(adapted from www.a4everfamily.org)
Dear Family and Friends,
As we prepare for the arrival of our daughter, we have learned that while decorating her bedroom and stocking up on the essentials is important, even more important is the emotional health of our little girl. In her short life, Sofie will have gone through more changes and life altering experiences than most adults could handle. Imagine how much harder the changes will be for her. While she may not consciously remember all the events, she will still experience immense loss, including feelings of grief and trauma. She's already experienced the loss of a birthmother and will soon experience the loss of familiar caretakers as well as the sights, smells, and language of her birth country. Her world will turn upside down. She will struggle with feeling safe and secure and she may lack the ability to trust that we will meet her needs. Research shows that there is only a short window in a child's life to effectively build a solid attachment relationship. Therefore, this subject is extremely important to Jon and I.
We have prepared to meet Sofie's emotional needs so that she does learn that we will always take care of her and we will always keep her safe. We need your support. In order to form a strong and healthy attachment we will allow her to regress so that she has the opportunity to go through all of the emotional stages with us despite her chronological age. Although it may appear that we are spoiling her, we believe that it is best that we meet every need quickly and consistently. Until she has learned that we are her parents, we will need to be her primary caretakers at all times. It is essential that we always hold her, feed her, and do all of the nurturing. You may wonder how long this will take, but the timeline is different for every child. We will follow her lead and trust our instincts as her parents rather than worry about what society expects. Please wait for our cue to hold Sofie.
I know we have all been waiting anxiously for Sofie to arrive but the truth is, she has not been waiting for us. She has no idea just how drastically her world is going to change in a matter of weeks. She may show her grief and confusion in many ways or he may simply smile and be the happiest child ever, but this doesn't mean that she is not grieving and we can suddenly pass her around the room. We are prepared to help her through her grief and prove that we are her forever family and this truly is her last stop. If too many people hold her in the first few weeks that she is home Sofie will merely see Jon and I as her new caretakers and will start to internally wait for the day that we will leave too. If you think this might be too extreme, find an adult adoptee and ask them if they have any attachment issues, trust issues, or abandoment issues. You might be surprised what you hear.
What Jon and I are doing is trying to give the best to our children and we believe that attachment is fundamental to a child's sense of self and their overall security as they grow up. I know it won't be easy as you have all been waiting so long to meet her, but we hope and pray that you will support us in this next step of our journey. Of course, this doesn't mean that we don't want to see you at all when we come home... it just means that you need to phone first and not expect to hold Sofie right away!
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and for all your support and understanding.
Katie, Jon and Livi
Here are a few Do's and Don'ts if you are interested...
(also taken from www.a4everfamily.org)
1. Offer household help (running errands, preparing meals that can go right from the freezer to the oven, etc.) so the mother and father can spend more time holding the child.
2. Trust the parent's instincts. Even a first time mother may notice subtle symptoms that well-meaning family and friends attribute to "normal" behavior.
3. Accept that attachment issues are difficult for anyone outside of the parents to see and understand.
4. Be supportive even if you think everything looks fine to you.
5. Allow the parents to be the center of the baby's world. One grandfather, when greeting his grandson, immediately turns him back to his mom and says positive statements about his good mommy.
6. Tell the baby every time you see him what a good/loving/safe mommy and daddy he has.
7. When the parents need someone to care for the baby for a night out, offer to babysit in the child's home. (After the child has been home for a substantial period of time.)
8. As hard as it may be for you, abide by the requests of the parents. Even if the baby looks like he really wants to be with Grandma, for example, he needs to have a strong attachment to his parents first. Something as simple as passing the baby from one person to another or allowing others, even grandparents, to hold a baby 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.
9. 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.
10. Remember that there is often a honeymoon period after the child arrives. Many babies 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 or abuse. Babies are not immune.
2. Underestimate a new mother's instincts that something isn't right.
3. Judge the mother'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 mother 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 mother of being overly sensitive or neurotic. She is 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 may be asked not to hold the baby for more than a minute. This is not meant to hurt you. It is meant to help prove to the baby who his mommy and daddy are. Up until now the child's experience has been that "mommies" are replaceable. Allowing people to hold the baby before he has accepted his forever mommy and daddy can be detrimental to the attachment process.
7. Put your own timeframes on how long attachment should take. One mother was hurt when she was chastised by a relative who couldn't understand...after all, the baby 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 baby up every time he 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 he cries. He needs consistent reinforcement that this mommy/daddy will always take care of him and always keep him 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.