Doug and Deanne Walker have 19 children, 10 of whom are adopted. These loving parents have been up and down and all around adoption, and seem to me to be an endless bucket of adoption knowledge and wisdom. On top of that, the Walkers are welcoming, inviting, and friendly! This series of articles covers everything from being an organized home executive to failed adoptions to finding the right agency. So as you read, imagine taking a comfortable spot on Deanne’s sofa as she openly shares her insight into each topic.
It can be shocking and disappointing when a couple adopts a child only to find that this much-hoped-for child doesn’t react right away to bonding attempts. But persistence is the key. As advances are made and children begin to respond to bonding efforts, eventually it will become important for the child to be the one who initiates a bonding moment. But how does one know when to let the child take the lead? And how, exactly, do you let your child know that it’s his turn?
Deanne shared with me an experience with one of her children: We brought two of our children home from China as toddlers. They had spent the first 3 years of their lives in an orphanage and so we knew it would take a lot of work to bond with them. We worked hard–sometimes wearing them in front packs, holding hands with them, showing love. Hyrum, especially, would accept our bonding attempts, but he would never reach out on his own. One day I was sitting on the bed and I knew Hyrum really wanted the bonding. He was sitting on the floor and started to cry. When he reached up to me I had the clear thought that I needed to encourage him to come to me this time. The knowledge opened up to me that he had to bridge that gap on his own–otherwise he would always need others to come to him. It took a full 5 minutes of coaxing, for him to finally come and climb onto my lap. At that moment I knew he had crossed that bridge. It became easier and easier after that for him to come to me.
It’s important that children not only feel loved and have bonding experiences with their family, but it’s also important that they learn to take their own steps. They need to learn to seek out bonding. What it boils down to is this: They need to learn to trust. Parents can give their children a safe place, but no one can give another person trust. That has to be developed. And trust develops bit by bit.
There’s no scientific way to know when it’s time for a child to be the one to bridge the gap. It’s intuitive. The parent needs to watch closely, be aware, notice patterns. It’s different for each child and for each circumstance. The good news is that good parents who want the best for their children will just know when the time is right if they’re paying attention and truly being present. But there is one trick that Deanne has learned: When you have given enough that you know they have seen the example, when you recognize they are continually taking it from you and never giving back–that’s when it’s time for them to take that step. And usually they are tiny steps. But each step is rewarding!
And don’t become discouraged when, for a while, it’s one step forward and two steps back. There is definite backsliding in the “bridging the gap department.” Learning trust takes time. Sometimes they’ll backslide because it’s scary, or they don’t think they’re worth it. Or maybe they think “they’re really not going to keep loving me.” But once they take that initial step to be the one to initiate bonding, the door is open. And when we remember that we are all on a continuum of learning to trust and to love–we’ll be patient and understanding when our children have setbacks.
When I was speaking with Deanne about this, and she emphasized how important it is for each of the children to have regular bonding experiences, I tried to imagine parenting the way Deanne does with all 18 of her children. I asked if she is always exhausted . . . she laughed! I suppose “exhausted” is an understatement.
More from the Walkers: