Guest Post: Attachment is a two way street

Today is the last post in my guest post series on adoption. ?It is quite a fitting way to wrap up National Adoption Awareness Month. ? ?After all of the struggles we go through to get our children the work is not done. ?Parenting is a lifelong process and some parent/children relationships come with extra challenges. ?Today’s post is written by someone who is quite special to me. ?I remember the “what do we do” phone calls. ?Melissa’s panicked little southern accent caught my heart immediately and she and I formed a lovely friendship.


As adoptive parents, before our child comes home, we find that our life is full of waiting?and along with the waiting, we have questions.

As we sit on the other side of the world, and wait for that fabulous moment, when our child is ours forever, we wonder, Is he okay? What kind of care is he getting? Does anyone take time to sit and hold him? Or does he sit in a crib all day and stare out at the room that is his world?

Along with these questions, we have worries about issues that come along with these questions?issues that could have a lasting impact. Issues such as attachment.

To ease our worrying, we read. We read books, articles, blogs?anything that will put our minds at ease or, at the very least, give us ideas for how to handle problems once that precious child does come home.

We are so worried about our child?s attachment to us, that we often end up forgetting that attachment is a two-way street.


My husband and I spent the better part of 9 years trying to have a baby the ?natural? way, when we finally decided we?d had enough. We no longer wanted a ?chance? at having a child?we wanted a ?guarantee.? So we moved to international adoption?and were welcomed to the natural questions and worries that come with adoption, in general.

I have always felt like I was well equipped to become a mom ? I am the oldest of 4 children, and have been babysitting before I reached double digits in age. At the time that we began the adoption process, I was in the middle of completing my second degree in human development and family studies, and above all, I had wanted to be a mom for?well, as long as I could remember.

I had done a lot of research on the implications of adopting internationally ? and attachment was the prevailing topic. So, armed with research and experience, I had a plan. I had things to look for, when we made our first trip to Russia ? would my child come to me readily? Would he cry for his caregivers? Would he make eye contact with us? Depending on his reactions during our time together, I knew I would develop another plan, for when he came home.

To our surprise, our son displayed many classic signs of attachment! As it turned out, his baby home was very small ? at the most, it held 25 babies, and was staffed beyond belief. He cried when he was alone with us, he used his caregivers as a ?home base? for exploring, and his eye contact was pretty phenomenal, compared to what I had expected!

Once I realized that his attachment might not be nearly as difficult as we had originally thought, I backed down a little on my reading. I still took in information?but as a whole, I felt prepared for almost anything.

Well, except for my own unpreparation.

See, I had all these expectations. I couldn?t wait for all of our ?firsts? as a family?and for just being a mom. I was excited about his first birthday party, and for his first Christmas, and for ?..well, you get the idea.

What I didn?t realize, at the time, was that my excitement created expectations (primarily of myself) that were unreasonable, even for the most experienced of mothers…and that I was setting myself up for failure.

On our second trip, before we even left to come home, he ? dare I say it ? seemed to have really made great strides in his attachment to us. Things were still new to him, but I honestly believe (then and now) that he?d been so well cared for that his brain was actually wired for attachment, and the transfer ? from his caregivers to us ? was fairly simple for him.

But going from 9 years of being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted ? to suddenly being tied down to naptimes and diaper changes and feeding schedules ? was a huge shock to my system. All the sudden (it seemed), I had a child on my hands who could walk around and destroy a clean house in a matter of minutes? a child who screamed at me while I fixed his dinner, because he had never known that food actually had to be prepared?a child who slept very well, but who required my presence as he actually fell asleep. For the most part, things were good?but at the same time, I frequently found myself smiling on the outside while the smile didn?t make it quite to my heart.

Needless to say, life became very draining very quickly. I felt like a babysitter to someone else?s child. And I found myself, at times, crying myself to sleep, wanting my old life back.

Not because I didn?t love my child, but because I just hadn?t developed a full attachment to him, yet. It was difficult for me, to hear mothers of biological newborns gush about how quickly they fell in love with their child?I wondered why my experience had to be so difficult, especially after all we had been through to bring our son into our family. I felt insanely guilty for even wondering such things. Looking back, I realize I never even gave myself a chance. Mothers of biological newborns are often given 9 months of “closeness” with their helpless newborn, even before the baby enters the world. On the other hand, I became an instant parent to a toddler.

I quickly decided that it was unfair to this precious child, for me to wallow in my feelings of unfairness?and I made a commitment to continue to meet his needs, knowing that my feelings of true attachment would come, sooner or later.

And you know what? They did.

I can?t say that I completely ?faked it,? with my son, in those first 6 months. He was (and still is!) one of the cutest kids I know?he?s smart, funny, and incredibly sweet. We were blessed with a child that is simply easy to like. Even in those early months, I enjoyed being around him, but it took me much longer adjust to my own identity and role as a mom than I thought it would. Early on, I lamented the ?loss? of my previous life?I worried that I would never be able to join the ranks of parents who say that they have no recollection of life before children. And then, as I worked on being a good mother ? with attached feelings or no ? I found that my attachment came. And now, even I have difficulty remembering life before children?and I?m happy about that.

In retrospect, do I wish that I had attached to my son instantly? Sure, it would have been cool to be able to say I fell in love instantly. But I think that instant, absolute, unconditional attachment exists primarily in a fictitious world?I wish I had realized that bit of information, instead of having my unreasonable expectations of having that kind of attachment at the very beginning. I wish I had realized that my attachment for him had the potential for taking longer than his attachment to me ever would. Would things have been different if we had started out with a biological newborn? I don?t know for sure?but I do know this: looking back, I am glad that my relationship with my son has required some cultivation? It?s not been easy, but that work is what makes our relationship even more valuable to me. And honestly, I wouldn?t really want it any other way.

3 Comment

  1. Maggie says: Reply

    Wonderful post by a wonderful woman. I’m so glad Melissa shared these thoughts. So few people go out on that limb and admit it. I know my attachment to Slugger had to grow over time.

  2. Tricia says: Reply

    Wow, Melissa I didn’t know you were going through this!

    I could have written this same post. I had the exact same feelings. And we had a similiar experience with Rita … she was very eager to attach.

    It really took me almost a year to feel comfortable being a mom, actually to ENJOY being a mom.

  3. Thanks, guys! I guess I thought I had been a little more transparent on my blog, but maybe I hadn’t been…and I had just talked to people IRL. Who knows? But yes…becoming a mom was a surprisingly challenging transition for me, and it’s something that so many people feel guilty admitting, for fear of judgement (and afterall, we waited for how long to have a child? we were supposed to be over-the-moon!). Anyway, thanks again!

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