Attachment 101 – part 1

One of the big themes discussed in adoption today is ATTACHMENT.

At the core, this is the biggest issue facing adoptive parents and kids.  It is at the heart of all our desires for ourselves and our children.  It is the biggest difference setting us apart from biologically created families.  So what is this thing called attachment?

Let me paint a picture for you.

Think about that sweet little baby you know who is less than six months old, living in a loving, functional family.  He has entered this big wide world and yet he is so dependent on another’s care.  That voice he heard while in his mother’s womb murmurs in his ear, soothing him when his tiny face scrunches, red and screaming.  When he cries, he is quickly picked up and held close to that warm body that feels so familiar.  Mother has an intuitive sense of baby’s needs, even when she’s exhausted from lack of sleep.  When he’s hungry, he is held close in her arms and fed warm milk from a bottle or breast, often gazing up into his mother’s face as he drinks.  Rarely do her hands feel rough, hurried or anxious as she handles his fragile body.  He is gently bathed regularly in soothing warm water.  Mother is right there beside him washing his little body with a soft cloth and talking to him.  She may even set up a tiny heater in the room for when he comes out of the water, wet and cold.  He gets wrapped in a warm towel and massaged with lotion from head to toe.  Sometimes he is held while he sleeps, his mother simply enjoying the weight of his body, the smell of his skin and his tiny features relaxed in sleep.  Everyone delights in cuddling him, examining every little expression and watching his body grow.  His first cooing noises are rewarded with smiles and delighted attention from the adults who adore him.

I don’t mean to put a rosy glow on all this.  I know there are long days, short nights, hours of screaming and aching breasts for some.  But that mother you know, even when she feels overwhelmed and exhausted, will probably be making sure her baby’s needs are met.  He will still get all that tender care, protection and physical presence he needs to assure him someone in this big, wide world is taking care of him and thinks he’s the most important little person on the planet.

The very first thing baby will learn is that he can trust his mother to meet his needs; that his cries will be met with response.

When he is hungry, she will rush to get him food.  When his bottom is red and sore she will soothe it with cream.  If he cries for hours, she will worry, wondering what is wrong.  Above all else she will protect him with her very life.  She will go to extra measures to make sure the infant seat is properly installed and latched.  She will think twice when she gets behind the wheel those first few times.  She will always know where he is and what he’s doing, and will take care to be sure he’s safe.  As he grows, sits, rolls over, crawls and stands she will make sure his environment is safe.  She will feel a flutter of panic in her chest when he bumps his head, falls down the stairs or face plants into the ceramic tile floor.  Baby quickly becomes attached to his mother because he knows she is the one he can rely on.  Hers are the arms that will soothe in that familiar way.  Hers is the face that gazes at him, smiles at him, talks to him and kisses his chubby cheeks.  Through that first year of life, mother and baby are almost one.  They spend almost every waking minute together or in very near proximity.

This is the way God intended families to be built.

He knew we would need that assurance that the world can be a safe, happy place and that we are precious in someone’s eyes.  On that foundation we grow into children that are ready to learn, explore and create.  Our need for love and security has been met, and continues to be met.  Every event following those first basic patterns of care as an infant develop in us an ability to trust another human.  We will need this to survive.  We will need this for our brains to function properly.

Do you think it would make a difference if one day baby cried and cried for hours, but nobody ever came?  No warm bottle to ease the ache in his empty tummy.  No gentle arms to soothe his distressed cries.  No gentle voice murmuring words of comfort in reassuring tones.  No gentle bath times…instead his skin turns crusty and dry.  His bottom soon gets red and sore to the point of blisters that rub open and bleed, while his urine and stool stain his clothing for hours.  Maybe someone comes…sometimes…but the arms may or may not be gentle.  They may rock and soothe one day but hit and jostle roughly the next.  Faces come and go, but no consistent caregiver seems to feel responsible for baby.  For days, baby may cry until his throat is sore and his voice raspy…but eventually he will stop.  He has learned crying does not get him anything.  He will lie silently staring, listening to the sounds of his unpredictable environment.  Maybe yelling, maybe the thumping beat of music much too loud for baby’s ears, maybe the drone of the television or radio…and sometimes simply nothing.

