Particular Parenting Worries

In the week before O’s birth, one of the adoption blogs I follow had an excellent post about attachment that, me being me, got me worried. It discusses the concrete steps that this couple took to help ensure attachment when they brought home their twin sons from Haiti. And, in the post that it links to originally outlining their attachment plan, there seemed to be nothing that I was going to be able to do properly. Mama Imperfect said that reading about parenting always makes you feel inadequate (and this coming from someone whose parenting and confidence I greatly admire), which helped with the sting, as did the application of some logic, but it’s still worth discussing.

I don’t mind saying that the prospect of attachment disorder scares the shit out of me. I know it’s not common, but it’s throughout adoption literature, and it’s terrifying. So attachment is something I have been concerned with for a long time. One of the excellent points made in the more recent post from Johnson-McCormick is that attachment flows both ways. It’s not just a matter of attaching child to parent, but also parent to child, something that doesn’t seem to get discussed in the parenting community at large or the adoption community in particular. And since I’ve worked pretty hard, as an educator, not to allow myself to get too attached to children I meet, I have been worried about my side of the attachment equation. Although we have a good relationship, I have definitely guarded my heart with BMA; what if this extended to the baby?

The limited (and as I waited for his birth, ever-shrinking) time that I’ll have with O before I go back to work is something I have tremendous guilt about. I think it’s the right thing to do for me professionally and personally, but I worry: am I going back too soon? What will happen over those hours each week when he’s in someone else’s care? I trust Tony (the nanny) completely, but it can feel like there’s no implicit reason for O to be more attached to me than to him.

This leads into the “we didn’t let anyone but us feed them” point from the blog post. That obviously isn’t feasible in my situation, nor is it really desirable for me. I have this tension in my mind around O’s attachment process. On the one hand, I need him to be firmly attached to me, to solidify familial bonds of love that will be tested every time someone asks me who he is, or where his mother is, or any number of questions that, while usually well-intentioned, serve to undermine our family. On the other, I aspire to, and need as a single parent, for O to be gregarious, willing to go to lots of people for holding, attention, food, and love. The most important thing on the chesed calendar that SBCG set up is baby holding, to give me time to shower and do other things that require both of my hands.

Ultimately, I know that the things discussed in the post, and in most adoption literature, have to do with adopting older children. They specifically talk about regressing with the twins so that they can have that baby bonding time, and I am truly fortunate to be having that baby bonding time at the developmentally appropriate time for O. We had a week alone together in a hotel room, and we do co-sleeping now. I hold him a lot, and have him in a carrier often (although with the lack of cold here in the Boston winter, it’s sweaty work!). Ironically, I’m now trying to have time away from him every day, so I’ll be ready to go back to work and be away from him; I nearly had a panic attack when we were still in the hospital and my parents took me out to dinner. He is an incredibly easy-going kid, and willing (so far) to be held and fed by almost anyone, as long as they don’t have cold hands. What comes later will come later, and while my anxiety about his development certainly doesn’t go away, I’m trying to roll with discovering who he’s going to be. Trying really hard.

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5 thoughts on “Particular Parenting Worries

  1. The mechanics of it–co-sleeping, baby carriers, and the rest–those are tools to help you in the task, but the task itself is responding to the baby’s insatiable need to love you by falling in love back. It’s gonna mess with your boundaries, mess with your sense of yourself so deeply that you’ll experience his physical needs as an extension of your own, and you’ll catch sight of yourself in the mirror and wonder why you don’t look more like him (and I say that as someone who resembles her biokid in all but a couple of ways). I had birth and nursing hormones aiding those processes when I went through them with Z, but Alex didn’t: her experience was different, but what was leading the way for both of us was Z’s pure baby need for her parents, and O. is going to need you in a way that he won’t need Tony. You are his father, and that runs deeper.

