Attachment in Adoption

For so long, I've hesitated to speak on this topic. It is so personal to our adoption story and so real that I just felt it was our story. However, after watching the video of the woman who adopted Baby D and, due to failure to bond, gave him up, I've been convicted to put some of our story on paper. Maybe our experience will provide hope??

Little Boy Blue came to our home on a bright summer day in 2007. We were still fairly green in our fostering experiences and very emotionally raw from the departure of Baby Girl, our first foster baby. God had gently healed our hearts a bit through several respite placements. He continued to remind us of His desire for our family to expand through adoption.

I remember sitting at my desk when I got the call about Little Boy Blue. I tried to write down every detail for Alex as I listened to the caseworker describe a situation that to me sounded more like reunification with a birth family rather than adoption. Alex and I decided to accept his placement, regardless of the clear ups and downs that would come. But still, somewhere deep within me I wondered whether I could love him like I loved Baby Girl. God was faithful! He planted love in me for Little Boy Blue almost immediately.

Little Boy Blue had a rough start. We later found out that he had been in 5 placements prior to finding his way to our home! 5 placements in 3 months of life! Additionally, he had visitation with his biological mother's family and later with his biological mother. He also was very rigid due to foreign substances that were working their way out of his little body.

Little Boy Blue snuggled on his own terms, which was very different than anything we had ever experienced. He just didn't want to be stomach-down at all. If he cuddled, he wanted to be in the crook of an arm. One of his foster experiences included swaddling, which we continued. We later found out that swaddling in his case was not a good idea.

Meanwhile, we had received training on Reactive Attachment Disorder during our training as foster parents. 'RAD' as it is known, is common among children in foster care. It its most basic form, RAD is a protective mechanism that keeps children from bonding with anyone. Devastating, broken past relationships and the pain of such things become too much to bear and basically, the children shut down in the relationship area treating all people equally.

As a child gets older, RAD is harder and harder to reverse. So, in little ones, it is imperative to recognize an attachment issue and work to get it resolved, even if the resolution doesn't come for years.

We did not recognize the early signs. We were busy welcoming Prince Caspian into our forever family and becoming full-time homeschoolers. It was during an Early Childhood Intervention screening for something totally different that the social worker saw attachment problems. We were shocked and somewhat nervous about the therapy we would begin. Our prayers were huge and frequent for Little Boy Blue, and still are. We have God's hope for this child, as we did from the very beginning, even when we didn't know what to try next.

Our county happened to have an LPC on staff with ECI. We were fortunate to have him in our home for therapy with our entire family. It was quickly identified that Little Boy Blue had an indiscriminate comfort with all people. You might think that attachment issues mean that there is an aloofness to all people. Not so. Attachment challenges mean you don't form a proper bond with a 'maternal or paternal figure' so you feel free to have a shallow relationship with anyone as long as your needs/wants are being fulfilled. Can you see the obvious danger with this in a teenager or adult? Additionally, because of lack of genuine bonding, empathy does not properly develop. For that matter, the conscience somewhat shuts off, too.

Our LPC videotaped Little Boy Blue on a regular basis and we worked long and hard on encouraging him to show excitement, respond to overtures from us, play appropriately and ultimately, to love the family that God gave him. It was not easy. First we had to find a 'connection.' For him, music has always been something special. The boy has rhythm and an ear for all types of music. So, to reach him on his terms we tried this... when he would get upset, instead of trying to comfort him 'my way', I'd sing to him and allow him to be held in the way he preferred. He would begin to relax and would even sometimes rest his head on me.

As time went on, we saw that he was forming inappropriate attachments to round objects. Instead of doing the 'work' required to really bond with people, he would take the easier route and fixate on balls, etc. While I do think he has a natural gift for athletics that we want to nurture, we did not want him to always go for the avoidance route in relationships. We wanted to show him that it was worth it to give extra effort and form strong ties with us.