Or maybe baby is cared for tenderly for the first 6 months, year or even 2 years…and then one day that person is gone.  In a new, strange environment he is alone and fearful.  The faces are unfamiliar, the smells and routines are all wrong.  Instead of stories and soft blankets at bedtime in his familiar room, with the night light glowing in the corner, it is dark and cool and just so different.  The blanket is scratchy instead of soft.  The room is large and open instead of small and cozy.  There are no stories, only a quick kiss and the door closing while unfamiliar lullabies play.  He has fun in the large back yard with the swing set and pool, but he misses the familiarity of that one person who held his world together.  This person doesn’t know when he’s hungry, tired or overwhelmed and he has no idea what she is going to do next.

She is a stranger.

Over the next few months, things slowly start to fall into place.  He learns new routines, new habits, new ways of getting attention and affection.  Just as he’s starting to trust that this person can fill the void…she disappears.  Suddenly he is in a new place again.  How could she leave him?  Once again, he must get used to something different.  Everyone seems happy and excited, but he is scared.  Who will take care of him now?

Will they leave too?

When?

Where?

How?

Is this what life is like?

After 3 or 4 moves, he will learn that there is only one person he can really depend on, and that is himself.  He is responsible to meet his own needs.  Relying on other people is simply too painful.  Eventually, they will leave and he must be able to cope on his own.  Though he may not be aware of this thought, his brain is establishing these patterns and they come with a great cost.

We know in our hearts that this does make a difference.  God never intended children to fend for themselves.  They are vulnerable.  They are needy.  Parents are commanded in scripture to love, teach and provide for their children’s needs as best they can.  God illustrates himself as a loving Father to us, giving us the image of a caring, gentle, strong protector.  We struggle as mothers, as fathers, to parent our children the way we know God desires.  We talk about unconditional love, sacrifice, wisdom and joy.  We desire the best, and we struggle to reach the ultimate.

Yet so many children are growing up without these fundamental needs being met.  They do not know who they can trust, and they are constantly on high alert.  Their brains operate in panic mode a majority of the time, constantly looking for signals that will warn them of pain, danger or loss.  Because they are so busy trying to survive, there is little brain power left to learn, explore or create like normally developing children.  There is tons of scientific research that supports this theory.

A child who has not formed healthy attachments is essentially brain damaged.

This is a fact.  Look it up.

The more I learn the more I am in awe of the Creator God I love.  He did not create us to function as individuals.  We are designed to need each other.  In our families, in our churches, in our communities…we thrive on healthy, loving relationships with others.  All these relationships are built on trust.

The good news is that these missing connections CAN be formed later in life!

Our brains can learn to make those new connections…but it is so much harder than the original plan.  Instead of an infant starting with an empty slate, you are now trying to rewire or reteach the brain to ignore the survival skills it’s relied on for 3, 5, 10 or even 20 years.  It takes time, patience and unconditional love.  Trial and error.  And every child is different.

Does every child who has been adopted struggle with attachment issues?

No, though most do to some degree.

What does this look like?

The struggle, the rewiring and the success?

I’d like to explore this a little bit in the next few posts.  I am by no means an expert, but we’ve learned an incredible amount through seminars, workshops, friends, adoption professionals and most of all some very precious little kiddos in the past three years.  It’s been an intriguing journey, and has helped us be so much better prepared for the challenges we face today with our two daughters.  I am passionate about sharing with others the issues adoptive families face daily because I believe that awareness is the key to success.  The more people understand the root of the issues we face and develop skills and empathy, the better the outcome for my children and every other adoptive family.

There are millions of children waiting for families who will dare to love them despite their challenges.  Their are also millions of families who feel they are not equipped to care for these children.  I firmly believe that education about adoption and adoption issues could change the lives of many of these children and families.

Jesus did not turn away from the messiness of life.

The hurt,

the terror,

the overwhelming rage,

the grief as deep and dark as ink,

the injustice that leaves us broken.

In the middle of it all, He was there.

I pray for the courage to love even when the cost is unimaginably high.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phillipians 4:13

Right now my daughters and I are memorizing a child-friendly version of the 23rd Psalm.  You cannot imagine what it does to my heart when I hear them during their play time reciting these lines of incredible comfort and love about their Heavenly Father.  This is taken from the Jesus Storybook Bible.