  2. Oh, my friend. S. is so right. You falling in love with him is the absolute priority here – Getting to that place where you feel like emotionally and almost physically there is no boundary between him and you. I don’t know how else to explain that process (which my bio-mom friends have told me rarely happens in the first few weeks of parenting). That level of bonding from the parent is something that my mom says didn’t happen with her until I was 2 months old. Women with PPD take even longer. Adoptive parents also often take longer, no matter if they love the child at first sight or not. With my foster toddler it took me 6 months because I was protecting my heart due to his having been removed back to his birth family when he’d previously temporarily been with us. When it happens, it is a feeling that matches none other – You truly start to understand what oxytocin does. It’s like your heart just jumps out of your chest and you could cry because you realize you would die for this child. It’s an unbelievable feeling and I still remember the moment it happened for me. I still feel guilty it took even though I understand why. I have a few things to say about the attachment concerns. First, I have a friend who has two internationally adopted children – One came from an orphanage at age 3, one from a foster family at age 17 months. She very much follows the “no one but we and our parents hold the baby or child [or feed the baby] for the first several years” school of thought of attachment which most adoption therapists recommend. And I get, it I really do. For children who’ve experienced multiple losses and traumas, like kids in orphanages or who were not adopted right after birth, there is a high risk of some pretty intense issues that adoptive parents have to try to address through consistency and helping the child attach securely to one or four adults (many of these kids will go to strangers with no problem, but it’s actually an indicator of lack of healthy attachment). But for us, it’s been different. Our little one was a toddler when he came to us and he’d not had the kind of parenting I’d want to see a child have, but was connected to a fairly present and consistent and loving mother. So I didn’t share the deep concerns re: attachment. We had some struggles with him – More separation anxiety than most kids have, going to strangers too easily, etc. So we did have to find ways to address those and probably should have had more foresight about how to nip those issues in the bud from day one. But he’s doing great right now and despite daycare and letting lots of people hold him or care for him, at 2.5 yrs old he seems very securely attached to myself and my partner. With our older child, despite more trauma history than our little one, there were attachment issues for sure but certainly not of the type you are thinking of. Reactive attachment disorder is the “attachment disorder” that is the Big Scary Acronym (RAD) all adoptive parents are afraid of. Thing is, it pretty much by definition requires multiple or prolonged trauma and neglect or highly unstable caregiving (such as multiple foster placements). Your baby did not have any of that. Adoption IS a form of trauma, in my opinion. However, my non-clinical opinion is it would take a LOT for an infant adopted at birth by an emotionally present and stable and non-abusive caregiver to develop anything even resembling RAD. Please… stay away from the websites about toddler and older child adoption. Our experiences have so little to do with yours when it comes to attachment and separation stuff. There are resources for learning about how to further and build healthy attachment and how to understand what separation from birth mom is like for a newborn without putting the fear of reactive attachment disorders into you, I promise. Without any judgment whatsoever, I would (if asked) probably encourage you to limit the number of adults who hold and care for him for the first few months. I think any adoption professional or adoptive parent would probably suggest that. Gregariousness and ability to go to multiple caregivers is not something I would want to nurture in an infant, especially an adopted one – It’s something that comes over time as they age into toddlerhood. However, you need to take care of you (which means having someone hold him while you take a shower or go have coffee with a friend now and then) and you need to work, and your are SO lucky to have a nanny instead of a daycare that has a rotating staff of multiple caregivers. Overton is going to be okay. You and his nanny will be his primary caregivers and will nurture and be consistent with him. He will have friends who come and care for him for shorter periods of time. And you will all survive and thrive. Honey, I hate to scare you, but you’ll have enough to deal with when he’s going through identity formation, realizing his family is different, etc. – For now, just enjoy him. And remember that as a single dad you may need more people to be involved in his life right now than you would wish or than the “experts” recommend just in order to keep your sanity. An emotionally healthy dad is a dad who can bond is a dad who nurtures attachment. You can and will do it. XOXO

  3. One more thing – Attaching in Adoption is a great book you should read, and Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Parents Knew or whatever it’s called. That second book really taught me a lot about an infant’s view of adoption, which I think is useful – It reinforced my view that even for little ones adoption is a form of trauma, but not in a hopeless “all adopted children will develop RAD and hate their parents” way.

  4. I’m super late reading this, but I’m responding anyway. I know it won’t change your anxiety, but you have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about and I promise that you being back at work won’t hurt Overton or your attachment process. You’re working part-time. You’re with him literally all day for 4 days a week, and you’re with him for all but 8 hours on the other 3 days. You’re the only one who manages his evening routines, puts him to bed at night, wakes up with him throughout the night, and handles his morning routines. Three days of work per week won’t change that. He’ll see me as an important grownup in his life and since you and I are friends I’m sure I’ll still see him after he’s done needing a nanny, but he’ll never be as attached to me as he will be to you. You’re his father. I have no desire to compete with or try to replace that. You seriously don’t need to worry about this (though I know that doesn’t actually fix the worrying).

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