biggest distortion of adoption cocooning or nesting is the drawing of the family circle to exclude grandparents. The primary caregivers need to be mom and dad, but that doesn’t mean that grandmom and granddad can’t have a role as well.

Attachment, as we preach all the time, is a two-way street. Children attach to adults by being cared for by them, and adults attach to children by doing the caring. This is true for parents, but it is also true for grandparents. Most of us want very much for our children to have a deep attachment to our parents and vice versa. This attachment is formed with grandparents the exact same way it is formed with parents – through caring, nurturing and snuggling.

Now, if your parents bug the crap out of you, feel free to use cocooning as your excuse to get a break for a couple of months. In fact, go ahead and tell them that the experts suggest one year. However, if you want your child and your parents to bond because you see value in that relationship, then bring them into your cocoon.

Children, even most newly adopted children, are not so easily confused as to who is the primary caregiver. I’d be careful that the main people doing most of the care are mom and dad, but an occasional bottle, diaper, or bath by grandma is good for all concerned. An occasional Saturday night out while grandparent babysit is even better.

Balance

The key is balance. Parents need to be the primary caregivers, but need not be the sole caregivers. Parents need to simplify life and reduce outside commitments, but they also need to continue with the activities that make them feel whole, even if it means they are not with their little cherub 24/7.

Let’s take the case of the mom who contacted me because she felt overwhelmed and depressed. Exercise, and specifically going to the gym, was her main form of stress relief and was a big part of her identity. She had adopted two children (ages 2 and 5) and wanted to do everything in her power to help them attach since they had had a rough start in life. She gave up the gym because she didn’t want to leave them in the gym childcare, couldn’t afford a babysitter during their naptime, and dad was working long hours.

This mom was miserable and was reaching a breaking point. I suggested that her number one thing she could do for her kids was getting herself to the gym at least four times a week. She decided that the only way to do that was to use the gym daycare. She compromised by reducing her usual 1.5-2 hour workout to one hour. Turns out the kids loved getting out of the house and amongst other people as much as she did. She was happier, they were happier, and ultimately I suspect their bonding was enhanced.

Start Slow and Then Decide

At the beginning when your child is first home, simplify and limit childcare to the family. Welcome grandparents into the fold, but don’t let them take over. Pay attention to your child; pay attention to yourself. Adjust slowly depending on how everyone is doing.

Cocooning is great, just don’t go overboard. Did you cocoon/nest after adoption? Did you have a hard time finding a balance?

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Originally published in 2014; Updated in 2017

06/03/2017 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 44 Comments



44 Responses to Finding Balance with “Cocooning” Newly Adopted Kids

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  3. Ellen says:

    As the grandparent of an adopted little boy, I totally have supported my kids choosing to cocoon. My husband and I have done everything we’ve been asked to do since he came home. We didn’t interfere or even contact them the first few weeks, except to text once in a while to ask how they were doing. After he was home for around four weeks, we were asked to go on a walk with them, but to not make eye contact. We could talk to him about what we saw or heard while we walked. The next week we were invited over for dinner with the other set of grandparents, with the same rules. Both visits went great. He warmed up quickly and didn’t seem frightened by other people being around. We then celebrated his birthday with all the grandparents and even some other family members. Last week he even came to my work to visit. Where I work has an indoor playground and he had a blast playing. Later in the week, I texted saying I had a box of clothes for him from another family member. I decided to drop by the house to give them the clothes. That was my mistake. I stayed for maybe 5 minutes. Three days later I received a text telling me I need to let them know when I am coming by so they can talk to him about me coming. Also, I am to ask if I can give him a kiss on the cheek. I’m just hurt and confused about what I can do now.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      How old was this child at adoption? Is this your son’s child or daughter’s child? How was the relationship before the adoption?

      Honestly, it seems to me that the only thing you can do is bide your time. The parents are doing what they think is best, and they are trying hard to attach and settle this little fellow. I suspect this is also playing into their own needs and basic personality traits. Either way, it is their decision. I can offer hope that almost all parents I know eventually welcome grandparents with open arms when they feel firmly attached, unless they are looking for an excuse to create greater distance.

