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Thursday, 03 December 2020
The “A” Word Print
Sunday, 18 December 2005
For the record, I despise the word “attachment.” It conjures up all sorts of images of the “attached” (aka “angels”) vs. the “unattached” (aka “monsters.”) It’s the age old story of the “haves” and the “haves not” or the “attached” and the “attached not.” But it just isn’t that clear cut.

Parents have told me “my child is perfectly attached.” One glance confirms they’re right. The child is attached at the hip…and so insecure that he has to go with Mom even for the moment it takes her to go to the bathroom. I’ve seen kids who “attached” at the airport. (So being “attached” means that you’re happy to go home with a perfect stranger?) And I’ve heard about kids who have night terrors every night yet seem fine when they’re awake, so parents are certain it doesn’t have anything to do with the “A” word.

People assume that a child who is struggling with attachment looks like he doesn’t like his parents or doesn’t want to be close to them. So often, this just isn’t the case. My child may relax in my arms and hug me on a regular basis. Then we go somewhere where there is a big crowd. He stays with me, appropriately. Yet after we come home he may not sleep well or he may seem angry or restless or just plain old discombobulated! The rest of the world (who have all parented before!) tells me this just means he’s tired or hungry. Yet I know that his anxious attachment shows up after he’s been around a lot of people. And tiredness and hunger can turn mild feelings of unease into meltdowns.

The “A” word hit me hard this week. S, a friend whose daughter arrived home from Korea several years ago and just two weeks after our child did, called to talk about her daughter’s speech problems. I wondered aloud if it could be related to early trauma. Upon reflection, S realized that what she is seeing may indeed be connected to attachment. She says, “I guess I could see all the things that fit my daughter, yet I could also chalk all those things up to ‘just being her.’ She knew who we were vs. stranger (or even other family members) yet would be okay going to the church nursery. She was never overly clingy nor okay going to just anyone. She has always loved being held, never had problems with eye contact, yet never wanted to be held chest to chest with her head on our shoulders. See, small things that by themselves could be explained away, yet together could paint a picture. Perhaps a bit of denial thrown in for good measure.” S is lucky; she put the “A” puzzle together while her daughter is still young.

On the one hand, the “A” word is a factor for our adoptive children. But we’re working toward attachment with all our children, adoptive or bio, step or foster. Our marriage and relationships with friends are affected by our own attachment strength. Everyone in the entire world is on the attachment continuum—a line that runs from the Mother Teresas to the Charles Mansons of the world. And if we’re working to move our children in a positive direction, we are working on attachment…whether we like the “A” word or not.


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