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Adoption Blog: The Perfect Blend

Attachment and Adjustment: The Hard Work of Adoption

The honeymoon is over. My husband, Jeremiah, and our two daughters have comfortably settled into their individual roles of being members of our blended family of five. But Dylan, now home from Korea for three months, has begun the hard, hard work of adjustment, and as a result, I'm struggling too.

After multiple conversations we've had with our post-placement social worker, I now know that the problems he's had are fairly typical. He alternates between reaching out to strange women on the subway ("You look nice. Want to be my next mom?") and exhibiting full-blown panic attacks, complete with body-drenching sweats and hyperventilation, if I leave him with Jeremiah and the girls for a quick trip to the gym. But to see your child suffer the way Dylan does is intense, to say the least. As a parent, I want to take all the pain away. As an adoptive parent, I know that he needs to weather this storm in order to come out more whole on the other end.

It's all been a bit hard on me, too. Sure, I've had fantasies of my getting, say, appendicitis. You know, just serious enough for a brief break—er, hospitalization. Of course, I'm being silly, but a breather from the intensity—even just an afternoon date with Jeremiah—does sound amazing, and I don't see one coming in our near future. I can’t imagine leaving Dylan with our sitter, even though she’s the absolute best.

I'm glad, though—even relieved, I guess—that we're finally sinking our teeth into the tough stuff like separation anxiety. Now that Dylan is showing signs of being attached enough to fear my loss, I can begin the process of earning his trust, in addition to that beautiful all-encompassing love. And I can begin to prove to him that I'll keep coming back. For now, after each and every (long, exhausting) day, I promise my son that, although I'm not his first mommy, I will be his last. He doesn't understand the words yet but, as he settles into my arms and touches my cheek, I think he's beginning to get the picture.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


Hang in there, Meghan. The first six months are hardest, then it gets better.

By Sharon Van Epps on Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 7:24 am.

PS. Just realized six months sounds awfully long when you’re living that intensity day to day, but if you take the long view, it’s not that bad. Looking back, our family’s adjustment period seems more like a tiring dream than the “real” life we enjoy now.

By Sharon Van Epps on Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 7:26 am.

Meghan I acknowledge you for recognizing that attachment is a process that takes time. You are being intentional about the time you spend building trust and forging your relationship with each other.

When the time comes for that first separation, it might help to follow the advice of Dr. Karen Purvis in her book “The Connected Child,” make sure your departure is clear to him. He will come to understand that Mommy is going out and she promises to return. As you stack completed promise on completed promise, he will be accruing evidence that you keep your word and that you do come back. Dr. Purvis also advises to never simply sneak out because for adopted kids who have already lost important people, this reinforces their fear that they could be abandoned at any moment and serves to re-traumatize them.

enjoy your little one!

By Gayle.Swift on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm.

Thank you both so much for your support and advice. Dylan’s doing much better every day. He’s blossoming into quite a little character!

By Meghan on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 2:24 am.

Meghan I have enjoyed reading your posts however more terrified they make me! How old was Dylan when you went to pick him up? I am curious because I am waiting to get the call for our daughter. However there were some hiccups and she is now several months older than we had anticipated.


By debbiev on Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 5:09 am.

Oh, Debbie, please don’t be scared! Justbe prepared. It is hard work, for sure, but it’s the best kind of hard work I can imagine doing. The rewards are immeasurable. Like your daughter, Dylan was a bit older than we’d expected. We brought him home just before his first birthday and, while his adjustment has been more complicated than if he’d been younger, he’s also much more engaging and, well, fun!

By Meghan on Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm.

Thanks for the quick response! We are hoping to be able to bring her home before she turns one but it is coming up fast. I have a few more questions in regards to your trip. Would you be open to answering them via email? I know how busy you are so if its a problem, that is ok.

By debbiev on Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm.

At the risk of repeating information you’ve already heard, attachment takes time by really embracing that it is a process you and your child grow together, you open up the space for it to unfold naturally without the pressure of expecting immediate reciprocity. You are already being proactive by joining this community and reaching out to others who have on-the-ground experience.