  4. Sofia says:

    Hi…
    THANKS so much for this article. I have been bombarded by other adoptive families about cocooning. (When I admitted I did not know the term everyone assumed I had not done any research!!)
    I would really really appreciate your opinon on this…
    I have a bio son (8) whom I homeschool with a help of a tutor that comes to our house 4 times a week. He has learning transitory challenges, and thus also has home therapy once a week. Since we homeschool, we have sports 4 times a week and a weekly playdate. My son loves going for sports and for playdates, as it is his time to interact with other kids.
    Other families are suggesting that I drop everything for a month or so. Or that I hire someone to drive my son to sports, or arrange for relatives to do so. I really do not see that happening. No relatives have a schedule that would allow them to help. My eldest would resent his brother, or feel sidelined. He thrives when we jump into the swimming pool together, even though I swim in a different class.
    Do you think I could include my new son in some of the activities, or take him with me while we wait for my eldest son’s classes to end? Our new son should be 4-6 (we are on the Chilean waiting list right now).
    Is there anyway we can arrange for a private skype session?
    Thanks so much!!!

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Sofia, this is a great question for our Creating a Family Facebook Support group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/creatingafamily/). I’ll chime in with my thoughts over there. You’ll need to join the group, if you aren’t already a member. It is a closed group, so no one other than group members can see the posts. If you’d rather remain anonymous, let me know (davenport.dawn1 on FB or dawn @ creatingafamily.org) and I’ll post it for you.

      Yes, we can do a private consultation, but I’m not a therapist and I suspect this is the type of question that you’ll benefit from a diversity of opinion.

      If you aren’t already on our weekly email newsletter list, please sign up. [http://creatingafamily.org/subscribe/] It is one of the best ways to stay current on what is happening in the world of adoption. I am so glad you reached out to us.

      • sofia says:

        just saw your answer! I will head right to the FB group!

      • Jena Metropulos says:

        I have this same question today, is it possible to repost in the fb group? Can’t seem to find the post from 2015? Thank you!

        • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

          This is a great question for our Creating a Family Facebook Support group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/creatingafamily/). It’s a topic that has been discussed a lot with varied opinions and ranges of implementation. If you are a part of the group, you can do a search for the previous conversations. You’ll need to join the group, if you aren’t already a member. It is a closed group, so no one other than group members can see the posts. If you would prefer to ask a question about it anonymously, please feel free to submit the question to me at tracy@creatingafamily.org and I am happy to do so.

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  6. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    Karen, it’s always nice to hear when a blog strikes a chord and is helpful!

  7. Karen G Karen G says:

    THanks so much for this topic. Reading up on this as we speak.

  8. Korrie S Korrie S says:

    Routines are great for everyone

  9. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    Korrie, yeah teens and their activities definitely will impact you decisions. It’s still possible to simply your life, even with teens. I think the most important thing to do is establish routines as soon as possible, and that may have an impact on your teens. Talk with them ahead of time so they understand the importance of predictable routines for the new kids coming in.

  10. Korrie S Korrie S says:

    That’s a very helpful blog – if we do adopt from foster care our lives can’t fully stop, as we have already present teens. I very much appreciate this balanced view.

  11. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    [Reading the room] love that! I sometimes tell me teens when they are continuing to push me for something that they need to “read my face”. “Does this look like a face that is going to give in???” My equivalent of “reading the room”.

  12. Tracy W Tracy W says:

    Well, you know me well enough by now to know that I’m not a fan of any extremes. Yes, I believe in cocooning. Yes, I believe it’s a great tool for changing a child’s mind from an understanding of institutional care taking to LIVING and LOVING in a home. But any extreme, any pushing of one particular agenda without gaging the situation, the context, the persons involved, etc. is dangerous and unhealthy. AND in cases of extremes, often unhealthy. The key is being a student of your kids, of your spouse, of your home dynamics before the adoption transition begins. KNOW your family’s identity and groove. Then act, adjust course, and respond accordingly. We call it “reading the room” here 🙂 (when teaching the kids about context clues in relationships, etc.)!

  13. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    Tracy, that’s my point exactly. We’ll never know, but if you had prohibited his holding and cuddling her when she first came home, would they have this special bond. There is a fine line here, b/c we do want children to be recognize and attach to their parents primarily, but we want them also to be able to form that very special relationship with grandmom and granddad.

