Attaching In Adoption…

We get asked all the time how the transition is going, or how her attachment (to us) is coming. Sometimes people assume she is already bonded/attached to us, and ask if her transition WAS hard.

I never know what to say exactly, so I usually smile, and say something inane, like, “oh, you know, it’s a big adjustment,” or “oh, it’s a process.”

Well, the truth is that, of course, she has NOT bonded to us. She is getting used to us, probably likes us, and knows that we are taking care of her and meeting her needs right now, and maybe is even enjoying the one on one attention, but that is not a true familial bond.

It IS a big adjustment, and it it not easy at all. It is hard to know that this is best for Mackenzie, but it is causing her pain. And yes, I know she seems so happy. This is how she copes. She smiles and charms and flirts, and we love her smile, but we want her to be truly happy, and not just fake happy, because that makes people like her. Of course, we can’t tell her that, because she doesn’t understand. It is hard, people. We knew it would be hard, and it is.

It will be a long time before she is bonded to us, and trusts us. It would be silly to think that a child, any child, would bond in four weeks, or even in three months. True, she has been with us longer than four weeks, but the time in China, and even her first couple weeks here with us, don’t count, as she was in shock, and likely doesn’t remember that time. Sometimes even now, we see the glazed over look she consistently wore in China come back. When she is sad or upset, sometimes when she is just lost in thought, I see that glazed look come over her, and I know she is not with me anymore.

We have been in contact with an attachment therapist, and he has totally given me relief. I feel relieved from my expectations…of myself. I have been so worried about doing the right thing to promote attachment, and not ruin any bond we may have already formed. But the therapist gave me freedom. Freedom to stop worrying, and freedom to not question every action.

The truth is that we may START to see an attachment forming in a few months, or, it could be a few years. Both are normal, and neither one means that there is necessarily anything wrong. We believe with all of our hearts that Mackenzie will bond to us in her own time. It may be a while, and we know that it will be a process, but we are happy to just be with our girl, and love on her until it happens. What we know beyond a shadow of a doubt? This girl is so worth it.


  1. Megan on September 29, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Amen! Keep on trying! Attaching is hard- on both sides. Cut yourself some slack. I found that on my end- I felt so much better about our situation and just life in general when I finally just let go of my expectations and did what felt \”normal\”. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Jen on September 29, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    We adopted our little girl last Novebmer and we had a connection right away, but it was a fun connection. She thought we were fun and enjoyed everything we did and all the food she would get. But the bonding took time it took her almost 3 months to call me mama and she called my husband baba within the first day or so. She needed time, time to figure out who I was and if I was there to stay. Now 10 months later I feel that bond and it's strong and I'm so happy we were patient and gave her the time and didn't push her. BTW your little girl is a cutie, our daughter also has Microtia/atresia.Jen

  3. Anonymous on September 30, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Really good post, I hope lots of people get to read it because it helps to know that its all normal.

  4. Grace on September 30, 2010 at 12:13 am

    thanks for this very honest post, joanna…something i'll be thinking about lots (very) soon, i hope! praying for you and mackenzie and this process!

  5. Robin on September 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Well said Joanna. I admire your honesty and your love for MacKenzie.

  6. Lisa on September 30, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Beautifully stated and insightful….All to often the focus is on the immediate, when truly attachment/bonding are all on a continuim….there will be small steps, stumbles, backwards moments and grand leaps….all are normal and not all may happen…or not all of the time!What a beauty you have there and I'm grateful to hear that the therapist gave you permission ( for lack of a better word!!)to simply enjoy ALL the moments with her.Sometimes I'm baffled by those same questions too….even though our daughter has been home since 2003 and our son 2009…..I know often its asked for lack of anything else to ask about…or perhaps even genuine interest. In your case with only be home for such a short time, its most likely true concern…..nonetheless, those seemingly innocent queries can eat away at your confidence and pressure a sense of needing to be \”all done\” with attachment, when it so clearly it never really is…..Healthy attachment can sometimes take a lifetime and its never static ~ good for you for seeing this and understanding so well!!

  7. michelle on October 1, 2010 at 6:44 am

    When we brought home our daughter at 8 months, she wasn't really bonded to us. We fed her, changed her diapers, and cared for her, but we weren't truly mommy and daddy. She went to anyone who wanted to carry her. It made me feel sad when she would kiss all of her stuffed animals and wouldn't give me the time of day. It's taken almost the entire year she's been home with us, but I feel like we're moving in the right direction. She is now wary of other people even relatives that she knows. She initiates hugs and kisses. When she's sad or hurt, she comes running to us. I finally feel like a mommy. It will take time.

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