Several things have really made a difference for him. First, he has been at home with us most of the time. For adopted children to bond, they must have ample amounts of time with their family. This seems obvious, but it can be challenging. How to give and give and give love to a child that seems like they are rejecting love? And I do need a break from time to time! Again, I'm drawn back to that video... and I just wonder. Did that Mom have access to the type of therapy we had? Did she trust in God to change hearts and knit a family together in the way that only He can do?

After 2 years of therapy, ourchild is a different little boy. He calls me Mommy, and rarely anyone else :)... Val, I know you're laughing! He loves, loves, loves his family. And his attachment to round objects has become more of an age-appropriate one. While we are certain that challenges remain with Little Boy Blue (he is a strong-willed child :)), we know that challenges remain with all of our children.

All of this to say... if you are an adoptive Mommy, or even a biological Mommy who isn't 'bonding' with your child, begin with prayer and persist in prayer. Persist in bringing every resource to bear on your situation, search for your child's interest area and believe that God will work all things together for good. While that doesn't mean that there is a Cinderella ending from our fleshly perspective, it does mean that every inch of the journey will not be wasted and that ultimately, in all things, God's name will be glorified.

Until another day,


I soooo want to adopt. Husband is luke warm to the idea right now. I see Foster to Adopt as our only financial viable option, but "losing" a child keeps me from embrasing the idea. I don't think I could handle it. I didn't realize any of your children were adopted. Sorry! I thought you were looking into adoption. Guess I got mixed up. Thank you for sharing this story.

So... are you all foster parents? or only foster to adopt?
Laura said…
Hi GfG... thanks for the info on Honduras! Alex and I are ecstatic to hear of the hope spoken in that post. I read earlier today about John Kerry's interest in keeping US senators out of Honduras... now it all makes sense.

As for us, we are currently not fostering due to our upcoming relocation to some foreign locale :). Our daughter certainly prays and dreams about a Little Sister, but she will have to come from another country since that is where we will be... unless God orchestrates something completely unexpected.

Our other blog, which in linked in somewhere up there, details our fostering/adoption experience. Very, very challenging... but, oh, so refining for our faith and a unexpected addition of 2 boys in one year!

Blessings to you, blogging friend,
Rockin' C said…
Thank you for opening up. I haven't followed the story of the adoptive mom & baby she gave up (no TV); however, as a "step-mom" being the mom much of the time I can totally relate to the issues you are describing. You are so right that it is difficult, but absolutely something that can be worked through & is completely worth the tears, heartache & work. Thanks for the inspiration!
Laura said…
Great comparison, Tiffany. Step-Mommying has to have some of same challenges to bonding. There is one thing that you have to factor into the mix that I don't... another Mommy. When our adoption was final, that part of the equation stopped playing a physical part. In the future, she may be back in our lives... but by that time, our family will be established and our little guy will be able to love appropriately.

Thank you for reading my blog. I love yours and truly do want your help on the mission blog after we visit Honduras this fall! I love all of your ideas for your little Mustangs... I just wish I had the energy you have! Of course, I am just a FEW years older than you :)... actually quite a few.

Blessings to all of you,
Angela said…
This post made me cry. My husband and I adopted two beautiful children in Jan. The kids are 6 & 3 years old. They had been in 7 total foster placements and a family placement before the Lord brought them to us. I am thankful everyday but it is not without it's challenges. RAD and our experiences with it have always been so hard for me to put into words. I'm glad to know that I am not the only one.As far as the therapies availible forthe child who was given back goes, I know for me my daughter recieves therapy but nothing like you discribed. Nothing has been offered for my Son.
Holly (me.) said…
Ah, my precious friend. Thank you for sharing the Reader's Digest version of your lovey's challenges in allowing himself to become increasingly your son.
Christy said…
Thanks for sharing your challenges, Laura. This is very encouraging for me as we are considering adopting 2 girls that we know already have some issues with attachment. 5 placements and the oldest is not yet 5 years old. So...thank you so much, my precious friend. You are a light in this challenging but oh, so rewarding journey ;)

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