God is my Shepherd

And I am his little lamb.

He feeds me

He guides me

He looks after me.

I have everything I need.

Inside, my heart is very quiet.

As quiet as lying still in soft green grass

In a meadow

By a little stream.

Even when I walk through

the dark scary, lonely places

I won’t be afraid

Because me Shepherd knows where I am.

He is here with me

He keeps me safe

He rescues me

He makes me strong

And brave.

He is getting wonderful things ready for me

Especially for me

Everything I ever dreamed of!

He fills my heart of full of happiness

I can’t hold it all inside.

Wherever I go I know

God’s Never Stopping

Never Giving Up

Unbreaking

Always and Forever Love

Will go, too!”

AF

 

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Easing Transitions

         Hey there 🙂

I thought I would reappear for a second here and share a few little charts with you that we’ve been using around here. I’m assuming that we are not the only ones who struggle to keep transition times positive. When there’s a list of things you want your kids to do and you’re racing against a clock only you seem to be aware of, it’s hard to keep things cheerful and stress free. Whether it’s lost shoes, forgotten homework, library books, messy faces or backwards tights all it can take in those stressful moments is one little straw to bring the whole thing crashing to the floor! Let’s face it…it doesn’t exactly make you feel like Supermom when you show up for school 5-10 minutes late five days in a row. (I should know!) If your kids are already struggling emotionally, all it can take is a grumpy Mama breathing down their necks to shove them onto the fast track to a very bad day for all of the above!

So…how do you somehow get all those things accomplished without nagging at them and at the same time teach responsibility?

My answer is VISUALS.

After living with a child diagnosed with Autism for almost 10 months, I fell in love with all things PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System.) During that time I bought myself a cheap little laminator at Walmart ($60 will get you a laminator, pouches and little velcro stickers). I have been using that thing for everything I can get my hands on ever since! I LOVE to laminate things. It makes them durable, clean and it’s just so much fun! 🙂

Anyway, while we were fostering this child, I made hundreds and hundreds of little pictures for us to be able to communicate and understand each other. We had pictures of foods for mealtime and grocery shopping. We had pictures of jobs that needed to be done, down to specific steps for things like going to the bathroom and getting dressed. We had pictures of emotions to communicate how we were feeling. We had pictures of social rules, consequences and even a little square for hugs, kisses and I LOVE YOU. For little R, it meant for the first time he had a voice to be able to communicate what was going through his mind, even if his physical voice would not cooperate in the way he wanted.

There are thousands of websites that can give you ideas for creating visuals for your child. For R it was a way to communicate in every part of his life but even if your child has a perfectly functional voice (like both of mine do), visuals are still a great way to reinforce expectations and teach new skills!

For my girls, being able to see pictures of the jobs that need to be done have made our morning routine so much smoother. Now I don’t need to keep track of every move they’re making in that hour before leaving the house. They each have a list of what needs to be done and know that until their boxes are all checked off, they are not allowed to move on to playtime. If they do happen to skip one, they know that Mommy will catch it as she breezes through the house making that final sweep and they will not be able to blame anyone else for not doing it because it was on their list! It makes them feel great when they do all their jobs and don’t have to be reminded ten times to hurry up, go back and get socks or stop playing and get ready! The other great thing about visuals is that you can easily tailor it to match your child’s ability and comprehension. My daughters’ charts don’t look the same. At first I just made them each a checklist like this:

DSC05467

However, my littlest A did not do so well with this method. It was too big of a stretch for her to see words and pictures and try to comprehend what she needed to do on her own. So I made this one for her instead:

DSC05466

Now she has a list of only pictures, and instead of running around armed with an erasable marker (which is an accident waiting to happen) all she has to do is move her picture from the TO DO column on the left to the ALL DONE column on the right. The physical motion of having to move each sticker helps her keep track of what she’s done and makes it harder for her to accidentally check off a task she has not actually completed.

Are our mornings perfect?

No.

