Monday, March 19, 2012

No Secret Formulas

I've learned some things.  I did plenty of research on attachment before we left for Ukraine (like, absurd amounts...), but now that I've lived it for myself, I have some tips.

Take them for what they're worth. Disclaimer: I'm not an expert, doctor, or social worker.  I've only adopted and attached to one kid instead of 6 (Yes, some people have done this.  Go, them!), and I'd say Carter's attachment journey has been relatively smooth and uneventful.  But, at least take a second to read them...these have worked for us, and they might work for someone else.

{1}.  YUMMY.  Carter was capable of feeding himself finger food from the day we met him (although the orphanage said he had only eaten pureed food....ha).  However, instead of letting him feed himself, we've chosen to feed him.  Even now, after 4 months, I still usually feed him lunch, and Jake usually feeds him dinner.  Yes, even if it's an easy finger food.  Yes, even if our meal is sitting there getting cold.  Yes, even if people think I'm weird for feeding my almost 4 year old.  Right now, it's all about attaching.  And meeting one of his most basic needs is a great way to bond.

And while we're talking about feeding, we made sure that we were the ONLY ones feeding him.  Nobody else should be meeting that need.

{2}. SCRUB A DUB.  In our first weeks home, and even now, Jake or I regularly bring Carter in the shower with us.  Too much info?!  Sorry.  Anyone who has had a preemie knows how children benefit & bond with skin-to-skin contact.  Hard to do with a wiggly toddler - unless your in the tub or shower together (or a swimming pool, if you're blessed to live in a nice climate!).  Carter loves the water, so this has never been an issue for him...thank goodness.

If he's not in the shower with us, but instead just taking a bath...we still try to rub his back or make some kind of contact periodically throughout the bath.  Every little bit helps.

{3}.  READ TO ME.  In our first 2-3 weeks home, the thought of having Carter sit and read a book seemed ridiculous.  But once he was able to sit for 3-4 minutes at a time, we started plopping him on our laps and reading to him.  We found his favorites (quick rhyming books, for sure) and read them over & over & over.  What he doesn't realize is that while he's listening to his favorite story, he's also nestled on our laps, all snuggled in.  Instant bonding.

{4}. MOMMY & DADDY ONLY.  In our first months home, we've worked very hard to make sure that Carter is ONLY bonding to Jake & I.  We've had the mindset that any other bonding that takes place is interfering with his attachment to us.  It's been hard.  Really hard.  But don't give up - you'll be glad you stood your ground in the end.  Set guidelines and stick to them.  Do some research with things like feeding and changing, and talk to your guy about what some good guidelines would be for your situation.  Obviously if your child is going to day care, you can't say 'nobody holds our child but us' - but you could still say 'no snuggling/hugging/kissing'.  Figure out what works for you and go with it.

{5}. DISCIPLINE.  I know, it doesn't seem like something that would foster attachment.  In our situation, I really think it has helped.  Carter has developed a very strong willed personality.  We love that he knows what he wants and is willing to try to get it. means that we have to discipline him regularly.  Each child is drastically different, but Carter gets a hand tap.  And he doesn't like it very much.  But we immediately pick him up, comfort him, tell him he's okay, and when he's settled he can go back to playing.  Some may say we're confusing him by being the disciplinarian AND the comforter....but isn't it a parent's job to do both?  I think if you do it effectively, then it can be very successful.  And we are seeing that in Carter, for sure.  It really works to cover that discipline with love.

{6}. WAIT.  I've said it before here - but when you think your child is ready for something, wait a little longer.  School/therapy is one of those areas for Carter that we've chosen to wait.  We can't wait to get him into speech therapy, but we feel that right now his attachment is more important.  I've heard people say that kids should be home for one year before going to any type of school or therapy...and while I feel like that might be right for us, it may not be right for others.  I get that.  But what you need to understand is that in those first months that your child is home, you're still learning them.  Meaning - you don't really know them.  And if you don't really know them, how can you decide what is best for them?  Is it worth it to take the risk and just make a big guess?  Probably not.  Wait.  You'll be glad you did.

{7}.  QUIET DOWN.  This was hard for Jake & I, because like I've said before - we were goers.  But quieting down has great benefits - not only for your new child, but your entire family.  Going to Chuck-E-Cheese the week you get home would likely be a mistake.  Would you take a newborn there?  Probably not.  Just take some time to chill out.  Settle in.  Get used to being together as a family, learning each other.

{8}. SAY NO.  This is hard.  But you have to learn to tell people 'no'.  I hated telling that sweet man in church that he couldn't hold Carter.  This man had given financially toward our adoption, he had prayed for us every step of the way, he had encouraged us when we felt hopeless - and now he just wants to hold our kid, and we're telling him 'no'.  I felt like I absolutely crushed him.  Thankfully, he understood.

If you have your guidelines in place, and you expect them to work - you HAVE to learn to say no.  You can do it nicely, but you've got to speak up and be firm.  I explained to a friend at church (who had reached out to take him from me) why we weren't letting anyone hold him.  I was expecting a battle, but I was shocked when she apologized and said she completely understood.  If I had just passed him over, too afraid to say no, it would have become the 'norm' - and would have been really difficult to stop in the future.  It's not always this easy, and some people will need to be reminded over & over - but it's worth it.  Speak up for your child, and don't feel bad for doing it.

{9}. TOUCH.  Whenever you can, however you're able, touch your child.  This is definitely something they do NOT do in the orphanage.  I touch Carter's face, rub his arms, hold his hands....anything I can do to create that bond.  After bath, Jake gives him a lotion rub down (it's tough being Carter....).  When I'm talking to him, I touch him.  When I'm carrying him, I rub his back.  Now, I do it without realizing that I'm doing it.  It's habit.

{10}.  ROUTINE.  Carter knows, without a doubt, that his breakfast/playtime/bye-bye/lunch/dinner/bath/bedtime routines are the same  He knows what comes next, and will sign it for us in case we forget :)  Routine has built trust.  Carter trusts that we're going to care for him, and that we've created a safe & predictable place for him.  He's not anxiously wondering what comes next - he knows what is next, and trusts us to meet his needs.

That's what has worked for us.  Is it a perfect equation, the same for every child and family?!  Heck, no!  That's why attachment is so hard!  If one book could answer each problem for every family, there would be no attachment issues.  Ever.

But if you're still not sure about all this attachment stuff, you could check out these links.  They really helped us in researching all of this.

Ten Tips for the First Year of Placement by Deborah Gray


Are we totally attached?  No.  Not yet.  But we're really making some serious progress - especially in the last month or so.  Find out what works for you, and go with it.

One Thing I Know For Sure: We're getting there.  And that's good enough for me!


  1. Great tips... I have a child with "special needs" and these are a lot of the things we had to do also.

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us Ashley... though I feel we connect on so many levels, this is one level that is unique to you (and other adoptive parents.) It isn't something I think about, so I appreciate learning more about all it takes for you to transition Carter to your family. It's interesting, and I admire all it takes for you to do that! Carter is one lucky little guy! HUGS TO YOU!!!


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