Friday Round Up-Attachment edition

I won't lie. This has been a Really. Hard. Week.

As much of a roller coaster ride as the process was before LM came home, it's been even more so since he's been home. We went from the super highs of last week's steps forward, to some behavior this week that makes we wonder if we are any closer than the day we met.

It's such a let down. And of course, I'm even more upset by my fear that we won't be able to get the closeness that we've dreamed of for our family.

Instead of that sweet little guy who was imitating us, beaming, and giving an occasional hug, we are now dealing with a grumpy, tiny person who seems to despise us at times. I'm attributing this to hard-core grieving. I wasn't exactly sure if that's what it was or not at first. I mean, it could be teething, grumpy toddler, etc. I just don't know enough about his personality to understand what I'm looking at.

He screams and nothing will comfort him. He wants up. He wants down. He pushes away and then cries to be carried. He doesn't want a bottle. He screams if you change him. He's just pissed at the world. I put him in his carrier and he raises his hands over his head, arches his back, and screams bloody murder. He'll put his face on my chest and push away. And a few times, he's bitten me. And then I scream. (But only inside my head...)

As much as I have read about grieving and attachment, it still caught me off-guard. I expected him grieve when we left his foster mom. Or during the first night at the hotel. Or during the first few weeks home. I guess I didn't expect it to happen in the middle of the night, seven weeks later. So when it started this week, I just didn't think grieving. This week, it's been going on about 3:30 a.m. and lasting until 5 a.m. or so. And sometimes he'll have outbursts during the day too. In general, we have days where he's just out of sorts.

But OK. I know these things take a while, so the grieving I understand. But I've been carrying this nagging feeling around that we just aren't attaching. And that's a whole other can of worms. I mentioned my concerns to our social worker, some friends, The Man. They  reminded me that it hasn't been that long and all seemed to think things were going well and I was over-reacting. Which is all likely true. But I couldn't shake the feeling.

Here's the things that bug me: it doesn't feel like LM makes much eye contact with me (how much is enough anyway?), he's not one for affection (I can give him a few hugs, but not many and it's rare he hugs back), and he is still pinching and scratching a lot, and he doesn't let us comfort him when he gets hurt. Maybe all this is normal??

But an incident at an indoor play area this week really sparked my fears. There were three other adults in the area, and wouldn't you know, he makes a beeline for those people, smiling and charming, and climbed right into their personal space without a second thought. He reached out and grabbed onto one of the lady's fingers for support as he climbed. He stood at the knee of the other, holding her leg. He never looked back. He never sought me out in the whole 30 minutes we were there.

This was just too much for me to handle. For most adoptive parents, attachment is THE KEY THING we are all worried about when our kids come home. Can we create a bond with our child? Will we be able to break through that deep sense of loss they have and get them to trust us? And don't even bring up the dreaded three letters...RAD (reactive attachment disorder) which sends shivers down the spines of even the most prepared.

As we were at that play area, I felt myself getting more and more bummed. I tried to interact with him. I called his name and scooped him up. I made faces at him. But he still didn't give me the time of day.

Haven't I been the one who has comforted (or tried to), changed, clothed, played and loved on him? Does he even know who I am? I'm not sure if he even recognized me. So, I did what any mom would do.

I gathered our things, went home, put him down for a nap, and cried my eyes out.

How do I know where we "should" be? What's "normal" behavior and what isn't? It's been 7-weeks, which seems like forever, but really, it's not that long. Is he really grieving, or is he just being a typical toddler? Maybe I'm so terrified of not connecting that it makes things seem much worse than they really are. Are all these things really something to be concerned about?

So I called several adoptive friends to try and get some perspective. A few, whose sons have been home for 7-8 months, both shared that their sons behaved similarly at this stage. They stepped up their attachment games and felt their children were now attaching well. Another friend, who I trust and value her ability to calmly assess a situation, and who has also been through this process three times, acknowledged that if she saw some of this behavior in her children, she would have been concerned. Finally, some validation for my feelings!

As always with this process, I find myself doing a lot of floundering and soul searching, and then jumping into action. Of course, I've been reading every attachment-related thing I can get my hands on. And, like most things that have to do with child-rearing, the authors have completely different viewpoints on what the "right" things to do are.

According to some of these books, we've already screwed up. One book recommends NEVER putting your child down for the first 3-4 days you are home. They say you need 1 week of very intensive bonding for each month of age you child is before they came home. That would be 10 weeks of holding LM. I don't think my arms could take it.

There were a variety of suggestions, but like all things on this journey so far, I am just learning to try and listen to my heart and gut when it comes to doing what's right for us. A challenge since I'm typically a person that is very in my head about things.

So, we've stepped up our attachment activities the past few days. He's still seemed a bit quiet and even sad but he hasn't seemed as angry. And yesterday we had a pretty nice day!

Perhaps the roller coaster is starting up the other side.


Here's some sites that we have found particularly helpful in learning some new ways to connect with LM. They are great bonding exercises for any parent/child!

Attach China: Activities to Promote Attachment  (this is an amazing list!)

A4everFamily: Attachment Activities

titushome: Bonding Games

A4everFamily: Holding Time

Home Theraplay Activities for Young Children

Quacken Baby: Attachment Therapy Activities


  1. I'm sorry that you've hit this wall. Like your friends mentioned, it is VERY common for a second (or first) round of grieving to come weeks or even months after being home. It caught me so very off guard with my first, and it was like this thing I was dreading with my second (and we're just now hitting it, too).

