Thursday, May 15, 2014

Attachment - the loose plan

We were expecting to get our pick up dates last Friday, and still no word. We could be receiving them any day now.  That being said, I am in FULL-ON nesting mode! Sweep behind appliances, dust my ceiling fan blades, clean out the file cabinet, clean baseboards kind of nesting mode!  I want our house clean enough to last us several months because when Ivelina comes home, deep-cleaning will probably be much lower on the totem pole around here! Besides, how could Ivelina come home to lint behind my washer and dryer!?

What will be in the fore-front of our minds when she comes home is attachment. This is something most birth moms + babies do not even have to think about. Holding a baby close, rocking him or her to sleep, whispering and humming in his ear, breast feeding, etc. These are things that naturally take place between moms and dads and their little ones. Each of these actions builds an attachment, or a bond, between the child and his or her parents.

When we began the adoption process back in 2012, I had not really given much thought to attachment. I really didn't know what it was or that it was important, but then we completed an adoption learning course all about attachment. Then, I read about my blogger friends' attachment experiences, their methods for fostering attachment, and their wins and their struggles in this area. I began to realize the foundational importance for children to develop secure attachments at a young age. These early attachments set the stage for the way the child will relate to people for the rest of his or her life!  Whew!  That's a lot of pressure!

Needless to say, when Ivelina arrives home in NC, attachment is our #1 priority! Experts say that it could take roughly one month for every year a child has spent in an institution for him or her to develop a secure attachment to the adoptive parents. Ivelina is turning 8 this month, and she has lived in an institution for her entire life. That means it will take a minimum of 8 months for her to begin to feel attached to this new place, new family, new life. If she comes home in June, 8 months would be around February. This, of course, is an estimate.  Every child is different; Ivelina could show signs of attachment earlier or much later than this date.

Some families call this initial time of building attachments "cocooning." The immediate family in essence builds a protective "cocoon" around their child for a time period in order to give the child enough time to bond with the family. Slowly, as the child develops attachment, the cocoon opens, and the child begins to experience more and more of the world around him.

So what's our plan during this time to help foster healthy attachment between us and Ivie? Well, we have been discussing this quite a bit, and we have decided on a few guidelines that we would like to follow. We do hold these loosely because we want to be flexible to Ivelina's needs. We really have no idea how easy or difficult this change in her life will be for her. 

We want to share these to help make our friends and family members aware of the importance of these first few months together. If we're acting weird or if you don't see us for a while, there's a reason: we are busy cocooning!

Our Attachment Guidelines

  1. No daycare or babysitters!  This is a big one for us, and I think it is going to be difficult. Jeremy works at night. I work in the morning, afternoon, and night sometimes, but I am making some big changes to my schedule in order to prevent daycare and babysitters. We feel strongly that we need to be Ivelina's only caretakers for quite a while after she is home.  She really does not have a frame of reference for what a mama and daddy are, so we want to give her the experience that we are the ones who care for her needs and love her. This means she won't be able to spend the night with grandparents or cousins for quite some time. She won't be able to stay in children's church away from us. And, no she will not be going to public school in the fall (I get that question a lot). Basically, we will avoid any situation where we would be dropping her off for another adult to watch over her for any length of time. 
  2. Related to #1 but more specifically, we will be the only ones to feed, bathe, and comfort Ivelina for quite some time. Ivelina has had many caretakers, and in some ways she has had to care for herself quite a bit being one child in a crowded orphanage. We want Ivelina to begin to trust us and depend on us to meet her basic physical and emotional needs. This means if you have a treat, a drink, or a plate of food for her, we will want you to give it to us first. Then, we will give it to her. If she gets hurt, tell us and we will pick her up, comfort her, and put a bandaid on. I understand this may sound weird, but we have decided that for several months, this guideline will help Ivie develop a healthy bond with us. Naturally, if we allowed her to stay with other adults in charge, #2 would not be accomplished, so these first two go hand-in-hand.
  3. Limit new busy and noisy public places. Our home will be our cocoon for the next several months. No, this doesn't mean we are going to become hermits, but we will be limiting Ivelina's exposure to a lot of hub-bub and stimuli that she may not understand.  We not only want Ivelina to bond with us during our initial few months together, but we also want her to become comfortable in her new home. Living in a house with her own room, her own bed, a barking dog, appliances, telephones, and carpet will be stimuli enough for one girl! We feel that if we place her in too many different environments too early on, it could cause her to meltdown just from the frustration of processing everything!  We plan to introduce her to new places little by little and for short periods of time until she becomes accustomed to them. 
  4. Increase physical touch!!  Everything we have read teaches that physical touch is the #1 way to build attachment. This means allowing Ivelina to sit on our laps while we read to her is good. Painting each others' nails, styling hair, and tickling is good. Holding hands, throwing her up into the air (she loved this on trip #1), and being her patient while she plays doctor is good. Hugs and kisses are great!  High fives, sitting side by side, and giving piggy-back rides are all good for building attachment through physical touch. One strategy related to touch that we have learned is called "mirroring." This just means mirroring Ivelina's actions. For example, if she is dancing back and forth to a favorite song, I would mimic her by dancing back and forth too. If she is sitting criss-cross on the floor playing with a toy, I would sit criss-cross opposite of her, copying her behavior. We may try this as an additional way to build attachment. 
  5. Establish routines. As much as possible, once Ivie is home, we will try to establish a loose daily routine so that she can learn what to expect for her days. I have learned from our adoption reading and from my teaching experience that routine can be comforting to children. At certain times like bedtime, for example, we would like to establish a routine so she comes to know what to expect. Our hope is that predictable routines will help her adjust to her new home, feel comfortable here, and learn to trust us as her mama and daddy.
These are just guidelines we will be trying to hold to. Like I said, though, we are expecting to be adaptive to her needs and flexible as well. We have no idea how long it will be before she has fully adjusted and bonded with us and her new surroundings. We have been told by many who have walked this road before us that after a year, we will look back and really be thankful that we took the time and effort to focus on attachment. We are trusting that this will be the best decision for our family as well!

