What if I’m not bonding with a child yet?

So here I am, writing a blog post for an organization that I’ve loved for years, about a topic I never, in a million years, thought I would write.

What happens if you don’t like your adopted child?

From my perspective people don’t go into adoption thinking, ‘I’m not going to like the child with whom I’m matched,’ but rarely is it talked about. Oftentimes a bond can be missing when you adopt or foster a child. There are many reasons why this happens and a lot of it has to do with blocked care, a topic which The Adoption Connection goes into extensively.

However, there can also just be personalities that clash, and when there is trauma and unmet expectations from the adoptive parents (not saying these are okay, but people often go into adoption with expectations, known or unknown), which cause a parent to have a hard time connecting with or dare I say, even liking their child. Therefore, a very real side of adoption is that many adoptive parents struggle to attach and bond to their children.

You see, I went into adoption with heart eyes. I believed I could “do it.” I secretly judged others who were struggling with their placements, thinking in my heart, ‘You are the adult, you can put their trauma and need for healing before your own struggles.’ and of course I was convinced that when I became an adoptive mother my experience would be different…

And then I met my child. And every single thing about this child completely unnerved me and my family. Their trauma caused a very real hyperactivity presence in my calm and controlled household. Family dinners went from my favorite time of the day to dreadful experiences where everyone shoveled food into their mouths as fast as they could so they could be excused. My other children went from sweet and cuddly to hiding in their bedrooms in fear of coming out to the chaos that surely awaited them. Our faith went from 99 to 9.

We questioned everything we knew.

But even in the hard, even in the pain of crying out and wanting out, we realized something deeper.

We were experiencing our own trauma and we needed to help ourselves so that we had the ability to bond with and be a safe place for our new child to heal. We were exhausted and beat down and only had an ugly shadow of ourselves left to pour into this very scared human.

We realized that even though our child’s inner world might be dysregulated, we did not have to be. We learned to center ourselves, to seek professional help, and learn techniques to heal ourselves so that we could be a safe place for our children. Yes, it took years, but we could stabilize our reactions and emotions to be the solid foundation of love our child needed.

And I’m here to tell you all: bonding and attaching to your child can be done and you are not alone in your pain.

Here are a few things that have helped my family and a few resources following that I would suggest any weary adoptive parent to look into:

Trust-based parenting. It’s a different approach to parenting than traditional control/behavior modification/punishment. It seems counterintuitive and oftentimes I’ve felt judged by my non-trauma parent friends. But over time, trust-based parenting has healed my child and connected our family. If you don’t know what it is, please google it. It doesn’t work overnight, it could take years. But please stick with it. If you mess up, apologize to your child and give yourself a redo. It will change everything.

  1. Medication. Once I finally got on an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medicine and got my child on ADHD medicine our life completely changed. I started therapy, EMDR to be exact, at the same time my child started their medication and our family seemed to change overnight. I was able to calm down and respond peacefully which in turn helped my child feel safe in my presence. Our bond strengthened through this and to this day we genuinely enjoy one another.
  2. Don’t make a habit of talking bad about your child. Yes, there is a time and a place to seek counsel, prayer, and accountability for pain and trauma, but when we make a habit of gossiping or speaking ill of someone those thoughts will become what we believe.
  3. Following #3, make a thankful list of your child. What do they do that you like? Even if it’s small, start small and each day add to the list. Gratitude begets gratitude and one day your heart will rejoice in who your child is.
  4. Find an activity you both can enjoy and map out some time for the two of you to get away and play! Playing bonds hearts; theirs and yours.
  5. SELF CARE, SELF CARE, SELF CARE. Therapy (for you), date nights, vacations, going to the movies, hiring a housekeeper if it’s in your budget, massages, anything that helps you release your thoughts and focus on something else!
  6. Exercise. I’m not kidding. I was never really into working out until our child came home. I went from sedentary to working out 5-6 times a week. Depression can block serotonin from making its way to your brain and working out can open those gateways and help get those feel-good emotions back to your brain!
  7. Daily vitamins, seriously, google depression and vitamins. I love the D and B family.
  8. Don’t believe for a second that you do not love your child. If you are committed to your kid: that is love. Some people struggle with like, but like does not equal love. My definition of love does not have anything to do with emotions, and when we start to confuse the two (like and love) is when we can start truly demonizing ourselves and seeing a future without that child.

Adoption is hard and trauma can take a lifetime to heal, but I promise you this: I’ve stayed in the fight and you can, too. Don’t put your expectations on your children, allow them to be who they are. Change the way you parent. Hug them when they hit you (if they’ll let you). Remember, they are scared and are looking to you to help them, so help them. Don’t respond with anger, do everything possible to respond gently. Over time they can heal if you are a safe place for their healing. You can do this!

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