Attachment in Adoptive Families

Shortly after bringing home our 6 1/2 year old daughter from India, my husband and I began deliberating on when to try for a baby via pregnancy.  Considering the background of our girl’s life, she was adjusting amazingly well (I would go so far as to say miraculously!); and because she was about to turn seven, we didn’t want to hold off too long before having a second kiddo.  Well, suffice it to say, we were overjoyed to learn that we conceived on our of our first attempts; and since becoming pregnant, I have learned about mommyhood in new ways.

Attachment in Adoptive Families | Journey of Faith blog

It still amazes me that as we celebrate holidays and go about our day-to-day business, my baby is always with me. I love this. With Sujata, I felt the distance between us keenly as we waited to bring her home. Many days were painfully agonizing for me as I wondered who was taking care of her and how she was faring. With this second baby, I have him with me all the time.  I get to be the one nurturing his very first moments, nourishing his body, and acquainting him with my voice.

And acquaint him I do, because I talk to baby boy all.the.time. All the time.  My family and I sing songs to him, tell him silly jokes, and our pets even spend some time resting on him as they snuggle up to me.

And my favorite thing about pregnancy so far? Feeling Baby move inside of me.  Sensing the movement of an arm or leg or feeling him stretch and squirm is an odd phenonemon; it is also a beautiful gift.  I stare at my belly frequently to see him poking around, and I’ve even noticed that I unintentionally rub my belly wherever I go.

As a first-time pregnant lady, I have also had my share of scared moments in which I fear for the safety of my baby. Shortly after I began to feel him move, there was a day when I couldn’t remember if he had been kicking. I walked straight into my husband’s arms and cried big, fearful tears over even the slightest possibility that something might be amiss with my baby.  (Thankfully, a cup of apple juice woke him up and calmed this scared momma!)

As I have experienced all these beautiful moments with my boy, I have learned on a whole new level what both my daughter and I have missed out on. We have missed out on attachment the easy way.


Deborah Grey, a clinical social worker with experience in attachment, grief and trauma, discusses attachment in her book Attachment in Adoption, as “enduring relationships that are formed over time and experience, almost always by members of a family.”  She goes on to discuss many of the positive outcomes that flow from secure attachment between parents and children, some of which are helping “children learn to believe that they are lovable, that trust in parents is wise, and that others will help them when they have needs.  Children learn that parents can help them to get snuggles, explore the world, calm down, solve problems and reduce pain.” (p.17)

Attachment is something that I never knew could be so difficult.  It is what I wish I had known more about before bringing home an older-aged child.  It is what I wish other people knew more about as they seek to have a relationship with my little girl, who I am still learning to adjust to, and who is still learning to attach to me.

One of the most challenging aspects for me regarding attachment is feeling forced to share Sujata with people in a way that I might not be expected to, had she been a baby or toddler when we’d brought her home. I struggle with this.


I struggle, because my first job as Sujata’s mom is to work on developing trust between us and this secure attachment that is so vitally important for the continued growth and maturation of my little girl, as well as for me as her mom.  How do you do that work for a little one who has missed out on having parents for the first 6 years of her life?  How do you show your little girl that you can be the one she most trusts to take care of her, protect her, and show her the right way to go in life; when the majority of what she has ever been exposed to is the idealogy that adults cannot be trusted and one must fend for herself in order to survive?

Oh, it is possible. But it takes time. So.much.time. And a lot of hard work. And boundaries that probably cause some people to scratch their heads in wonder over why my husband and I would have such strict “rules” for our daughter.

For instance, I’ve found that one of the greatest opportunities for forming a close relationship between my daughter and I is when I do her hair. I get out my hair dryer, smoothing cream, and hair straightener; and get to work.  Our best conversations together have been in the bathroom as I’ve stood over her, her tiny arms wrapped around me as she shares her deepest thoughts with me. Sometimes I plan a bath into her schedule, just so we can have these kinds of moments afterward.  And because this is such a special time for my little girl and me, no one else is allowed to do her hair right now.


Because I didn’t get to form an attachment to her as I fed, held, rocked, and sang to her when she was a baby; I’m now finding other ways to re-create those opportunities.  Which means boundaries.