  14. anon ap says:

    Don’t worry Dawn, I didn’t think you were judging, just wanted to bring up another potential complication/thing to consider.

    The 5 months was not entirely deliberate, it was just the next time they all saw him after the first visit. And definitely the first visit he was not ready to be held by them (we did let them hold him a little bit). Like I said, if they were living in town it would have been different. We let our very close friends into the circle earlier… because they were and are part of his daily life.

    I do know of a family that let their out of town grandparents come very soon after the adoption. They stayed for quite a while, and when they left their son was definitely traumatized, even though I’m quite sure he knew who mom and dad were.

    • anon AP, I also think that I would have gone stark raving crazy if anyone had come to stay for quite a while right after we added a child to our family by birth or adoption! Even if they stayed in a hotel, it is still a disruption to our lives at a time when our lives are already topsy-turvy. The best thing we can do for our family (parents and kids alike) is to start developing routines and having out of town company interferes with getting into a routine.

  15. Von says:

    As an adoptee for 70 years I find the way adoptees today have to be met at the airport and absolutely swamped in stimuli horrendous. By all means protect an adoptee for a time, as long as they need, not as long as you can stand it! And for goodness sake if you hate what your own parents do, be honest, talk it out with them don’t use excuses and especially don’t use the adoptee or adoption as an excuse, that is reprehensible!

  16. Barb, I must admit that I help my breath when I hit publish. 🙂

  17. Barb says:

    Yay! It’s time someone spoke up on this subject-I’ve seen it get ridiculous!

  18. Tracy says:

    Oh my word, yes. She wrapped my big Daddy around her finger within minutes of their meeting and there’s a great bond btw them. More so now that they both have similar hearing loss in the same ear and both wear hearing aides 🙂 So cute. The other grandpa, similar but not as frequent in their contact. And she loves her brothers, dad and uncles. The videos we have of her interacting wtih her foster father in China and then his reactions and responses to meeting Todd last week were SO in line with that. We know now where she learned to love and trust men – so thankful as we know that’s not often the case in the Chinese adoption community where most orphanage workers are female and thus babies often are fearful or avoidant of males for a season.

  19. Tracy, I’ve heard some really touching stories of relationships between kids and grandparents often formed at first meetings where both sides felt special. Does Aidan still have a soft spot for grandpa and he for her?

  20. Tracy says:

    Yeah, we had a bit of that with Aidan at the start but we weighed it against the frequency of contact, the understanding of the grandparents, and the potential for hurt feelings and for the short weekend visits of both girls’ first weeks home, just had to let it go. It was very one sided with Aidan, she only wanted grandpa. Now that Todd has met her foster father and mother (last week in China!), we know why she had such slanted affections for men. It’s been the opposite with Brynna – wanted no one but me, Shayne (big sis) and Daddy, in that order since the plane touched down.

  21. Tracy, good points. I am not saying there is never a situation where you wouldn’t want to prohibit contact with grandparents. For example, I would be worried about the situation with a child who was indiscriminately affectionate with everyone. That is a hard concept for others to understand.

  22. Tracy says:

    To anon ap’s concerns: I get that. I was in a similar situation. It actually worked itself out naturally in the temperament of our already existing relationship with both sets of parents. I didn’t have to say that they couldn’t hold either of the girls, they let the girls adjust and warm up to them on their own. We did have a situation where someone wanted to feed the youngest one for me, after only a day or two home to help me with my jet lag but I declined as she’d already had a rough day and was really resisting my other attempts to care for her. Handing her off to an aunt at that moment would have allowed her to escape my care and I knew it. But Dawn’s suggestions are great ones and the out of town ebb and flow of a relationship like that can be navigated, albeit maybe a little more intentionally than the every day relationships. The educating thing is another whole topic, worthy of its own blog post, eh?! 🙂

  23. anon ap says:

    Hi Dawn,

    Just wanted to point out that the situation is a lot more complicated if the grandparents do not live in town.

    In our case, they are both out of town, and we absolutely had to exclude them from our initial cocoon – this is because our son seeing his grandparents would mean that they would be in our house 24/7 during their visit, then be gone for a long period. I thought it would be just more trauma for him.

