Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Attachment and Going Back to (Volunteer) Work

With apologies for the length, here are my thoughts on attachment and schedules at this point in our adoption/parenting adventure. I tried to spice it up with some links for those of you who may, say, be considering Ethiopian adoption but be too shy to email me yet (ahem).

Because of various conversations and our post-placement review, I have been thinking a lot over the last week about attachment, attachment parenting, when to leave Anna in others’ care, and what that means for all the things I am/used to be involved in outside the house.

Attachment is not our warm-fuzzy feeling of being “bonded” to our child but our child’s trusting relationship to her parents. As one article puts it, attachment is “the quality of the relationship a child feels toward a particular person (parent, grandparent, caregiver, etc.).” Strong attachment is formed through building, over time, the child’s sense of security and comfort that their caregiver will respond to their needs—physical and emotional.

Children who are securely attached are more confident in learning and exploring, interact more positively with other kids, are more emotionally stable and able to manage feelings, and are more able to handle stress and help others handle stress. Children who do not have strong attachment, well, they are more likely to lack confidence, have difficultly with social interactions, express and manage feelings, and act out in unhealthy ways. The extreme is the dreaded Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Most people don’t know this name but it’s what they mean when they warn you that if you adopt, your child might be “messed up” and hate you as a teenager. I can actually see signs of abandonment/attachment issues in some of the teenagers we know--not adopted--and it's not pretty.

Helping Anna form strong attachment to us is absolutely the most important thing we can do for her and our family. It’s number one. This is why we’ve been careful to be Anna’s only true caregivers—the only ones to change her diaper, feed her a bottle, put her to sleep, comfort her when she cries. (Even my mother didn’t get to do these things when she visited, and kudos to her for not trying, because you know she was just dying to get her hands on that baby for so long.) It’s why we lean more toward “attachment parenting”—responding to baby’s cries, having her sleep near us, carrying her in a sling rather than always parking her in a stroller or seat. And it’s why we haven’t left her with anyone else, despite myriad babysitting offers.

Sure, kids usually easily come to trust their parents to take care of them. But for an adopted child, it’s not so simple. We are Anna’s fifth set of caregivers. In her first six months of life, four times she thought the person caring for her would always be there. Can we really expect her to be one hundred percent confident that we the fifth will be different? She is now 8 ½ months yet our relationship is only 2 months old. Emotionally, with us, she’s 2 months old, not 8 ½. Sometimes it seems like she’s been here a long time, but two months really isn’t very long. One guideline for attachment is to expect it to take as long as the child is old when they come to you. Anna was six months when we met, so plan to focus on attachment for at least six months.

This brings us to the present predicament of everything that revolves around the school year starting up and I, well, I’m not sure where I’m supposed to fit in. In the past I would run the PowerPoint at church and serve on a committee. We have a small group at our house and sometimes I make food. And most of all I’ve been sort of a (left-handed) right-hand-woman for Aaron in church youth group, I’ve given rides and hung out with kids, and I’ve helped plan and prepare for and lead Young Life Club.

  • Category 1 is done. No more church worship stuff.
  • Category 2 is fine for now. We meet at our house and Anna is fairly content to hang out with us.
  • Category 3 . . . may have to go. Or be altered so as to be nearly unrecognizable. I’m not sure. I just know a lot of these activities aren’t conducive to hauling a baby along. (I also have to stay home and work sometimes, because man do I suck at getting work done during the day now.)

What about leaving her with someone? I think both of us realized last week in talking that we’re not ready—and/or we don’t think Anna is ready. Sure, she seems to love everyone and is getting to know some people she sees consistently. Maybe she’d be fine. Or maybe she’d seem fine but the hesitation to attach would be stirred. Or maybe she’d regress—remember the football game incident? And the week of not napping? She seemed to regress that week. I say this because when she first came home, she would scream bloody murder for her bottle. I mean zero to shaking with violent sobs in sixty seconds. After a few weeks it got better; putting a bib on her no longer meant you were trying to torture her but might actually mean you would indeed feed her soon. But that week after the overstimulation meltdown and frustrated mommy putting her in a new playpen and leaving her crying longer than ever—she went back to the violent sobs sometimes. It was like she was saying, “I don’t trust you anymore. You stopped being responsive to me so I’d better make my demands completely clear” (and really loud).

