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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Family and Friends Do's and Don'ts

I am posting this list once again as a reminder to our family and friends on what to expect when Mary comes home. 

Mary has been in care for over 2 years. We have no idea what her care has been like there or what her day to day routine is. We don't know anything about the nannies and how much affection or attention or discipline she has had. She doesn't have food whenever she wants it. She likely doesn't leave the orphanage very often and has probably rarely been in a vehicle. She is not used to a consistent caregiver. Children in care may appear to adjust fairly well and quickly, but developing a secure attachment with their new family can take a very long time.

The goal is to help Mary learn what a family is, how parents take care of their children, and who is in her immediate family. There will be many things we will do to help foster attachment to each other, and each thing we do is one tiny piece that connects together to form the larger picture (thus my puzzle clip art! Ok, I can see you are not impressed with my metaphor...sigh).

One thing we plan to do is to cocoon with Mary for awhile when we get back home. We will stay in the house as much as possible with just our family. To help build her trust and security in us as her parents, Mary will always be with Cory or I and we will be the only ones to take care of her needs. This means that only Cory and I will be carrying, holding and/or picking Mary up. We will be the only ones to feed her, change her diaper (if she is still using diapers) and giving her physical comfort.  Once again, our focus is on helping Mary learn what a family is, how parents take care of their children, and who is in her immediate family. 

This will be remarkably similar to how we parented Sylvie when she joined our family. Cory and I consider ourselves lucky to be surrounded by supportive family and friends who respect our parenting philosophy. Please remember we are making these decisions based on what is best for Mary, not for others (like any good parent does). We know that when Sylvie came home many friends and family asked how long it would be before they could pick up, or take care of her and likely, many will ask this same question again with regards to Mary. Our answer then is the same now - we'll let you know.

The following is a list of Do's and Don'ts that has been provided to adoptive parents to help family members and friends understand what to do to be supportive, and what not to do. We hope you find this helpful... 


1. Trust the parent's instincts. Even a first time parent may notice subtle symptoms that well-meaning family and friends attribute to "normal" behavior.

2. Accept that attachment issues are difficult for anyone outside of the parent to see and understand.

3. Be supportive even if you think everything looks fine to you.

4. Allow the parents to be the center of the child's world. One grandfather, when greeting his grandson, immediately turns him back to his mom and says positive statements about his good mommy.

5. Tell the baby child every time you see her what a good/loving/safe mommy/daddy she has.

6. As hard as it may be for you, abide by the requests of the parents. Even if the child looks like she really wants to be with Grandma, for example, she needs to have a strong attachment to her parents first. Something as simple as passing the child from one person to another or allowing others, even grandparents, to hold a child who is not "attached" can make the attachment process that much longer and harder. Some parents have had to refrain from seeing certain family members or friends because they did not respect the parents' requests.

7. Accept that parenting children who are at-risk for or who suffer from attachment issues goes against traditional parenting methods and beliefs. Parenting methods that work for many children can be detrimental to a child with attachment issues.

8. Remember that there is often a honeymoon period after the child arrives. Many children do not show signs of grief, distress, or anxiety until months after they come home. If the parents are taking precautions, they are smart and should be commended and supported!


1. Assume an child is too young to suffer from emotional issues related to attachment.

2. Underestimate a new mother's instincts that something isn't right.

3. Judge the parent's parenting abilities. What looks like spoiling or coddling may be exactly what the child needs to overcome a serious attachment disorder. Parenting methods that work for many children can be detrimental to a child with attachment issues.

4. Make excuses for the child's behaviors or try to make the parents feel better by calling certain behaviors "normal". For example, many children who suffer from attachment issues may be labeled strong-willed by well-meaning family members. While being strong-willed can be seen as a positive personality trait, this type of behavior in an attachment-impaired child may signify problems.

5. Accuse the parents of being overly sensitive or neurotic. They are in a position to see subtle symptoms as no one else can.

6. Take it personally if asked to step back so the parents can help their child heal and form a healthy and secure attachment. You will be asked not to hold the child. This is not meant to hurt you. It is meant to help prove to the child who her mommy and daddy are. Up until now the child's experience has been that mommies and daddies are replaceable. Allowing people to hold the child before she has accepted her forever mommy and daddy are can be detrimental to the attachment process.

7. Put your own time frames on how long attachment should take. One mother was hurt when she was chastised by a relative who couldn't understand...after all, the child had been home six months. It could take weeks, months, even years. Every child is different.

8. Offer traditional parenting advice. Some well-meaning family members will tell a new mother not to pick the child up every time she cries because it will spoil him. A child who is at-risk or who suffers from attachment issues must be picked up every single time she cries. She needs consistent reinforcement that this mommy/daddy will always take care of her and always keep her safe.

9. Fall into the appearance trap. Some babies/toddlers with attachment issues can put on a great show to those outside of the mother/father. What you see is not always a true picture of the child. Even babies as young as 6-months-old are capable of “putting on a good face” in public.

10. Lose hope. With the right kind of parenting and therapy, a child with attachment issues can learn to trust and have healthy relationships. But it does take a lot of work and a good understanding of what these children need.



    May I submit for your consideration a 'do' to your list?

    So - support our decisions unconditionally - without negative input or comment. Our child needs to have complete confidence in our decisions, and even if they don't understand the language or the meaning of the words being spoken, they do understand tone of voice and body language. These kids have had to develop 'survival skills' to thrive in whatever environment they have lived in. It will be our job - with your support - to teach them that they are safe and loved, and can discard this old skill set. We really have enough on our plate right now anyway - and we could use that support too!

    And if I recall correctly ya'll are less than 48 hours from travel - hope all your preperation is going well - but if this post is any indication - ya'll have that in the bag already!

    hugs - aus and co.

  2. I like the metaphor!!! And Aus... that is a great addition to this post!

    2 more days!

  3. - Thanks Aus, I really like your addition to the list (which I "borrowed" from Paige).

    - Paige, only two more sleeps before we meet you at the airport!

  4. Amazingly well said Joyanne, thank you!
    Even children that do not come from orphanages face the same attachment disorders, even if from stable foster homes. My new hope is that this could go out to all new parents and their families!

    I really tried hard to create that positive attachment bringing home our boys, but even my own family was not able to respect my wishes as much as I would have hoped.
    Again, thank you. I am going to save this!

  5. 2 more days! I can hardly wait! I am going to be glued to the computer!!!!
    Travel safe

  6. So going to copy this!!! So excited for you!!! AHHHHHHH!!!!

  7. Since I doubt I'll get back in before you guys are 'on the road' please allow me to wish ya'll nothing but the best on your travels! If there would be anything you need - simply ask - we (the greater adoptive community) are all in this together!

    Fair winds and following seas on your journey -
    aus and co.

  8. This is a fantastic post. So important!

  9. I think you are so right that other people can MISS what is going on... most people really want to help and be supportive, and only say 'no, yo'ure imagining it'. But sometimes... the child's parents pick up on stuff that other people are never going to notice. Great post!