Recently, I read a wonderful post by Lisa at One Thankful Mom called, Have We Made Attachment an Idol? Prior to reading her post, I had been trying to process why the “A word” gives me the willies.
Now, I think I have a better idea.
In foster care and adoption communities, I feel like “Attachment” is frequently seen as something an parent can and should control.
Due to our specific experience (especially with our failures), I disagree.
In fact, for a long time, the harder we “tried” to make attachment “happen”, the further away our adoptive sons became. “Facilitating” attachment was scary for our sons. Their fear did not bring us closer, and our “facilitating” closeness was not bringing us closer. Their behavior began to speak loudly about how unsafe they felt. We had to listen. We had to learn ways to better respond.
Over the past couple of years I have been learning that the person I need to listen to first, is my child. He will always be the number one expert on our relationship. When he can’t tell me how he feels with his words, he tells me with his behavior. My job is to love him and help him feel safe where he currently is. I truly believe this is where our relationship begins.
There are only three things I know I can control: 1. Getting to know my child as an individual, 2. Being a safe parent, and 3. Providing my child with a safe place.
One thing I will never be able to control: Attachment.
When I focus so long and hard on what ingredients and methods will ensure attachment, I’m distracted from doing the first thing that does help my child trust me: my being attuned with him.
For example, when I trust “the books” rather than let my child set our relational pace and he ends up in a rage, I could blame my child, because I was doing everything "by the books”. I may even think my child isn’t doing his part.
But, it isn’t his job! He may not even be interested in being attached to me. And that’s okay.
I refuse to blame my child, adopted from foster care, because he is scared of homes and of me. When I used popular methods to connect with my child before really even knowing him, I seriously freaked him out because he needed to set the pace of our relationship. When, without his permission, I was too close to him, he felt threatened. He freaked out. He raged. I have had to get to know my child well enough to understand his level of tolerance for me. He sets the pace. It is out of my control.
He didn’t ask for any of this. He didn’t ask to be in this family.
My child is still not confident enough in our relationship to respond well to a traditional “time-in”. Co-regulation, in close proximity, hasn’t yet happened with us.
But, I’m celebrating that he now regulates better with me in the room with him than he does further away from me.
I’m getting to know him better. He’s coming to trust me more.
And it all started with me respecting him where he was.
Now he’s closer.
[I am mainly describing our specific relationship with one of our sons in this post because of the complexity of our relationship and all I am learning by specifically getting to know him and trying to be a better mother for him. Our son has had very few extreme behaviors since we started listening to what his behavior was telling us and responding by consistently helping him feel safe.]