Monday, May 2, 2011
So when I was catching up on my blog reading, a friend linked to this blog. Claudia encouraged people to write on attachment. I actually read a few blogs and it was so good to see some of the different perspectives and experiences to prepare for our teddy bear. We have a few of our own perspectives/experiences to draw on. I have a sister and brother that were adopted. We were foster parents for 6 newborns who were with us anywhere from 10 days to 6 months. We have 3 bio kids. And of course, we have Bella who came home at 2 1/2 y.
I learned from being a sibling that attachment is a life long exercise, whether or not adoption is in the mix. It is like a bank account. If you are constantly making withdrawals, and never making deposits...eventually the bank will close the account. That is not to say that they won't let you re-open one, when you get your finances in order and are ready to make a deposit.
What we learned as a family from our "borrowed babies" was to be present in the moment, because we never knew when we would get the call that they were leaving. The present moment is all we had. We did dream for these babies and pray that they would end up in a soft landing place that would cherish them for the blessing that they were/are. But we did not spend much energy worrying about what they would be good at or what they would become, or what the latest trend was on growing smart babies. We also learned that our family lines were extremely fluid. We loved each almost immediately. I don't mean that in a vague and blurry way. We loved them fiercely and vividly. When each left it felt like a deep loss. Thankfully, we still see most of these little people in Christmas cards or visits. I believe these babies actually challenged me to be a better parent. I slowly stopped thinking that I knew what my 3 kids would be good at or become and I started to enjoy them at the age and stage that they were. Today became the gift.
What I have learned from being a mom to 3 bio kids and attachment is interesting. When I was reading adoption books before Bella got home, I would constantly be amazed that some of the behaviors that they highlighted as problematic attachment...sounded like one or another of my bio kids. One of my children was hyper-attached, one was the charmer in a large group, and one shuts down...so in my personal experience children and attachment is not that cut and dry. I think that my three that share DNA, have come into this world with very different personalities, temperaments, and challenges. Thankfully, I read the books when I was far enough along that I was not rushing them all into therapy. That being said, I do think the challenge as a parent is to figure out how to be the parent that each child needs. I don't think Eliza will mind my sharing some about her. Eliza was painfully shy and hyper attached to me. She would not take a bottle. I mean she would NOT take a bottle no matter what type or what it was filled with. She would wait for me rather than eat. She would have waited the 8 hours that I worked if she had to (and actually did once). Luckily Jason was able to bring her in a few hours in for my lunch break (one of the beauties of law school.) Every student/teacher conference in elementary school was about how she was so shy. So parenting her, was trying to find ways that would build her confidence and self esteem. Anyone who has a "cling-on" child knows that sometimes the natural response to the clinging is a pushing away... I learned that counter-intuitive pulling-in worked so much better for us, though. By 6th grade, you would not believe that the conferences where for the same child. All this to tell you...that even with bio kids, the attachment process is very individual. Each child's needs are different and your response will be different and even those will change over time. We are constantly readjusting our parenting strategies and expectations. The only constant is trying to make more deposits into each child's bank account than withdrawals.
Then Bella came along. Remember that fluid family line that I spoke of with the foster babies. She was "ours" before she even knew we existed. We loved her almost immediately. I lived in what looked very similar to a dorm room with her picture taped up all over our house for more than 6 months. Zach came down the morning after the referral call and said, "I love her already." So cool when it happens that quickly, like a tsunami. But just as cool, when it is a more quiet and subtle breeze like it was for friends who worked and worked at it and then all of a sudden it wasn't work anymore. It just was. And actually even with in a family it can be one way for one member and the other with another. We assumed her bank account had been long over-drawn. Then she came home. I will say that Bella's account most definitely was not overdrawn. I think that this blogger and her failure to provide is a must read. Sorry for stating the obvious but bonding and attachment are different, something I had not realized until after Bella came home. Bella bonded almost immediately to me. Quickly to Eliza and later to Jason and the boys. Bonding is a shared moment or moments. Attachment is a process or a collection of moments. Attachment is the financial history, bonding is the opening of the account, to continue the metaphor. When Bella came home, I should have been more careful about her exposure to family and friends. Life took over and I was not prepared for the on slot of well wishers who dropped off meals and wanted to meet our newest member. I ended up pulling back, reacting after events. With Teddy bear we will have a plan of action. Actually, something I love that YWAM has us do that I wish we had thought to do with Bella, we will have to work on a transitional plan. We will have a phone call to go over it. I had an idea of how it would work but I feel like we could have been more prepared. Because she was an older toddler there were many things that had she been a baby...would have been great bonding and attaching scenarios ...feeding, dressing, changing diapers. I did get her sippy cups that were like a bottle. I snuggled her and fed her. She was still in diapers, so I still changed her, and talked and cooed as she was being cleaned and redressed. I did not encourage, nor was she ready to be potty trained for a bit. Any opportunity to cuddle her, I took and still take. Reading, eating lunch on my lap, climbing into our bed in the middle of the night. There are still subtle reminders that she is still attaching....process, not a done deal. Sometimes I see a self-reliance that I admire but wonder if it is actually a darker foreshadowing of attachment issues. Sometimes I see a scary friendliness and confidence with adult friends. Is it her confident self assured well adjusted self or again...that dark demon that haunts all adopted parents who read too many books? See, we will never be able to extract what is temperament, what is personality, and what is life experience (adoption). It would be like taking cooked brownies and then separating the eggs, from the cocoa. So I step forward and continue to try and make more deposits in Bella's account than withdrawals. I pray over her because that is part of who we are as a family. And I adjust and constantly readjust our parenting of her, like I did with the older kids, to meet her needs. Grief will rear its ugly head as she gets older and make a huge withdrawal. I mean like down payment-on-a-house type of withdrawal. So I continue to make deposits before she realizes all that she has lost. I look into those beeauuuutiful brown eyes and I tell her without words how lucky I am to be her mom always. I use touch to communicate with her how cherished she is. When I steer her away, or touch her hair, or pick her up when she wants nothing more than to continue to do what ever I don't want her to do I really do try not to be careless, rough, or impatient. Not always successful but each I see as either a deposit or a withdrawal. So I pray that I have learned and am practicing good financial decisions, and that we are creating a family with a sound financial future.
*Now I have to make some deposits in Bella's account. Sesame Street followed by Cat in the Hat have been keeping her busy.
**As a side note I loved and have The Connected Child by Karen Purvis by my bed. I love her gentle hope filled approach to children from really difficult stories.
+++Added after posting. Keeping it real. No sooner had I hit "post" I got a phone call from vice principal at Zach's school. He quoted a movie that he should not have even seen. Yes, the quote was inappropriate to say the least. So don't think that I have anything under control....just saying...