One question we have struggled with is "when can we take her to church?"  This is a tough one for us. We love church and regularly attend a worship service and Sunday School. We want Ivelina to be in church as well, but we also both agree that church would be one of those busy, highly stimulating places: lots of people, loud music, lots of English, new smells, and tons of people being curious about her. Plus, if she went to Sunday School or stayed in children's church during the service, other adults would be in charge of her, and that would break our #1 guideline. So, this is one of those things we don't have an exact plan for just yet, but we venture to say it will be a pretty good while before we take our daughter to church. We will have to wait and see how she is doing. Just because you don't see one or either of us at church over the next several months, it doesn't mean we don't want to be there. We are just not ready to come as a family, but we pray that after our cocooning time has ended, we will be there to worship together. I'm sure this part of our attachment phase is going to be tough for us as parents, but we think it will be the wisest decision in the long run for our daughter.

Another thing we aren't sure about is the homecoming moment. I know many families literally have a party in the airport. I don't think we want to go that route though. Ivelina's world is going to be turned upside down. We are sure that she will be confused and stressed out from the traveling, and having a party waiting on might be too much to handle! We are leaning toward having one family member pick us up and drive us home where a few other close family members will be waiting. Everyone can meet her and visit for a short time. Then, we can begin life in our home as a little family of three.

So readers, if you are an adoptive parent, what guidelines or tips have helped you build an attachment with your child?  And, how did you handle taking your child to church for the first time? 

Thanks for reading,



  1. VERY well said and explained!!! We will be following those too very soon :) We have a few DVDs on attachment if you want to borrow. I'm happy to lend them. Come on travel dates!!!

    1. Oooohh...I would love to watch some attachment videos. I think we have watched one, but I'm wondering if yours are different. Thanks so much! Come on travel dates (for the both of us)!

  2. I had never given much thought to all of this, Shelly. You have explained it all very well and Miss Ivelina is very blessed to have you and your husband for parents! Many prayers to you all during this happy, yet stressful, time!

    1. Thanks so much! We really appreciate your prayers!

  3. One thing that I would recommend and at which we really failed and still do fail miserably (the one thing I so wish we could find a way to do yet) is to have some kind of respite plan for yourselves as parents. This is going to be a very hard first year and you will be exhausted in every way possible. I agree that Ivelina should always be with at least one of you, but you need to find ways to make time for yourselves, too, even if just a little bit. Make sure your new routines include a few hours a week to do what you each like, such as exercising, reading, spending time with friends, etc. Others can help you make this happen by taking certain tasks, like meal prep, grocery shopping, errands, or laundry off your hands. That way you can use that time to recharge yourselves to give your all to Ivelina when you are with her. The hard work of attachment will be much easier to accomplish if you as parents are somewhat rested, balanced, and getting a break from time to time.

    1. Viviane, thanks for your comment! Yes we agree wholeheartedly with what you said. Respite is something I am a bit concerned about as well. I fear we won't do so well at this simply because all of our close family members live over an hour away. I know they will be more than willing to come help out if things are planned in advance and schedules are arranged, but it will be difficult, especially spur of the moment. We are still working out some kind of plan for respite care and just for having "couple time" as well. I know every new parent struggles to find "me time" and time to devote to their spouse, but we are praying that God works these opportunities out for us as I know this upcoming year is going to stretch us in ways we haven't been stretched before. Thanks for your advice and continued support!

  4. I can totally relate to your concerns. We have some family nearby, but none of them are interested in or able to provide respite for us because of our children's challenging special needs. Those family members who would gladly do it live on another continent. Sigh. Maybe your church community will be able to fill the gaps as necessary. Everything will be fine without respite, too, as evidenced by our family, but it is the one thing that I do wish we had available to us from time to time.


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