I’d say this is the number one question we are asked right after “How is he doing?”. And it’s a great question that I wondered myself of other adoptive families when we first began this process. That being said when asked I never respond in a way that really gives the reasoning behind why we are keeping to ourselves for a bit. So, in the hopes that I can do a better job explaining to everyone I decided to write it all down. Oh, and if you’ve asked this question please don’t think I’m singling you out..we get asked this multiple times day and it’s a very valid question. I hope you hang in to the end and that it helps you understand why we have chosen this path.
We know that each of you reading this has likely, in some way, supported, loved and prayed for us. Because we know your care for Maddox and our family, we want to share with you some information that we hope will best equip everyone around him to assist us in laying the strongest and healthiest foundation – emotionally, physically and spiritually.
In many ways, Maddox is like the children who entered our family through birth; we will parent like other Christian families as we bring all of them up in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. But there will be a few, initial differences. For over a year now, we have researched bonding and attachment in newly adopted children.
We are confident of this: God’s design is PERFECT! His plan for parents and children is a beautiful and meaningful picture of His love for us. Attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need and communicates that need. The primary caretaker meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats between a parent and child over and over to create trust within the child for that parent; the baby is hungry, cries in distress, mom nurses & calms the baby – which teaches him that this person is safe and can be trusted. By God’s very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect their learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. The security provided by parents will, ultimately, give children a trust for and empathy towards others.
Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process. The loss of a biological mother at an early age can be a major trauma on their little hearts.Not only has Maddox lost his first/birth mother he has also lost not one but two sets of foster parents. The last of which cared for him for over 15 months of his 22 month life. The good news is that we can now, as Maddox’s parents and forever family, rebuild attachment and help him heal from these emotional wounds. He is overwhelmed. Everything around him is new and he will need to learn not just about his new environment, but also about love and family. The best way for us to form a parent/child bond is to be the ones to hold, snuggle, instruct, soothe and feed him. As this repeats between us, he will be able to learn that parents are safe to trust and to love deeply. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once Maddox starts to establish this important bond, he will then be able to branch out to other, healthy relationships.
Maddox has, what may seem like, a lot of structure, boundaries and close proximity to us. Please know that these decisions are prayerfully and thoughtfully made choices based on immense amounts of research and instruction from trusted adoption mentors. We are doing what we believe is best to help him heal from those interruptions in attachment as effectively as possible. Why are we telling you all of this? Because you will actually play an awesome and vital role in helping our Maddox settle in, heal, and lay a foundation for the future. There are a few areas in which you can help us:
~ The first is to set physical boundaries. It will help us immensely if adults limit what is typically considered normal, physical contact with Maddox. This will (for a while) include things like holding, excessive hugging and kissing. Waving, blowing kisses or high fives are perfectly appropriate and welcomed! Maddox should know that the people with whom he interacts are our trusted friends.
~ Another area is redirecting Maddox’s desire to have his physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having us meet them. A child struggling to learn to attach may exhibit indiscriminate affection with people outside of their family unit. It may appear harmless and as if they are “very friendly” but this is actually quite dangerous for the child. To share this is difficult for us because we have snuggled, cared for, fed and loved so many of your children. Please understand that we want nothing more than to have Maddox hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you (he’s totally irresistible and huggable). But until he has a firm understanding of family and primary attachments, we would be so grateful if you direct him to us if you see that he is seeking out food, affection or comfort.
Tonight as I tucked Reagan into bed she looked at me and asked why Maddox cries so much at night. She said it hurt her ears and she wished he would stop. I told her to close her eyes and imagine that one day she woke up like any other day. That I dressed her and got her all ready and put her in a car and took her to her doctor’s office. Then these strange people came in. They immediately started holding her and trying to hug and kiss her. They didn’t look like her family. They didn’t smell like her family and she couldn’t understand a word they were saying. Then I hugged her and while I was crying I let the strange people put her in a car and drive away. The family kept trying to show her affection. They took her back to a strange room where they showed her all kind of new toys. They tried to feed her food she had not seen before like seaweed but all she really wanted was mac and cheese. I asked her to imagine trying to tell them she was sad and wanted to go back to her mother but they couldn’t understand her. Then they packed a bag and took her onto an airplane for a very long time. They got off the plane and drove to a house and introduced her to two little kids who again didn’t look anything like her. They were bigger than her and she couldn’t understand what they were saying either. Days went by and no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t get the people to stop kissing her or to understand that she wanted to go back to get her mother. I asked her how that made her feel. And with tears streaming down her face she said she was so sad for Maddox.
Maybe I didn’t handle this the right way and I, of course, assured her this would never happen to her and we will always be her mommy and daddy but I do think it was important for her to see why Maddox responds to things the way he does. And I think maybe this explanation will give a better understanding to those of you who are sincerely curious why we are choosing to do things the way we are. We certainly don’t have all the answers but we are doing the best we know how for him. He is processing…a lot. More than we can imagine and as we walk this road of grief with him we want him to know that we love him and that we are here forever. It will take time. How long? I honestly do not know the answer. But slowly he will learn to trust us and eventually love us in return.
We are incredibly blessed to have so many loved ones around us. We couldn’t ask for a better extended family & circle of friends for our precious Maddox. Thank you so much for your love and support over the past year. If you have any questions please feel free to ask at any time! I promise we will do the best we can to answer you. No question is a dumb one!