Will He Be Mine?
This is the third post in our series, The Reality of Adoption: Confronting Common Myths. To read the overview of the series, click here.
Myth: Attaching with an adopted child is difficult and is often impossible.
Reality: With the right approach and some patience you can form a secure attachment with your adopted child.
Mine! It’s the cry of every young boy and girl as they excitedly pronounce their exclusive claim to a much coveted toy. Mine! As in all mine, my very own and just for me. At some level we all can understand and relate to this child-like claim of ownership and possession. As we get older, however, we come to learn (hopefully) that life requires us to share, and that in so doing we can actually find great satisfaction and joy.
When it comes to the thought of our own child, our heart still yearns to exclaim “Mine!” Yet for those considering adoption the question “will he be mine?” is one of the most pressing and even fear-filled questions they must face. The usual assumption is that biological parent/child relationships are best and as a result those considering adoption are often left to search for answers to questions that may seem impossible to answer.
Generally speaking, women seem more willing to discuss these difficult issues of bonding and attachment relating to adoption. However, I’ve learned that men (even those who are already dads) also face similar questions and concerns as well, even if in their own way. I wrote about some of my own experience in Completely His, where I detailed some of the questions that I faced as I sought to discover who my son truly is and understand how best to connect with him. And for those who adopt a child that has experienced abuse, neglect or other life traumas, questions and issues of attachment and connecting can be all the more acute.
Are You Willing to Dance?
Fundamentally, the issue of attachment raises two questions for parents: will my child bond and attach with me and will I bond and attach with my child? The answer is an unequivocal yes – but you must be willing to learn to dance.
Simply understood, parent and child attachments are nothing more than relationships, but they are incredibly special and important ones at that. Many adoption and child development experts have concluded that virtually every child can form healthy and secure attachments with their parents, but it may not happen immediately and it may not unfold exactly the way you imagined.
To build this secure and trusting relationship you have to be willing to learn what Dr. Karyn Purvis refers to as the “attachment dance.” This dance is nothing more than the recognition that attachment is a two-way street where the parent and child are constantly learning about and from each other. As you “dance” with your child his needs are met and an all-important trusting relationship is formed.
Learning the “attachment dance” with many children adopted as infants comes fairly easily and almost naturally. However, for children that have experienced abuse, neglect and institutionalization it can often take longer to learn this dance. The same can even be true for a child adopted as an infant if his birthmother was exposed to high levels of stress or harmful substances during her pregnancy. For these children, parents need to be able to identify any number of potential attachment related issues or challenges and they must also be willing to consider some unique approaches to parenting in order to help their children heal from their past and form secure attachments for the future. The key is, however, that regardless of a child’s start in life, with the right approach and some patience you and your child can learn the “attachment dance.”
In addition, when approaching the issue of building a secure attachment with your child, it is important to recognize that what you, as a parent, bring to the table is equally important. Each parent has his own attachment style, which resulted in part from his own past experiences as well as the attachment style of his parents. In fact, research shows that children more often than not take on the attachment style of their parents. Therefore as parents focus on forming secure and healthy attachments with their child it is important that they become familiar with their own attachment style, learn to be honest about the pain and hurts from their own past and always remain mindful of their own emotional well-being. This self-reflective approach will help to ensure that you as a parent are learning your dance steps.
Steps to Help Build Secure Attachments
As questions about attachment begin to flood your heart and mind, always remember that you are not alone. Questions like “will he be mine” or “will she bond with me” are perfectly normal – and they are questions worth spending time on as you reflect and seek answers.
Here are just a few simple steps that you can follow as you confront the myths surrounding the issue of attachment:
Remember that you’re not alone – Questions regarding attachment in adoption are very common and normal. Recognize that you are not alone in having these questions and even fears. This recognition will allow you the freedom to confront these questions even as you seek wisdom and guidance in finding answers.
Talk with others – Make a point to find other experienced adoptive families that you can talk with openly and honestly. Ask questions of them and listen to how they dealt with their questions and fears. Find out what was helpful for them as they confronted these same issues.
Read and prepare before you adopt– Adoption often comes with some amount of waiting required. Use your wait to read up on attachment issues that are relevant to the adoption path you have chosen. Here are just a few books and resources that can help:
The Connected Child by Drs. Karyn B. Purvis and David R. Cross
Attaching in Adoption by Deborah D. Gray
Welcome Home: A Guide to Bonding With Your Baby After Adoption (www.adoptivefamilies.com/bonding/)
Resources from Dr. Karyn Purvis – a collection of helpful resources, including video presentations, from Dr. Karyn Purvis explaining the attachment cycle and dealing with various attachment-related issues (www.irvingbible.org/index.php?id=1581 and www.empoweredtoconnect.org)
Attachment Disorders – a detailed site containing information concerning a wide variety of attachment issues and challenges (www.attachmentdisorder.net/)