Thursday, July 23, 2009

Attachment Worries

I think for every adoptive parent there is a nagging voice in the back of their head that makes them question the reason for behaviors their children are exhibiting. It's hard not to be overvigilant in monitoring what your child is doing and the emotional implications of it. So when we met with our case worker to do our 6 month post placement visit and she expressed some concerns about Kenson, I was a little unnerved. Up to that point, I had felt that Kenson was doing a great job of attaching and adjusting and that we had no real concerns. Our case worker listened to me relate how Kenson did not want to stay in the church nursery and seemed very worried about this. It made me question what my gut was feeling. It made me concerned that maybe we were standing on the brink of some large looming attachment difficulties.

After talking with D about it, he and I both agreed that while we respected the social worker's opinion, we thought she had overreacted a bit to the situation. Yes, Kenson has been reluctant to stay in the church nursery. But my gut was saying that it wasn't based in a fear of abandonment. Rather, it seemed to me a fear of allowing someone else to take care of him as if he didn't trust that anyone other than Mama or Papa could take care of him. We also felt like the drama that was involved was indicative of all of his recent behavior. He has been doing a lot more 2 year old type tantrums when he doesn't get his way. Nothing major but he is definitely showing his true colors more when he is not allowed to do what he wants. And us leaving him in nursery has been just that: Kenson not getting his way.

Other than the nursery, we have seen nothing but positive signs of attachment. He has longed for eye contact and nurturing from day one. He only chooses us for comfort. He does not hoard food or fear going to sleep on his own. He is content to play in one room while we are in other spaces. He follows simple directions (most of the time) and seems eager to please. He enjoys recipricating care, often wanting to put lotion on us at bedtime or asking about our owies.

There have been a few areas where I think spending his first years away from us have influenced his behavior, but these things are not major concerns for me. For example, Kenson loves to be babied. He likes us to feed him. He has been most reluctant to dress himself. He will even take our hands and use his sippy cup like a bottle so we can feed him. Unusual perhaps for a 2 year old and perhaps a sign that he is trying to soak in those baby moments that he missed out on.

That said, I was overjoyed these past weeks as we celebrated two successes in solidifying our belief that Kenson's nursery issues are more normal kid stuff than attachment based. Two weekends ago, D and I attend an FCA Marriage Enrichment Weekend. We spent two nights away from home while my mom watched Kenson in our home. I was a bit anxious about leaving him, mostly because I wasn't sure how he would feel. (Plus, I haven't spent more than a few hours away from him since he came home so it was a bit emotional in that respect as well.) We spent about a month talking about Grandma coming and staying. And since I believed that his nursery fears were related to his anxiety over who would take care of him, we talked about all things Grandma would do while Mama and Papa were away. We talked about Grandma getting him breakfast and playing with him and kissing him goodnight. When the time came for Grandma to stay at our house, we had some "helps" thought out just in case we had issues. (A count down sheet to our homecoming and a favorite song/book we could read over the phone at bedtime.) D and I did a quick goodbye. Kenson had some sad eyes but no real tears. I really wanted to call home that night at bedtime but D thought that if we hadn't gotten a phone call saying there were problems that our call might create problems. So we didn't call until after Kenson's bedtime. He had done great. We talked to him on the phone Saturday morning and it was so funny to hear his surprised voice when he realized it was us on the phone. He did great all weekend long. And when we returned, he was glad to see us and separated from Grandma just fine. Aah, joy!

Then, this last weekend, I took Kenson to church by myself as D had a soccer game to attend. He started fussing before we even got out of the sanctuary. As we walked upstairs, I talked to him about how he would be taken care of and what kinds of things the teacher would do to take care of him. He had stopped fussing by the time we got upstairs but still wanted me to stay. I stayed but only on the outside of the door. He soon was distracted by a teacher but usually my leaving means he stops what he is doing and throws a fit. This time, it didn't. I told him I was going, reminded him of how he stayed with Grandma while Mama went bye-bye, and gave him my watch to hold until I came back. And we parted without incident. Double joy! I am hoping that continues next Sunday. (Knowing toddler/pre schoolers, I am doubtful.) But it reassured me that he is heading down the right path. It also made me wonder if maybe that visit with my mom was just the medicine he needed, a boost of confidence for him in the way that other people, not just Mama and Papa, will take care of him.

So joys this week on the attachment front. That said, I believe attachment is not a straight line drawn on a contiuum where once a child reaches a certain peak on the graph, life is all roses. Instead, I think that kids will continually deal with attachment related emotions all of their lives; as different situations arise, kids and the adults adopted kids become will find themselves facing all sorts of feelings about their birth and adopted families. I'm more of a Pollyanna personality so I try to remind myself that my children's view of adoption will be different than my own; that for them, their adoption into our family represents a trauma in their life. How deeply they hold on to that trauma is another story, but it is trauma nonetheless.


Jen said...

You and Derek know your child much better than any caseworker! I'm glad you are listening to your own heart; everything I have read here points to a happy, loving boy. Much of what you say about Kenson is similar to what my boys are going through/have done and they have been (some might say over) attached since birth. God bless your family! Two years is not an easy age and you are doing a wonderful job.

sheri wiebe said...

It sounds to me like Kenson is doing great! My bio. son acted the same way about going to preschool at Church at age 4. He threw fits about it for quite a few Sundays.


kayder1996 said...

Kenson's behavior when being left at nursery has been a bit unusual. Depending on who is up there, he will throw his arms around and try to keep them from holding him, picking him up, etc.. He isn't hitting or biting or anything like that but it is a very aggressive type of fit that makes some of the workers wary. One of the workers is great; she just picks him up, says we're not going to do that, and then keeps him by her the rest of the time. Again, it's almost a "You're not my Mama!" type behavior.

Laurel said...

Great post! Thanks for all of the great comments you left on my blog this morning.

Just to let you know ... quite a few of my bio. kids have major problems with the church nursery, while they had no problems with babysitters in our home. So, the church nursery is not just an adopted child issue.

Some church nursery workers are just not the best childcare givers, and our kids can sense that immediately.


mama of 13

Heather said...

This post is wonderful. I so relate to everything you wrote here. I so get it. And we've so been there. This stuff is tough, and sometimes I wonder if I'll just spend the rest of my life always wondering, "is this adoption/attachment stuff?" or is this "regular stuff?" In some ways we will never really know. So we just need to go with our gut. And it is just so hard to sort it all out sometimes. I feel like just in the past couple months -- after 5 years of trying to learn -- I'm finally starting to "get it" as to what is what with my boys. And it has been 4.5 years since they came home from Haiti!! I was happy to read this post today because for a few weeks now I've been mulling over a post on a similar subject that I want to try to write soon. But it is hard to even write about it all. Anyway, thanks so much for blogging!