    I didn’t think that would be good for him initially, so we didn’t allow them to visit until he had been with us almost 2 mos (he was almost 11 mos at adoption). Because they could not be a regular part of his life, we also limited holding until he was secure with us (~5 mos).

    the grandparents were not always supportive. we had a lot of educating to do.

    If a family is in a situation where the grandparents live closeby, and can be there regularly, it’s a different story. THen you are not forcing your child to become attached to them early on, only to have them disappear.

    anyway, my 2cents

    • anon ap, I hear your concern about attaching and then having grandparents leave. I am not judging you for the decision you made in your case because only you know the people involved and know the temperament of your child. Your child may have been particularly fragile or your parents particularly pushy or your relationship with them so strained that their presence would cause you added stress.

      I can, however, suggest that it is entirely possible to bring grandparents that live away from you into the cocoon and might enhance long term bonding between grandparents and child. A few suggestions for others.
      * Have grandparents stay at a nearby hotel and visit the house and just hand out and enjoy their new grandchild.
      * If even an inexpensive hotel is not financially feasible, grandparents can stay at your house, but allow primary care to be done by parents.

      I would not usually think it would be necessary or even advisable to not allow grandparents to hold and cuddle their grandchild for five months. Most kids are not so easily confused and relish and thrive with all the love they can get.

  24. Lily says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I am researching this topic right now as I explore foster care adoption and it is so to hear you all discuss balance (some of what I’ve been reading is not…let’s say…quite so balanced :-). The comments here help validate my instinct that depends upon each adult and child involved. I also loved what you said about how taking care of ourselves (if we are the primary care giver) is actually a tool for attachment. It reminds me of something I read that really touched me. In Kathleen Whitten’s book, Labor of the Heart, she suggests that self care (eating, sleeping, exercise, etc) is as critical to focus on during the phase of adoption exploration — as it is during pregnancy pregnancy. I don’t want to suggest that this is the same experience, but I did find the metaphor helpful.

  25. Michelle says:

    Thank you for posting Dawn! This is exactly what I needed to hear. I feel like this is a much more realistic approach for our family. Especially the part about the grandparents. My mom says this is the longest she has had to wait for a grandchild lol! I and she were afraid how cocooning would work to include her, but we wanted to do what was best for him. You have no idea how much relief this article has given me this morning 🙂

  26. Tamara says:

    With my oldest, who came home at 2, there was no cocooning. As a single adoptive mom, I spent two weeks in country with her and me and no one else doing the care giving. By the time we got home, I was exhausted (no sleep for 36 hours due to travel) and sick (developed serious sinus infection). I needed help and I needed it NOW! My mom spent the first few nights with us so that I could get sleep and go to the doctor. My daughter still wanted me around and insisted on sleeping with me like she had done before. She had no problem. I also made the mistake of jumping back into life and bringing her along. The second day she was home, we went to a parade as I had several family members in it. She loved it. We went to the park, we went to barbecues, people stopped by. It was mid-August, so everyone was outside and social. It worked for us. I also made sure that she was comfortable with the family member who was going to be babysitting when I went back to work in 6 weeks.

    With my second, who came home at almost 4, it was January and a snowstorm hit the day of our return, so cocooning happened more naturally. We spent more time at home and it was just the two of us much to her dismay as she did not like me very much then. Her sister was around after school, but during the day it was just the two of us. Then, due to her special needs, the doctor’s visits started and the cocooning ended. I regret the lack of more time as it was harder for her to bond with me. However, she is now quite attached to me. She is also a more reserved child when it comes to new situations whereas her sister is more the type to jump in with both feet.

    My take on the situation would be to do what works for your individual family and remember that the child’s personality will have some effect on this and on whether it works for your family. It also depends on time spent with the child prior to coming home. With my oldest it was 2 weeks with me and only me in country before coming home. With my youngest, she was with me less than 48 hours before we flew home. This meant she had much less time to see me as a permanent caretaker than her sister did.

    • Tamara, I’m so glad you mentioned the child’s temperament. I would add that we have to consider the parent’s temperament as well. It is so important to realize that a one size fits all approach does not work.

  27. Sam says:

    Thanks Dawn, I think that is true. My little one is also healing. It’s going to take time for all of us.

  28. If all was going well until his sister went back to their mother, I’d look to that as “the cause” rather than a secure bond. You’re scaling back now makes sense too, but not b/c you necessarily made a mistake before, but b/c it’s what he needs now.

