Foreign Bodies in a New Family
Isn't it amazing that Adopted and Difficult have become synonymous?
How can parents bond with a difficult child?
Last Updated: March 19, 2004
How Can Parents Bond with a "Difficult" Child?
INDIANAPOLIS: Adoptive parenting used to be simpler. Now, many adoptive parents routinely face challenges such as adopting across cultures, adopting children born with HIV or drug addiction, or adopting older children who may be “set in their ways” or who have survived sexual abuse. Along with the "standard" challenges of grief and loss, these issues can interfere with the ability of parents and children to bond in their new families.
Allen is an example of a child with an avoidant attachment to his mother. He was adopted at the age of three, after having spent the first eighteen months with his birthmother and next eighteen months in foster care. His parents agree that Adam liked them better before he thought of them as his parents. Adam, at age five, still seems like a shadow in the family at times. At family birthday parties, he sits a little outside of the circle. He seems to sulk about his outside position, even though it is his choice. He turns away from hugs from his parents, and rarely returns their smiles. When his sisters get hugs, he is jealous. His nostrils flair, his motions get jerky, and he ignores their welcoming comments to come join them. His sister said openly, “Why is Adam always mad? I don’t think that he likes us!” A call to the caseworker resulted in a renewed effort by parents to find ways to show their love to Adam. The effort pays off a little, but Adam seems to have a chip on his shoulder.
“Are all later-placed adoptions like this?” his mother asked. “I can take it if someone will just tell me the truth. I want to be doing everything that I should be doing. Adam is not very happy, but maybe this is as good as it gets.” (Chapter 2)
Now there's a new resource for parents of children who refuse to be parented: Attachment specialist Deborah Gray, M.S.W., M.P.A., has written a highly readable, practical guide for these parents and it's already becoming a classic in the field.
Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today's Parents, Gray's new book from adoption publisher Perspectives Press, Inc., sold over 2900 copies even before its May, 2002 official release and has received ringing endorsements and created significant buzz in adoption circles (click here to read advance reviews).
Clearly written and filled to the brim with stories of actual parents coping with actual children, the book helps parents identify the specific issues their children face, and learn strategies for integrating these children into loving families and launching them toward successful adulthood. The chapters on grief and trauma will help any adoptive parent understand the loss a child might feel after being repeatedly separated from caregivers and how that separation first from the birth family, and later perhaps from foster care or from friends made in an orphanage creates a resistance to bonding with the adoptive family. Gray sets out clear, effective strategies for working with these children to see the new family not as a betrayal of their previous emotional connection, but as a warm, supportive, nurturing place to love and be loved.
One experienced adoptive mother worried about her boy’s complete lack of eye contact. The therapist suggested a few things, but the idea that she liked best was the chocolate kiss idea. When her boy approached her, with gaze, they both ate a chocolate kiss. He sucked on his, which only stayed melting on his lips while he looked in his mother’s eyes. His gaze tolerance skyrocketed! He sustained gaze after the exercise concluded. Mother became sweet to him. His brown eyes were chocolate to her. She still sneaks chocolates to him.