I don’t want to see that again. And certainly not continuing for long.

I'm sure plenty of people might think we're paranoid. That we need to be away from her (both at the same time). That we'll spoil her by responding too much. That because she's a baby she'll just naturally be fine. I find it ironic that it seems the same people who would warn about "messed-up adopted kids" (attachment disorders) would turn around and minimize efforts to prevent that. But I digress. The point is, it's too important not to err on the side of caution. With all she's been through already, she deserves our all in parenting, especially at this completely dependent stage.

Our solution for now is to bring her along when I can and sit some things out for now. She has warmed up to sporting events and had a rockin’ good (though exhausting) time at Wildhorse Canyon for Young Life leadership camp. She did okay at youth group as long as she could suck on a grape, so I will probably try to be there most weeks and maybe ease into letting someone else watch her in the nursery nearby after a while or something. But Young Life Club? At any given moment it might involve yelling, loud music, strobe lights, inflatable or food-based projectiles, and people setting a very bad example as to what foods/nonfoods should be eaten together (see: lettuce/live goldfish), all in one room with nowhere to escape to.

And so it was that as we headed to leadership camp to talk about how we will serve kids together, I harbored the knowledge that there is no “me” in “we” right now, at least when it comes to doing Club. I’m still helping with planning and still can do “contact work” which in theory is the most important part of Young Life . . . but it’s strange to think I won’t be at Club with the kids and leaders.

I’ll feel a little left out two Mondays from now, I think, but I also think it’s the right thing for right now. You can’t all do all of the stuff all of the time, and our little girl needs me more than those bigger girls and guys right now. I have to trust our team, and I have to trust our family, and I have to trust our God.


~Hippie~ said...

I kept looking and looking.
I pretty much read the whole thing twice doing so.
So save me the trouble and just tell me.
Where do the chapters of this start and end?


wmw said...

I forgot you younguns can't read anything for longer than ten seconds. This is for a more mature audience. :p

rebekah said...

Ok, you don't know me at all, but I've stumbled across your blog in one of my periodic searches for more info. We are adopting an infant boy from Ethiopia and are well into the wait. Now focusing on attachment.

I really really appreciate your sharing your thought process on this. I'm not sure exactly why, but it has helped me get my mind around all of this.

Katy said...

You realize that I fully intend to ask you for advice when my kids come home, right? It's great reading your blog and seeing how you are working through all of the "you should be" from everyone around you to seek the best for your gorgeous daughter. Thanks for sharing the journey!

RMMcDowell said...

You're beautiful. And I think you're doing it right.

For whatever it's worth, and I know it's WAY more complex with adopted kids, we know a lot of kids with attachment disorders in our careers--volunteer and paid--as well. Not wanting that to happen to our little girl, and also wanting to avoid all of the horrors I encounter in my current paid writing (because I'm a WRITER!!! For a living!! Now to write fiction . . .) gig, we have been very careful in our parenting, too. We don't shelter, but we definitely wrestled hard--and still do--with the letting her cry and caring for her and keeping her with us and all of the other things. She is preparing to spend her first overnight at Beau's parents' house . . . and I'm petrified. Thank goodness I have jewelry parties that weekend (both Saturday and Sunday) that will keep me occupied, but I also know I'll cry, cry, cry.

It's hard, this parenting gig. You never really know if you're doing it right. But if it feels right, even after you pray about it and talk to your partner about it, and if it puts the baby first, I think it's more right. I love you. Glad we're in it together.

Now to stop spending any money so that we can get out there to you. Maybe in the fall . . . Smallport football sounds good. :)

pulaski the great said...

As a not so far into the future parent, this was a good blog entry for me to read. As you said, it's not just adopted kids who go through this and it is wonderful advice for us.

Amy said...

So it took me awhile to get back here, read, and post, but good for you for having well-thought-out reasons for attachment parenting. I admit, we didn't do it "much" (we let others care for him, and at one point were forced to due to an out-of-state wedding), but I admire those who feel so strongly.

Situations the children came from certainly play a role in how they will attach, and I think you're smart to back out of things. You will both know when it's time to let others care for her (you will cry, but you will let a babysitter in the house someday). In fact, I still get emotional when Roman goes away to his grandparents' for the night. But you're doing what's best for your family.