Another boundary: we’ve begun to not allow others to pick up our daughter, except for us and her grandparents.  The event that preceded this new “rule” was a night when Sujata was in our company, as well as with a few other relatives and friends.  She had never met this group of people before, and as soon as she had everyone’s attention (which did not take long, so cute and charming is my daughter), we were invisible to her. She did not approach us or give us the light of day for the remainder of that evening. To top it off, she was so desperate for attention from anyone that she crawled her way through a gathering of strangers to get to the arms of someone who would hold her. I was mere feet away from my daughter, yet it hadn’t occurred to her that I would be a good (even the best, maybe) candidate for holding and cuddles.  As a new mom still in the process of attaching to my girl, I was devastated.

This wasn’t the first instance of witnessing behavior like that in our girl; and it was then that my husband and I realized she had not attached to us as swiftly as we had originally thought. (And, as in so many other situations, we wondered why we had expected her to, given her background.)  She had no idea what it meant that we are her parents, and she our family. That night showed us how much work, and time, still lay ahead of us in order to help our daughter understand what it means that she now has parents she can trust and rely upon.

The hard work is certainly paying off.  The boundaries we have set in place have been helpful and instructive in teaching Sujata what family means – specifically, what it means that she is a daughter and we, her parents.

And there is still a long way to go in this process of attachment, both for her and for me. But a beautiful foundation is being laid for us as we learn about each other and grow in our relationship.


As this second baby of ours grows inside of me, I often find myself wondering what my daughter will think as she sees me taking care of her baby brother.  Because of the different ways – and ages – at which each of them have entered our family, I know that I will relate to them in different ways (isn’t this somewhat true of any parent with multiple children, who are unique individuals with unique sets of needs for love and parental guidance?). But if there is one thing that I’ve learned on this journey of attachment to my daughter, it is this:

While the acts of love for each of my children will certainly look different, my love for them is the same.

I will carry my baby boy around all day, feed him at my breast, bathe him, rock him to sleep in my arms, and talk to him in “baby speak” until this is no longer acceptable.  These are all acts of love that I will carry out for him.

Loving my seven year old girl, who came to me at age 6 1/2 from a group home in a faraway country, has and will continue to look different than that in most ways.  My love for her looks like setting boundaries that protect the process of attachment we are forming to one another.  My love for her looks like teaching her to speak proper English so we can all effectively communicate with one another.  It looks like teaching her about the healthy foods I try to feed her so that she will acquire the nutrients she needs for proper growth, off-setting the years of malnutrition she’s experienced.

But my love for both of my children is the same.

That fierce, protective love that gives me awareness of my baby’s movement inside of me and causes concern on days when I don’t notice it as much is the same love that motivated me to fill out oodles of paperwork and wait all those long days, wondering how my daughter was doing in my absence.

The nurturing, comforting love that makes me want to talk and sing to my boy, and stare at my belly for prolonged periods just to see him move; is the same love that lulls my daughter to sleep at night with the song I learned to sing just for her, topping it off with goodnight hugs and kisses.

The mushy, momma love that gives me tears in my eyes over seeing my second baby on an ultrasound is the same love that softens at the sound of my first baby’s playful singing in the bathtub.

And all of these ways that I love my children, and the affection I have for them, is producing something so beautiful and glorious for them and for me, their momma.

It’s producing attachment, and the understanding for both of my babies that they are deeply loved and valued by their parents.  I cannot think of much else that is more important for moms and dads to work hard at for their children.  Attachment is, indeed, a beautiful thing.


If there’s a cause worth fighting for, it’s this: children belong in families. -Nicole Skellenger



One thought on “Attachment in Adoptive Families

  1. Beautiful thoughts, Deborah! And important too.

    On Wed, Dec 28, 2016 at 10:05 AM, Journey of Faith wrote:

    > honeybeekurtz posted: “Shortly after bringing home our 6 1/2 year old > daughter from India, my husband and I began deliberating on when to try for > a baby via pregnancy. Considering the background of our girl’s life, she > was adjusting amazingly well (I would go so far as to say ” >


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