Monday, February 15, 2010

Attaching and Bonding

I wanted to share a letter that was passed on to me from a friend of an adoptive mom. Though I did not write the letter myself, and the situation is not exactly the same as ours, I agree with much of what it represents. As adoptive parents, we desire for healthy bonding and attachment for our boys. And I am hopeful that by sharing this "generic letter" that those who are part of our close knit adoption support group will read carefully and prayerfully. I hope that by reading this it will be part of your adoption education that will help in your own situation. Whether you are in the process of adoption and want to share the letter with your friends and family, or if you are just learning more of how to be supportive to the adoptive family you personally know.

We wrote this up in preparation for ___ arrival and are sharing it with friends & family. I thought I'd post it here, too, to better explain the importance of attachment and to help others who might be adopting or who know other adoptive families...

Dear Family & Friends,

After over two years of waiting, our precious ___ is finally home! We know that each of you receiving this letter has, in some way, supported, loved and prayed for us. Because we know your care for ___ 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, ___ will be 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 years now, we have researched bonding and attachment in children, especially those coming home through adoption from an institutional orphanage setting.

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 (usually mommy) 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. The good news is that we can now, as ___’s parents and forever family, rebuild attachment and help him heal from these emotional wounds. When ___ comes home, he will be overwhelmed. Everything around him will be new and he will need to learn not just about his new environment, but also about love and family. He has not experienced God’s design for a family in an orphanage setting. 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 __ starts to establish this important bond, he will then be able to branch out to other, healthy relationships.

___ will have, 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 will be 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 ___ 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 __. This will (for a while) include things like holding, excessive hugging and kissing. Children from orphanage settings are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone - which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. Waving, blowing kisses or high fives are perfectly appropriate and welcomed! __ should know that the people with whom he interacts are our trusted friends.

Another area is redirecting __’s desire to have his physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having us meet them. Orphans often have so many caretakers that they, as a survival mechanism, become overly charming toward all adults. 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 __ 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.

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 __. Thank you so much for your love and support over the past two years. If you have any questions please feel free to ask at any time!

Dear Sweet Peas,

We have prayed so much that you would attach and bond to us as a family. That by trusting God for His design for our family, that HE has knit your hearts to ours from before the foundation of the world.

And even as we are in the last leg our our journey to meet you, we will walk this road of connecting for years to come.

Love, Mom


  1. Thanks for sharing that letter. I have been contemplating how to communicate this type of thing with friends and family and now I have a good start... I'm going to bookmark this post for later. Congrats on your sweet peas... we're currently waiting on USCIS.

  2. Well said - I think this letter will prevent a lot of misunderstanding.

    On a different note, we have seen that "overly charming" thing in children from run-of-the-mill broken families. I wonder how best we neighbors/friends/co-workers should handle that? -Being as we cannot just take them home as we might want to.

  3. thank you! definitely saving this for when it's our turn to come home... those are all things i've wanted to express to family and friends. i think that's a great model letter...

  4. K-sue, great observation. I think that most little ones are expressing the desire to have a bond and connection with someone. And like you said, you can't take them home. I think that you can instill value into them. Remind them (or maybe tell them for the first time) that they are special because GOD made them, and that is where we find our "OKness". I also believe that it is an opportunity to pray for them. More and more I am understanding that praying for someone is THE MOST POWERFUL thing we can do.

    Also wanted to say, I have this sample email I can forward to anyone if you are interested. Feel free to email me. ccttpeters at hotmail dot com.


  5. Crispy, (you know I have to refer to you that way on the blog :)
    Please email it to me if you get a chance. Great letter. I just posted a tiny bit about that on my blog after we met with the adoption psychologist yesterday. I know God will carry us through all of this, but education is key for others looking in.
    Many blessings,

  6. Praying God will speed up this process and give you wisdom and insight along the way!!