  29. Sam says:

    Thank you for asking Dawn. All seemed to be going very well until his sister was returned to their mothers care. That is a different can of worms really but it made him doubt us, doubt his permanent place in our family, he started demonstrating trust and attachment issues in addition to grief. We are working with a therapist to help get through all of these issues for him and have been trying to minimize our life a bit to be more present for him now. Naturally all of this makes me wonder if we didn’t give him as strong a foundation as we thought when he first came home but here we are in the now and we are trying our best day by day.

  30. Rosie says:

    Thank you for posting this, Dawn! As a family in the beginning stages of adoption, this is one of the things we are weighing and discussing — and we tend to lean away from the more extreme and exclusive forms of cocooning.

  31. I love to talk about coming home and adjusting and I always suggest cocooning in what ever manner works for you and your family. It’s NOT a right way vs. wrong way thing and when I share it with folks, I try so hard to offer suggestions, grace, and creativity as the key ingredients to making it work. The INTENTION of cocooning (for us!) was to cement in my daughters’ spirits that WE are HOME. WE are FOREVER. WE are PERMANENT. How we went about it worked differently both times we’ve adopted.

    Cocooning with our first adoption was more absolute, more accessible for the “every day” and more manageable. All four bio kids were 14 and under, so it was easier to just say no to extras. We did school, work, church, youth group for the oldest and that’s it. I gave up all volunteer work (a lot) and we deemed every Friday night our Family Night for a good 6 months. Games, movies, baking, walks, etc. Just focused on the 7 of us being together. Dinner every night was together simply because, again, the olders were still young and not in a ton of stuff to start with.

    Cocooning with this most recent adoption was harder, required more intentionality and WAY more flexiblity on my and hubby’s parts. Give and take, what worked 5 years ago needed tweaking and understanding this time around. We had to give on the “Friday” family night in exchange for a quick weekly survey of what night(s) at least most of us would be home to enjoy dinner and some time afterward together. For example

    Providentially, summer break happened to come 6 – 7 weeks after she came home in late April. And so with the exception of dr. appts (tons of those!) and friends coming here to swim, etc. we really enjoyed just hanging out at home, no routine no alarms no appointments unless we were choosing them. The older two boys were gone a lot, super busy. But me and the middle two with the two littles were always around. Kids did some play dates, mostly during nap time. Had friends over often, hosted quite a few events here. Chilled and took it for what it was – a gift in spite of the craziness of 3 going on 4 teens, summer jobs, youth camps, and such.

    School starting was a really hard adjustment, as she REALLY bonded with the three older middle kids who were all home all summer. But it also presented some good OTHER opportunities for time with her college-age brother who was home twice a week and play dates with others. One of the other big brothers still isn’t quite as bonded to her as I’d like but he’s trying now that we’ve hit some hard stuff with her.

    The key is to do what works for you – figure out what your intention for pulling away is. Then plan and plot out how to accomplish it. Then go for it, have fun with it, give yourself lots of grace and flex. And do NOT forget to take a Moms’ Night Out with your girlfriends once in a while. Your sanity demands it.

    • [The INTENTION of cocooning (for us!) was to cement in my daughters’ spirits that WE are HOME. WE are FOREVER. WE are PERMANENT. How we went about it worked differently both times we’ve adopted.] Yes! I love that you separated the intention from the actual process.

  32. Sam, why is it that we always seem drawn to extremes. If a little is good, a lot is better. I’d say use your son as your guide. How’s he doing?

  33. Sam says:

    I didn’t cocoon and have actually been feeling a little guilty. I have felt like I absolutely did bring too much overstimulation on my son when he came home. We were so excited we wanted everyone to meet him. We did limit some things but after hearing about cocooning all I could think was that we made a lot of mistakes. This makes me feel a little better, thank you. We will be doing more to pair things down if we adopt again, but life will be a lot more manageable now that I see we don’t have to take it to extremes. I’m not a terrible parent for not cocooning, phew! It’s for another of the reasons I have been worrying about, heh. 😉

  34. Sara, good point. It is also helpful to let them know what they can do at the beginning. Cocooning doesn’t and shouldn’t mean isolation.

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