Attachment and bonding are hot topics in the adoption world. Here are four myths that I’ve heard about bonding with your adopted child:
It will always be easy.
There are many factors that can affect the bonding process between parent and child. These include the age and temperament of the child, effects of early trauma on the brain, and ungrieved losses in both parent and child (among other things). Some adoptive parents find that bonding with their child feels natural and comes easily. Many others find that attachment is hard-fought and requires time, focused effort, and sometimes professional help.
It will always be immediate.
You hear the stories of adoptive parents and their “love at first sight” for their child. I know, because I tell one of those stories. But love and attachment are not the same thing. Even if your child is placed with you at birth, attachment generally develops as they learn that you will meet their physical and emotional needs. You prove this by feeding, changing, and soothing them many thousands of times during their first year of life. If you missed your child’s first year, you can certainly still bond. It will look different. And it will likely take some time.
It will be the same for all your kids.
My daughter was placed with me as an independent preschooler. My son was placed with me as a completely dependent infant. I love them both with all the love in the world, but our bonding process was completely different. My daughter had already learned that not all adults could be trusted, so I had to “prove” to her that I was safe and would keep her safe. This involved a lot of talking through different parts of her story. My son learned that I was safe before he could speak a word. Today, my bond with both of them is unshakable. I am their mom. They are my kids. No matter how you grow your family, it is likely that you will bond with each of your children differently. And that’s okay.
You are alone.
This, I think, is the most dangerous myth about bonding with your adopted child. Here’s the reality: no matter how easy or hard your bonding process feels, no matter how long it takes, you are not alone. Really. If you are struggling with attachment issues, know that there are many, many parents who have walked this road before you and many more who are walking it right this moment. Reach out to family and friends. Find a support group for adoptive parents (online is ok, but in real life is better). Talk to a mentor or spiritual leader or therapist. There are lots of resources available to help: Empowered to Connect is a great place to start. But know that you are not alone. If you think that you may be suffering from post-adoption depression, please talk to your doctor or find a licensed therapist who can help. No matter how challenging your situation seems, it can get better. You are not alone.
Adoptive parents, what would you add? What myths about bonding have you heard? What was your experience?