Picture this: you’ve just spent an exciting and grueling few weeks in a foreign country. You’re bringing home a child who doesn’t know who you are, other than that you are the latest in a long line of people taking care of him. To him, you smell weird, look weird and act weird. He’s not exactly comfortable. After a traumatic trip in a loud fuselage for what’s basically a whole day, you have one unhappy little kid on your hands.

For most parents, a situation like this is certainly difficult, but manageable. Most parents have had the opportunity to develop a bond with their child, and that relationship helps them through tough situations like that long plane ride. For the parents of internationally adopted toddlers, that plane ride is doubly difficult, because the parent-child bond isn’t there yet. The child doesn’t find comfort in or trust the parents. There’s no attachment.

This is what Kathleen and I can look forward to. In the long-term, we’re very optimistic that our child will adjust and attach and all that good stuff, but it’s going to be difficult and we know it’s going to take time. Our number one task in the first few months of life with our new child will be attachment– through repeated actions, they will learn that Kathleen and I are not going anywhere, and that they can rely on us to meet their needs.

The attachment process is even more difficult than that plane ride, though. It’s getting our son or daughter to think of us as parents, rather than the latest in a possibly long line of caretakers. Having only spent time in institutionalized care, the idea of parents is a foreign one. If you’ve ever held a 6-month-old who screams whenever Mom is out of sight, then you know well that even these very young children certainly understand the concept of parents. Even at that young age, the foundations of the parent child relationship are strong. We’ll have some catching up to do.

I think a lot of people might picture us arriving back at the airport in Chicago, our family all around making a huge fuss (in standard Kelly fashion), ready to welcome our new child to the USA. Or maybe there will be a big “Welcome Home” party, where everyone can meet the new little guy or gal. All those unfamiliar people and all the chaos can be more than a little overwhelming for a kid who who’s already in an unfamiliar place, and still without a firm anchor. For a child like the one we’re going to bring home, this sort of intense experience can be a frightening, sensory overload and can actually do more harm than good, pretty much exactly what he doesn’t need early on.

What is recommended by our social worker, and what we plan on doing, is gradually introducing him or her to new family and friends until we are certain they can handle our loud and loving families en masse.

Don’t worry though. We’ll have a party. We’ll have tons of parties. But maybe not in that first few months.

1 thought on “Attachment

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Brian & Kathleen. I’m excited to read more, see where this takes you, and welcome your little one to Chicago (when the time comes). Love ya.

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