By: Susan Neudorf
Let me start off by saying that I’m not sure where our son is at in his attachment journey. For the first 2 years of my son being home, I thought we had dodged the whole, “attachment issues” bullet. It seems that I was wrong…
Our little guy came home at 2.5 years old, with a fairy-tale month of transition visits, and a non-eventful move in day. Everything was good! At our 6 month adoption probation visit, I remember our social worker saying “we do offer a course for adoptive parents around attachment issues, but obviously you guys don’t need that” (she said that since my son was at that moment lying on the ground literally kissing my feet!). No unpleasant behaviours showed up until he started half day preschool when my parental leave ended. However, having two older children, all his behaviours seemed age appropriate to us.
It wasn’t until the summer he turned 5 that we realized something was wrong. It had been a rough spring, behaviour wise, but we assumed that was due to my busy work schedule. Since I would be home all summer, with nothing but relaxing and pleasant activities planned, things would improve. They didn’t. By September I felt exhausted, empty, angry, and dreaded opening my eyes to face the day. My little guy would spend all day, every day, doing some combination of the following:
Saying “I hate you”, “you are a poopy butt”, etc.
Hitting, kicking, head-butting
Being defiant for the most benign requests
Sabotaging every single family moment, big and small
Being clingy with me
Not respecting privacy
Asking questions around his adoption, babyhood, place in the family
In October we met with a local therapist who specializes in attachment. The two hour session turned into a bit of an intervention for me. When she finished listening to our story she said “your son comes from a hard place”. In my infinite wisdom, I assured her that he didn’t. I reminded her that he only had one foster home, a great transition, and adults had always treated him well, and that she should hear the painful stories of some families on the Adopt4Life Facebook group! She then helped me truly understand what I already knew, but had never internalized. That my son’s prenatal drug exposure had caused him to be stuck in “fight” mode. That even one foster home is still multiple caregivers. That my son was still hurting even though other children might be hurting more. That my son was not yet securely attached to us.
I love metaphors, as they help me to navigate life. As I was struggling to process what our therapist said, a hospital metaphor came to mind. In a children’s hospital, kids are there for all sorts of reasons. Some children have leukemia and are undergoing radiation therapy. Some children fell off a swing and broke their arm. Regardless of the degree of injury or disease, they all need treatment to live happy and healthy lives. Similarly, all children who have been adopted have undergone some degree of hurt, and need help to live happy and healthy lives. My son included.
We went back to the basics. We started using therapeutic/intensive parenting techniques. We started to see improvements. This actually made me feel really angry and guilty! Why had we not been parenting like this from the beginning? Could we have prevented getting to such a low place? We won’t ever know, and just have to acknowledge that we did the best we could, and got help when we needed it.
Whenever I am asked what advice I would give to new adoptive parents I now say, “parent as though your child is not securely attached, even if they don’t seem to be struggling! Your child has nothing to lose and everything to gain.” I also wish that CAS would provide attachment parenting training to all adoptive families, after placement, so that all the PRIDE learning could be translated into working with the real child who joined your family.