Attachment and Struggles
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on attachment. A LOT. And just as kids born don’t come with instruction manuals neither do adopted children. The problem is that to those on the outside what looks like a well adjusted, happy toddler is really not at all attached and reeling on the inside and looking anywhere and everywhere for comfort. Before I go further, here is a good link to attachment in adoption that I’ve found- adoption attachment, there are a lot of tabs on the side to click through and read far more than you may ever want to, but also probably does a better job than I am going to stumble through.
We’ve been home just under two weeks and today is the two week mark since we took custody of Edric. And we’ve done a pretty good job of “cocooning” or laying low and just going through routines and establishing all of that. We did venture out to gymnastics last week for the older boys and open gym time for Edric to play with the boys, and we have spent a lot of time at various parks which has been a lot of fun and good place to get a lot of boy energy out. Yesterday we decided to try and attempt to go to church. I was kind of sure Edric probably wasn’t ready but thought we would try it. We planned ahead and packed a bag of toys and snacks and strapped him into the carrier. From the outside most people would say that it looked like things went well, he and I ended up in the baby room the majority of the time playing with toys and eating the apples I packed and when he was on my back he was super sociable and smiled and waved and even hugged some people.
Problem is is that all of that shows that he is not attached to us. On the outside he looks like a well adjusted happy kid, but really he’s (a term I’m not a fan of but the easiest to use) “Mommy Shopping”. In other words he doesn’t know that I’m mommy and his comfort and affection should come from me and should be directed at me right now. His whole world has been turned upside down, and for all he knows he doesn’t know if he is going to get handed off or sent off with another stranger and so it’s better to just get affection (hugs, smiles, care) from anyone (especially women because he misses foster mom) than to trust and risk attaching to someone who might pass him off again.
And so it was a good wake up call to what we probably deep down knew but thought we’d try it. In reality it has made us dig a little and read more and try some new things to help foster attachment. Edric won’t look, especially me, in the eyes. And so today while Clint worked on homeschool with Leighton and Caedmon played and colored upstairs, Edric and I sat on the rug and worked on eye contact. Eye contact is very intimate and also intimidating. Edric loves puzzles and so I put a puzzle in between us and took all the pieces and then would hold one up between my eyes and he would have to hold eye contact with me for the count of 5 and then I’d give him the piece. It was a huge struggle for him, he would look everywhere else but my eyes and tried all sorts of things for me to give him the puzzle piece. But we made it through two puzzles. Each time he earned a piece I’d hug or rub his back and skin and praise him. Towards the end he even initiated hugs back. We did the same with his morning snack. And to paint a picture, two 8 piece puzzles and 10 bunny-grams would take most 2 year olds at most 10 minutes to finish, we spent over an hour working through them. It’s going to take time, and each step is a step, no matter how small.
It also means more time in the carrier close to one of us. I love our ERGO and that is a relatively easy thing to do, but provides the closeness and comfort and connection that he needs. I know we have already put miles in with him strapped to us, and there are many more miles to come.
I have been blessed to have some other mommy friends that are a few months farther along in this process than I am and I can send a quick message/text and say “hey, what’s going on here?” and such. And it has been so nice to know that I’m not alone and they have all been there and are growing through the process too.
I need to learn to find my voice and while I’ve been pretty quick at catching him when he is headed in to give a stranger (and maybe not a stranger to us, a friend or family member, but still a stranger to him) a hug, to grab him and to pick him up and say “we give high fives”, I’ve missed a few. And so I need to learn to ask and be direct saying “if he comes towards you or tries to show you affection or give you a hug or kiss please turn him around and tell him “give mommy your hugs””. And I know it sounds like I am some possessed or weird person who will only let my child come to me or be comforted by me, but in all honesty that’s what he needs right now. He doesn’t know that I’m his mommy and I’m not going to leave or pass him off to the next “mommy” that comes by. And so in my embarrassment or fear of what others will think I have kept my mouth closed. But I’m learning and growing and ultimately his long term attachment and security needs to be firmly established before he can develop relationships with others. And so it means it will be a few more weeks or maybe longer before we venture out to church again, and I will be a little more cautious when we are out and about and more vocal in asking people to turn him back to me. And people may not understand, and that’s ok, ultimately I’m fighting for him and for our family.
Here’s some photos from the weekend, lots of park and outside time, and occasional ninja turtle battles. Our house is well protected and no “bad guy” stands a chance with our three ninja turtles. Just saying!