When your child arrives, treasure your first few weeks together and avoid the temptation to play pass the baby (or toddler) around; this dilutes the impact of your relationship. It’s confusing enough to have their “old” world replaced without cluttering it with extra bodies. This is the period when you create the experience that you are the safe, loving adults in her life. If friends and family are dying to “see” your new little one, opt for video, skype etc. Delay the one-on-ones until your child is more aware that you are her parents now.

By Gayle.Swift on Monday, August 22, 2011 at 1:35 am.

We have two boys..adopted out of foster care, both with PTSD/attachment anxiety - the elder is extremely challenging. We are told if we did not educate ourselves on PTSD/anxiety and attachment as we did, he would be in residential.  We have been working for five years on these issues - I wish six months was all it took.

Here are some ideas I don’t usually see anyone post on this magazine:

If you don’t mind endless mind numbing paperwork here are some service ideas to help you with respite:

1.We have wrap around mental health services - including parent training for these issues, as well as attachment/anxiety therapist for our older child. Easter Seals helped a lot with early childhood parent education - they came to our home, assessed our children, and gave practical training to help with our challenges with our children and their needs.

2, Easter Seals or other Post adopt services: Post adopt service person can go to school meetings, or after school program meetings, can educate school personnel on issues, can help find respite workers..mine has done all of this. Easter Seals in my state has a $150.00 - 3 hour training for any school team/faculty that requests it as an inservice training. I requested that the school my children attend hold this training..and the school did it - the school paid. It helped the personnel understand why my children act the way they do. They stopped asking “what did you do to make your child act this way before he got here this morning”.

3. Personal Care Assistance money allotted by our state (also called PCA services).
This service give you hours to “spend” like a 1:1 daycare if you can find a person. You become your own business - and the business is finding a worker to take your child out in the community, act as after school daycare or what ever, even babysitting. The paper work is big, but not hard. You usually have to use a company contracted/hired by the state to deal with the money end.
I get $9.50 an hour with a maximum of 540 hours a year, from the state (taxes are taken out). I supplement that income with $5.00 dollars an hour out of my own pocket to ensure that I get a good worker who wants the job..They end up with a $15.00 an hour job, with some taxes taken out. Make sense?
We used and some other on line nanny/childcare websites to find people. this summer I had three college age people working, who all are enrolled in psychology/childcare/education college courses. The PCA company does a legal background check for safety issues regarding any hireling. If you can’t find anyone through a website, advertise at local colleges in education departments/psychology departments - let college professors in these areas know you have a child their students can learn a lot from, and they can get paid. I found a worker that way.

4. Read Dan Hughes, psychologist. His attachment oriented books are great. I have been to two seminars given by him. He gets adoption/foster/trauma/attachment/anxiety like no one else.

5. Read Bruce Perry, psychologist, and his book with the terrible name but lots of insight ” The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog”. I have been to two of his seminars and he claims his publishers made him name his book that title because they thought it would sell better with that dramatic title. He explains the neuro science behind PTSD early childhood trauma/attachment and how it is a PHYSICAL issue, not just mental illness.

Those are just some of my better ideas that have worked for me. Hope this helps someone.

By TeaberryVermont on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm.

Thanks for your eloquent and spot-on post, Teaberry. Dr. Perry’s work is wonderful. The other resources are wonderful places to turn for ESSENTIAL respite. This is challenging and sacred work and it is imperative for the adults to get support and relief. Otherwise burnout is all too likely.
    You mention your personal family experience with PTSD/anxiety/attachment. These create a challenging soil for planting the seeds of attachment. Usually the process is lengthy. There is no magic bullet.
    The 6 months I mentioned in my earlier post was the window of privacy during which I would recommend famlies limit their exposure to outsiders while they build up the experience of themselves with their new members.
    Love is essential but knowledgeable support, practical strategies and empathetic, non-judgmental relationships are equally vital.

By Gayle.Swift on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 7:15 pm.
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