Thursday, January 26, 2012

Becoming Us...Part 1

 There are certain words that float around the adoption world a lot.  If you could check out the most searched topic among adoptive parents I bet you'd find the word "attachment" at the top of the list.  Upon hearing this word attachment and linking it to adoptive parents you might think it refers to the relationship adoptive parents have with their cell-phone and or online adoption group while in the forever long waiting phase.  You'd be wrong we refer to that as OCAPD or Obsessive Compulsive Adoptive Parent Disorder (ok I made that up but I think it could catch on).  Attachment deals with the forming of relationships between people.  There are many, many books, blogs, and websites devoted to explaining attachment and how it works.  It's deep people.  We're talking emotional, psychological, physical, and chemical reactions that humans have to each other.  I'm going to go out on a limb and give my own definition of attaching in adoption and assume that Karyn Purvis won't be reading (but if she is that's just cool).

Attaching in Adoption (as defined by one mom):  The process of forming a relationship with your child in which they eventually learn to rely on you as their primary care-givers.  The learning of trust, love, and permanency in relationships.

Attachment goes against the grain of normal parenting.  Typically when we parent a child there is a constant process of learning independence.  Think about it.  A child spends 40 weeks inside of its mother's womb completely dependent on her for everything.  As soon as they are born this process of becoming independent begins.  Sure mom still has to feed baby but now baby is responsible for swallowing.  Mom still does the diaper changing but baby has the responsibility of letting her know that baby is wet.  Each day, in little ways, a child is gaining independence as they grow.

Crying at the first meeting is actually a very good sign of a baby that has the ability to attach well given time and the right circumstances.
Enter adoption.  Here we have a child who already is independent.  This child has learned to take care of number one.  Grant it their ways of taking care of themselves are typically not healthy (physically or emotionally) but they are the ways they have survived the months and years of having no primary care givers.  Survival tactics at their best.  They are the tricks they have learned to either deal with unmet needs or have needs met by anyone and everyone.  For some adopted children this looks like a quiet child who just blends into the background.  To the casual observer this child appears polite, mild mannered and well behaved (the parent sees a child who can't trust and needs no one).  Or maybe this child is a terror.  Constantly screaming, throwing fits, and lashing out until they get what they want.  The casual observer sees spoiled brat (the well informed parent sees pain).  At the other end of the spectrum is the charming  child who smiles at everyone and lavishly gives out hugs and kisses to anyone and everyone.  The casual observer sees a sweet and loving child (the parent sees a child who can't distinguish family from friends, friends from strangers, and strangers from "bad guys")  All these situations are dangerous and not healthy for normal emotional and social development.

So what's an adoptive parent to do?  Simply (very, very simply) put, go back to square one.  Show the child how to be totally dependent before moving forward into indepence.  What does this look like?  And how does this affect you, the friend, relative, or church family of an adoptive family?

Well, that would just be too much for one post (I know I'm cruel to leave you hanging but trust me, you'll be ok).

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