Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Older Child Adoption: Affection & Attachment

So, many folks want to know about how affection and attachment occur with older kids.
With Colin and Cameron, this took some time. 
In fact, a lot of time. 
It is so important not to rush these things and to let yourself off the hook if it doesn't happen right away.
As I look back on it, I realize that I did not have very realistic expectations with the first two in this area. I also didn't have much in my toolbox that would help encourage healthy attachment.

(This is my short soap box where I tell you how IMPORTANT your pre-adoptive training is!)

For those who have not adopted, this may sound a bit foreign to you and that really is ok.  I never really knew what it was like to parent a child who comes from a "hard place" before I adopted.

It looks VERY different than "traditional" parenting.
It FEELS very different at first too.
But parenting a child with a traumatic background (regardless of the cause) is all about THEM and never about YOU.
It's not about the perfect family photos, or what the neighbors might say.
It's not about your Mother-in-law or Aunt Susan and how they think you are selfish in keeping them at arm's length.
It isn't about the judgmental looks you get at
Wal-Mart or McDonalds
when your child is not behaving.

It is about providing a safe place for them to heal.
It is about modeling love through pain.
It is about fervent prayer that they will some day know the love of Christ who orchestrated their stories and who will one day make all bad things untrue.
Thanks to some earned adoptive experience and an amazing team at Lifeline, I feel much better prepared for however this unfolds, but I am also better prepared than I was before to intentionally create moments that can encourage attachment.
If you are adopting an older child, especially a boy, there are things that you can do to create a physical connection if they are not open to hugging. 
There is the "new fangled" fist bump. 
Draping your arm around their neck
for a quick squeeze
The pat on the shoulder.
The key here is to be sensitive to any reaction that shows they are uncomfortable. 
Keep it light and try to smile.
Each boy's needs are unique, as is their past.  What they bring into the family is
their own story.
It is a precious story, but it is theirs.
After bringing home 4 boys now from various locations in China, I feel fairly safe in saying that as a culture, hugging is not very common.
Even our love-bug, Cooper,
was stiff as a board the first time I hugged him.
To take some of the awkwardness out of reciprocating affection, we make it a silly thing. 
It also helps us not to take the reaction too personally.
Now, one month later?
Cooper is offering unsolicited "I Love yous" and reaching for hugs at bedtime and when I leave for work. He even kisses me on the cheek at bedtime which is so incredibly precious!
Connor, at 13, is in a different stage of showing affection. 
His is disguised more in showing off, being silly, trying to scare mama by jumping out around a corner...but we are connecting and that is what is truly important.
The hugs and I love yous will come if and when he is ready.

Mamas, (and Daddys) try not to compare.
Each of your children are unique whether born of your womb or your heart, they all are special gifts from God and He chose you to help them heal, learn to love and to model the love of Christ.

If all else fails, just load up a love seat with 5 plus people and closeness is guaranteed!



kimjax said...

Love the last pic!!

Anonymous said...

We also will put our hand on their knee or share the couch during a movie by letting them lay down and put their legs in our lap. I also ask if I can hug them, because that is where that are at.

Ashley Scott said...

Oh my gosh thank you for this! I am so excited to get Bennett and Emerson home, but you are right, there is a lot of older child attachment research that I can do while we wait. When we went through our parent training we thought we would be bringing toddlers home. I feel like we should go back through it as parents of teens. Your family is beautiful!