Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Speaking of Attachment

Recently, I had the opportunity to share at our adoption agency's Special Needs seminar. I spoke for about half an hour (I forgot how long 30 minutes is when you are facing a room full of mostly strangers!) and covered our experiences with the International Adoption Program at CHOP. Then I spoke on our journey through attachment and bonding with Li'l Empress. I thought it might be helpful to some of you to share some of those thoughts over the next couple of posts.

My disclaimer is that we are by NO MEANS experts on this issue. We did do a lot of research, reading and talking with other folks before we left for China. And thankfully, The Boss has always freed me to explore ideas I have regarding parenting and encouraged me to try things that sound interesting to me. He didn't do the research himself, but he trusts me to do the reading and share the important stuff with him so that we can be on the same page. I will be totally honest in saying that we didn't do all this perfectly along this first year. However, we were willing to try things that others had shared and to talk about what worked and didn't work. We did a lot of tweaking along the way and this series of posts represents the summaries of what worked for us in that process!

First, I spoke on the idea that attachment is less about a set of steps, checklists, or progressions toward one set goal. It's more like the tides of the ocean, if you consider that the child's heart is like the beach. At "high tides" in our attachment journey, we can see tremendous progress in the waves wearing down the walls of self-protection, self-preservation, and/or self-comfort that they have built around their hearts. Make no mistake, those walls are there in some form and usually for a really good reason: survival. As we work to attach, it's our consistent, loving, nurturing choices that help to wear down those behaviors that hold them back from releasing their hearts to healing and full openness. We all need the low tide moments, when the progress seems minimal and the waves are almost still. It's a resting period of sorts, and should be seen as such. But we also need to be sure it doesn't get too comfortable. Instead, pray for high tide to return when their little hearts are refreshed and ready for the next level of bonding to wave in. And when you are in a low tide of attaching, try to remember that no sandcastle or wall built in the sand can stand through a full cycle of waves and tides. Low tide is just a part of that full cycle. (I take no credit for this metaphor. A friend shared it early in our settling in time and the Lord has used it many times over to keep me focused on Li'l Empress's process with us.)

Next, I talked about our decision to try some Intentional Regression with Li'l Empress. By this I mean that we purposefully took away many of the "normal toddler behaviors" that would continue to move her toward greater independence. We replaced them with nurturing, parent-directed actions that required her to be more dependent upon us than was considered "average" for her age. Let me explain:
  • We took away most of her self-feeding. Whenever possible, we spoon fed her (more intentionally in the very early weeks and months) and posted ourselves face-to-face with her while we did so.
  • Further, we gently took away the holding of her own bottle. At a time when most parents would consider weaning from the bottle, we instead made a ritual out of bottle time. Darkened room, blankie, rocking chair, singing and praying over her, etc. Basically, I tried as often as I could to re-create the nursing experience I shared with my older kids with the goal of creating an intimate bonding time together.
  • The nanny who brought her to us told us that she was potty-trained. Our guide explained that by their cultural standards, that meant that she probably only needed diapers when out and about in public. We, however, put her into diapers and did not introduce the potty at all until just recently (We're slated to start potty-training, American-style, sometime this winter, as I'm sensing she's going to be ready soon.) We even made diaper time an event for bonding, with games, face-to-face play and plenty of snuggles and kisses along the way.
  • Finally, we kept most feedings to only The Boss and I. Rare exceptions were made to allow the kids to participate and usually only when those feedings were not connected to a sleeping time to follow. It was good for the kids to bond with her but their attachment as siblings came far more easily and with less need for intention as they all just got the joy of "playing together" without the responsibilities of parenting!
In the next post, I will share with you some of our ideas and practices regarding issues of Self-Comforting.

You can mull on these and share in the comments some of your experiences if you've already been through the "coming home" part of the adoption journey. And if you are waiting for a precious one to join your home, please feel free to leave a comment as to how I can pray for you. One of my favorite things to do is participate in "praying home" these little ones. My other favorite thing is to "pray them in" to a firm and secure attachment process once they are home!

In the meantime, please feel free to share and pass this information on to other moms that might enjoy my musings. Again, I am no expert. I have been blessed to be surrounded by friends and family who all support our efforts and a husband who has encouraged me to listen to the Holy Spirit and good counsel.


Trish said...

Wow, I'm even more impressed with your dedication and commitment to the Li'l Empress than ever! And how wonderful that you are able to share what you have learned with others, both at the agency and here.

Salzwedel Family said...

Thanks for sharing. I always appreciate the insights of real people who've "been there, done that". I look forward to your next post.