A Mother's Reflection on Attachment
Our son, Dylan, came home from Russia at age 2½ and very cute. I had been staring at his picture for months, imagining what this day would be like, praying that it would come to be. I could see myself and my husband walking through the gates at Logan Airport, Dylan on my arm, as my family gathered around to meet our new son. We would be laughing and crying happy tears. I did NOT picture Dylan and me crying out of fear and frustration, my husband dragging our battered luggage slowly behind us while my family looked on in horror. But that was reality for us. I did NOT imagine Dylan rejecting any advances I made toward him in those first few months, preferring for my husband, brother, father to do for him what I had been waiting all of my adult to do: tie shoes, feed oatmeal, and cuddle after a fall. But that was reality for us too. The months after Dylan came home were some of the hardest of my life. I can't even imagine what they were like for him. He lashed out at us, throwing incredible tantrums, hitting, biting, and screaming. Bedtimes were hard, meals were a nightmare. He was so angry and sad, grieving for what he had left behind.
Dylan had lived over half his life in a baby home in Ekaterinburg, Russia. When he came to us, he was extremely independent, preferred a strict schedule and hated change. He wanted to control everything and tried to order us about in his newly learned English. He was easily overwhelmed and flew into a rage over the slightest thing. All products of his environment of course, and exactly what they tell you about when adopting an "older" child. I had been very worried about attachment and had read every book I could get on the subject. While I am glad that I prepared myself, I do believe I became a bit paranoid about it, thinking everything must be attachment related when many things were just his attempts to adjust and test us. Being first time parents, it was also difficult to distinguish adoption related behavior from regular 2-year-old behavior.
We leaned heavily on my family during this difficult time. My parents live nearby and we are very close. I was in close contact with our social worker as well, who called me many, many times to check on us, lend support and give me a fresh perspective on Dylan's behavior. And Dylan and I got to work. I took my cuddles when I could and savored them! We played attachment games, staring into each other's eyes, feeding each other food, etc. We took walks, just the two of us. We baked and colored and played cars. We co-slept for the first four months. I was very happy that I decided before Dylan came home to leave my job and be a full time stay-at-home mom. It would have been much more difficult for our attachment if I had to leave hem every day. He already viewed me as one in a long line of caretakers who had passed through his life; it took him a long time to adjust to living in a family and having a mother and father.
It has also taken me a long time to realize that attachment is truly a lifelong process. As adults, we work on attachment every day without even thinking about it: shared cups of coffee, shopping trips, Christmas dinners, phone calls, letters, email all strengthen our bonds with parents, siblings and friends. It's a history of shared jokes, happy stories and trying times. I know I, probably like many other adoptive parents, expected that to develop overnight and it just can't. It took six months before I even began to feel like we were a family and a full year to feel "normal." On Dylan's first anniversary of coming home, we had a small cookout with family. As we sat around the fire pit and relaxed, Dylan crawled into MY lap, put his head on my chest and went to sleep. Oh, how far we had come from the previous year! Then I smiled and cried those happy tears, knowing we were going to be all right.
Dylan is now thriving. He has brought so much joy to our lives; he is an amazing little boy and has attached to us quite nicely. However, I still email our social worker now and then with attachment related questions.