Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Speaking of Attachment - Part 3

So, I'm close to wrapping up my little series on our journey through attachment. Let me say again, that we are no experts. I've done a lot of reading. I've done a lot of talking with more experienced moms and adoption workers. I've done a lot of praying. What we settled on isn't necessarily how we started the journey. It's more a matter of what shook out after sifting and trying things out happened those early months. It's what we came to after we spent time learning our daughter's temperament and personality. We're still fine tuning things.

That being said, you should check out this post to get the full picture, if you haven't been following along already. The first two posts generated some good discussion. I'd love to hear more from you all and share some ideas or tips among us that might help someone along the way.

This last concept I'm sharing is one that took me a little while around which to wrap my brain. When I first felt the Lord asking me to consider "Taking a Year Off," I was almost scared. I mean, a whole year with nothing but the bare necessities on our calendar? It sounded so extreme. But when I approached The Boss with the idea, it became very clear that the Lord was asking us to strip away all the non-essential from that calendar and that To Do list and our weekly routine. That He was asking us to focus our time, attentions, and efforts on "cementing" Li'l Empress into our family, and to allow all 7 of us to adjust, transition and find our way to our new, healthy dynamic.

So, we set about putting things in place to accomplish this task. I wrote a post about it in this post, before we left for China. When we arrived home on Sept. 27th, 2008, it was the beginning of a new way of living our daily existence for all of us. We intentionally shrunk our world to just the 7 of us (as the most vital members of Li'l Empress's new world) as frequently and for as long as we could possibly get away with it.

This meant that we did church & youth group, but not many extra services or events. We tried a small group with our church but it was really hard on all of us. We kept the four kids in public school for the year, but I stopped volunteering in the classroom, in the library, or in the special committees for the whole school year. The kids did not participate in any extra-curricular events until late spring, and then it was only one night a week for a local soccer league. The Boss continued to go to work (I mean, the mortgage still has to be paid, right?!), but he was very intentional to work from home whenever the opportunity presented itself and he tried to establish one day a week where that was his norm.

I gave up the moms' group that I had been leading for several years. (That one hurt. I really enjoyed the fellowship and the mentoring.) I also gave up the bulletin. The original intent was to give it up just until the new year, but my sweet friend who took it over for me gave me a couple extra months and I took it back in February. I had really missed it, and enjoyed picking it back up and digging in to it and the other related projects it generates. But I will admit, getting back into the swing of writing on a deadline and proofing for errors and cross-checking details was much harder than I'd anticipated.

In addition to stripping "stuff" from our calendar, we created a Family Night that was not previously part of our normal routine. Before traveling to China, we'd never been so busy that we needed to create a regular event of it, but now that we were being so intentional, we decided that Friday nights were our sacred time. We played Wii, we baked cookies, we watched silly movies. We ate our combined body weight in popcorn over the winter months, I think! We even did some crafts and board games. (Have I ever mentioned how much I hate kids' board games? And crafting with my little ones? OY! I am so not regularly "that mom.")

Those things we did created some designated bonding time and a sense of identity for all of us, but especially for Li'l Empress. As the months went on, it was as if I could see her "clicking" into her role in our dynamic and settling in to what it meant to become part of "The Gang." I remember sitting with The Boss on the couch one night in particular and watching her play cards with the big kids, just giggling and flirting with Shaggy. She was picking up some of our mannerisms by then. And she was definitely getting the hang of her mischievous side and how to express it. That night, it clicked. This was our new normal. This was our family.

During this season, we also made the difficult decision to limit the amount of company we had in our home and to limit the travel we did to other homes. This was especially hard, as we love to entertain. For the most part, we shared our limits with my siblings and their families and a few of our closest friends. We did an occasional sleepover here with the kids' friends, since we were home anyway. But we really concentrated on keeping our circle of places where Li'l Empress could feel safe to a small boundary for that first year. It's really paid off now, because she feels completely safe here in our home, even when we have company that she doesn't know. It's as if she knows she can trust these visitors to love her and care about her because they've been allowed into her safety zone.

Finally, we intentionally limited child-care for Li'l Empress to just the 6 of us as much as we possibly could. There were a few times that my sister watched her for me, but once the older kids got out of school for the summer we even stopped relying on that. Our purpose was to really anchor within her the idea that we are her first line of care, that she would always have her needs met and that we would do so consistently. Before she came home to us, we counted that she had 5 other "care scenarios" in which non-permanent people were meeting her physical needs. For a 13-month old, that's a lot. We're fairly confident that the quality of care she received was excellent - she's always been in great health and had no traumatic experiences to overcome that we know of (besides the manner in which she even came to us in the first place, obviously). But still. 5 sets of folks who have come and gone in the life of a little one who is only a year old. That's a lot. We set about to "re-wire" her ideas about family and help her understand that she could attach to us all and that we weren't going anywhere.

Of course, this has meant that her transition to the nursery program at our church has been a bit of a struggle. Now, after praying about it and talking with some other moms, I'm okay with that. To me, it's not a deal breaker. She sits well with us in church and loves the music and the worship time. I guess, with four older kids, I also have the perspective that says all too soon she'll be waving "bye" to me as she runs off to play with her friends, maybe without even a second glance at dear old Momma's face. I'm okay with delaying that eventuality a while!

Our goal in all of this was to intentionally and methodically help Li'l Empress concretize the concept of OUR family identity and how she fits in to that. To help her KNOW in her little knower that she is ours. That she belongs. That we are her FOREVER FAMILY. And that she is our daughter, completely. I am proud of how all of The Gang came alongside this particular method of doing that. And I'm proud of how well she has grasped that concept and let it take root in her heart. That anchor will serve her well in years to come.

I think I will do one more follow up post, about the additional things that this "Year Off" taught me. It was much bigger than I had originally grasped it to be. I'm so grateful that the Lord prompted me to consider it. And I can't wait to share what else we learned!


Livin' Life said...

I have really enjoyed these posts. They are sooooo insightful. I am looking forward to grafting in a loved one into our family sometime hopefully soon and your posts are an encouragement to us as a family. We too like to keep adapting our parenting skills to whatever season our family is in and needs. It is definitely not a once and done thing that can never change. Each child is so unique and each season brings something new. Your posts will be bookmarked for future reference!!! :-)

You Rock!

Lauren @ Dragonflies Journey said...

T, how amazing is this story?!?! I can't stop reading your posts on it. I'm so inspired. Maybe you should write a book to help other families going through the process adjust.

As far as my gown goes, I'm not nervous about the wedding AT ALL. I can't believe how calm I am actually. Everything is falling into place and my seamstress has been wonderful. We ordered the dress but I won't be going in until about 4 weeks before the wedding to get the fitting started. Pushing it, I know, but she said it's the only way to ensure the proper fit.

Hope your family has a blessed and joyful holiday season!

Trish said...

This was fascinating, and I am so impressed with your willingness to give things up even when it was difficult.

Blessings to the whole gang!

a Tonggu Momma said...

This so echoes our life our first two years home, although it evolved out of necessity rather than being a conscious decision BEFORE we traveled. Thank you for detailing it all.

julie said...

I am attempting to do something similar with our schedule. My husband doesn't want to cut down the schedule as much as I do. I am praying that he has a change of heart.

Thanks for the prayers!

Cindi Campbell said...

So very good advice. Glad you were able to piece it all together so people can read it at once. We are having difficulty with our middle daughter with immaturity. We put her at about 4 instead of almost 5 1/2. At first I wanted to hurry her along but now I realize I need to go back and nurture her in areas and *help* her to do some of the most basic things instead of being irritated that she will not do it by herself. It is good to be reminded that each child is unique in their growth.