    You're doing an awesome job at recognizing the signs and stepping up the attachment, and you and LM will get there.

    It's okay to cry, too. It's a scary and sad and frustrating thing, but it is part of the process for most of our little ones, and you'll all three come out stronger on the other side.

  2. Good for you in recognizing and being tuned into your little guy!

    It's hard eh? The first 2 months were very hard for me. I was so worried about attachment, I got into a LOT of arguments with family members who told me I was being overcautious. Our guy only started to hug a few weeks ago (about 2.5mo). Before that he'd hug a pillow but not me. We played a lot of peak-a-boo and he loves music so I sing to him a lot, this gets eye contact which is good. It took small stints in the carrier before he like that also, and for the first month or so he was very charming with strangers which made others think he was well adjusted but worried me. I practically cheered the first time he 'played-strange'. I think he's finally attaching well but I still worry. I'm just letting my sil hold him at the 3mo mark (he sees her regularly) and even she is worries too so she plays with him but hasn't actually picked him up yet! I'm glad I have some positive support.

    Keep at sweetie, you're a good mom and you'll get through. LM has been through a lot but consistent love and care will get through in time. Just remember, you're a good mom helping to heal your child which takes time. It's hard but you can do it. In the meantime, I think it's okay to cry while he naps. You take care of you, too.

  3. I'm a new reader, but I really appreciate your honesty. My family is in the early stages of adoption, and the blogging world has really helped us along. Love your blog and will be keeping you in my prayers.


  4. I just wanted to say that I'm thinking of you. And I wanted to thank you for the links and your honesty. I hope things are brighter very soon!

  5. Totally normal. The first three months were hard for everyone in my house. Kellan grieved VERY strongly the first week we had him. There were phases within the first 9 months home too, and like you said, I'm not sure if it was 100% grieving or teeth/toddlerdom/cold. You will start to see more of his personality as time and development go on. Even at 13 months home, Kellan and I are just getting to the comfort stage. I feel that I am his mom and he is my son. Finally. And I can tell you that it didn't happen very quickly! My thoughts are to put the books away and just keep taking steps forward each day. Don't worry about RAD, eye contact, etc. Just worry about being yourself as a mom and caring for LM as best as you can (and taking care of yourself too!). This will all be okay, promise! Keep writing . . .

  6. We went through this as well... in fact, the worst grieving was 3 months after we had been home in our case. It's sad, it's scary... it made me feel sick to my stomach and stay up all night reading things that made me feel worse. But. We came out the other side, way better than we were before. And just as another validation... I'd be freaked out too if I were in your shoes at the indoor play area. S has always gone openly to others, but he's also always checked for me and come back. Like you and the others have said... step up the attachment activities (wear LM as much as you can if that's possible... I wore S all the time... doing chores, walking the dog, cooking...) and for your own sanity, maybe avoid those types of situations for a couple of weeks?!

  7. Oh, it's such a process. Hang in there.

  8. So I had this post of yours pulled up in my browser for the last few days b/c I wanted to give it the attention it deserves. Attachment is such a scary beast. And frankly, I think anyone who has adopted & claims their child has no attachment problems is completely delusional. I know I might not win friends with that statement, but it's true. These children, no matter how young, have suffered a serious loss. Adoption is trauma for these babies, and to deny that is a disservice to everyone in the family.

    All that to say, your feelings are COMPLETELY valid, and I would have totally freaked out at the indoor play area. Olive was the same way at first, gladly approaching anyone and everyone. So we ratcheted down everything and wouldn't let anyone touch, hold, or even really have fun with her. Absolutely every single thing went through us. Our parents positively hated us for it b/c it was THEIR grandchild. But we did it b/c it was what we needed.

    As for the comforting when hurt thing? take care of that ASAP b/c we're still working through that with Olive.

    And I hope I don't sound like a know-it-all, because I am far from knowing everything about this whole raising adopted kids thing. But I know how you feel...

    Olive had a nearly identical grieving period to LM... same time post-adoption, same time of the night, same inability to be comforted... it was really rough. But it WILL go away.

    Please feel free to ask about our experience - I'm always happy to share, as this road is a rough one.

    Hang in there, mama.

  9. As a mom who is five years into our adoption journey, I wanted to say that it's likely your connection with your son will ebb and flow durning your journey together. The fact is often what seem like "normal" situations are seen differently by an adoptee and strain the child's connection with their family.

    We've seen if first hand with our son when he was 3 years old. This seemingly "normal" situation caused months of anxiety for him.

    If you haven't read it already, I'd highly recommend Patty Cogen's book, "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child." She does a great job talking about the connection we build with our kids and how throughout life things will strain that relationship. I'm using it right now to do connection strengthening activities with our son. (My other favorite is "The Connected Child" by Karyn Purvis.)

    I'm not saying this to scare you but to let you know bonding/connection will likely be an ongoing, lifetime thing you work on with your son. It sounds like you're doing a great job and have the education to know what to look for. Just hang in there and that connection will strengthen.

  10. i think you've already gotten some great advice and tips...but i'll add my two cents even though our little one has only been home for 6 months. your feelings are totally valid and i would have been worried as well. i think the best piece of advice i received was that attachment is a process, not an event. when we have our ebbs and flows, i remember that and know that our "normal" is so different from a non-adopted child's normal. i always say that it's like we take 5 steps forward and 1 step back.
    hang in there, momma...sending hugs!

    p.s. we will be in MKE at the end of july!


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