Kids will always be kids. They still fool around, get their tights on backwards, brush their teeth in 5 seconds and miss the peanut butter around their mouths when washing faces. They move at the speed of a snail some days and we are still late for school sometimes.  I have to call them back to remake sloppy beds, wash properly or focus on their tasks.

But…

It helps us stay on track and makes the morning much less stressful for me when I can make the list be the boss instead of a harried Mom being the boss. Now, instead of it being Mom vs. Kids it feels a bit more like we’re a team all working toward the same goal.

A few other visuals we use sometimes are:

Dressing Prompts for all those tricky winter layers like snow pants and boots

DSC05496

and an after school jobs list to get the lunch bag and agenda up to Mommy’s counter to be signed.

There are a thousand more visual projects I’d love to do and a few more we enjoy that I don’t have pictures of. One of my favourites is making grocery lists for kids when you’re going to the store so they can help shop too! For little ones, you can use pictures. For older kids you can make them their own list and even send them to another area of the store to get a few items if they’re responsible enough. Teaching little ones to dress is always a challenge and visuals are great for that too. Posting step by step instructions you can help them refer to makes them feel like they’ve done it all on their own. We had a step by step guide for using the bathroom posted for months to help make sure hands were washed, toilet was flushed, etc. Organizing your child’s toys and clothes is another great way to use visuals so they can start taking responsibility for where their things belong.  If you have children that struggle to understand social situations or are anxious in new environments, social stories can be a great visual tool to help them understand and  prepare for situations they’ll be facing.  You can use visuals as a teaching tool for those precocious toddlers who need more to keep their brains busy, too! 🙂  McDonald’s ordering booklets are fun and easy.  Let  your child choose what he/she would like next time and use her voice and pictures to tell the person at the cashier.  I’m guessing when you do a quick search online you’ll soon have lots of ideas too! So buy that laminator! 🙂

As for the actual pictures, you can use a variety of tools.

  1. Your camera. Real pictures taken of individual items.

  2. Free clipart online

  3. Websites that offer clipart, PECS or ready made charts.

    Once you have the pictures, all you do is load them onto your computer, paste them into a program like Microsoft Word or Office, shrink them down to the dimensions you’d like (1 or 2 inches usually), print them off, cut them out and then zip them through your laminator. Once they’ve been laminated you cut them out and stick a little square of velcro on the back.

    Voila!

    Have fun 🙂

    AF

Crazy Hot Sex

Love the passion Sasha voices in this post. Love doesn’t get boring as the years creep by. It deepens and weaves til two are truly one just as our Father intended. This is for all the Mamas out there with the love of their life in the trenches beside them.

Mom Life Now

engagment

To my dear daughter,

As you grow, many boys will enter your years. They will speak words of love and passion, of wanting you–all of you.

Their sex will be lacking.

Believe me, dear girl, I know what crazy hot lovemaking is made of. Until the boy can assure you of the following, it is not true passion.

If he can patiently wait for over three years. From pregnant to nursing to pregnant to nursing, with your hormones fierce, and desire often dead. “Please, just let me sleep. I am so tired.” will be your common response. Until he can love you still, choose you still, it is not true passion.

If He can call you beautiful when even your feet are swollen from baby belly. Call you sexy when your legs run thick with varicose veins from the same. Call you perfect after your belly hangs loose with skin…

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My Current Lunch Favourite

MY FAVOURITE SALAD (for now)

  • Tuna
  • Lettuce/Napa Cabbage/Spinach
  • Carmelized Onions
  • Dried cranberries
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Cashews or Pecans
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Poppyseed or Parmesan Oregano salad dressing

Mix and enjoy!

My friend introduced me to this salad a few weeks ago and I’ve been scarfing it down almost daily for lunch every since!  And hey, it’s healthy! 🙂

Ps.  I remember listening to a woman say once that being a woman means you get to change your mind often.  Favourite foods, favourite colours, favourite clothes…it’s all open to change at any time.  I love that!  Also, it’s so true.  In the food department in the past 6 months I have suddenly become a huge tuna fan and crave pineapple frequently, both of which are things I rarely enjoyed before.  But hey, who knew?  Now I crave Hawaiian pizza regularly, eat tuna sandwiches and salads and add pineapple to my omelettes.  (Yes, I said omelettes).  I just love being a woman! 🙂