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Thursday, 03 December 2020
Going the Distance Print
by Ansley Bernatz

I often hear adoptive parents asking, “How long?” How long must I travel the road of attachment parenting? How long until my baby trusts me? How long until he feels secure? How long until my spouse and I are able to go away for a movie, for the weekend?

Unfortunately, there is no attachment miracle wax. You cannot send your grieving baby to a mechanic to ‘fix’ them. You must be the one to go the distance. After all, you are the one choosing adoption. You filled out all the befuddling paperwork to prove you were ready to travel this road. You must also be the one fill your child’s gas tank with love and keep it full.

I think it is important when considering a timeline for attachment, to understand only you, the parent (or a qualified therapist) can determine when your child is emotionally healthy, secure, and ready to be left with a caregiver. Therefore, it is imperative you are in tune with you child. You must learn to recognize the signs of stress and grief in his little face and shoulders. Remember, you and your baby are cruising down a country road, not running a race.

Imagine you had given birth to your baby. How long would it take for you to differentiate between the hungry cry, the wet cry, the tired cry and the lonely cry? You don’t learn to drive in a day, but with practice and in time. Friends who have biological children routinely tell me it takes them four to six months to recognize the difference in their newborn child’s cries.

Somehow though, as adoptive parents, we assume we will know in a matter of weeks whether or not is okay to leave our child; a child who is generally older than a newborn, with more complex emotions; a baby who has already been traumatized by losing his birth and foster families and being placed with virtual strangers. You are parenting a child who has learned from his early history that Mommy cannot be counted on. Mommy is not coming back. And if I can’t count on Mommy- I’m not even going there with that ‘Daddy’ guy. Essentially, your child has been running on emotional ‘fumes’.

What’s a parent to do? How do we put our minds at ease? How can we know whether to hit the gas or the brakes?

My first suggestion is to get to know your child. What effect does trauma have on your child’s brain? How many hours a week can you spend with him? How much quality time do you have together? How much family leave will you/ did you take? Are you a stay-at-home mom, or do you work 50 hours a week? I don’t think every woman should stay at home. But I certainly think having a career outside the home will affect the amount of time it will take to learn all you should know about your newly adopted child.

Secondly, what is your ‘mommy gut’ telling you? We are all born with intuition. It helps keep us and our loved ones safe. However, western culture continually makes an assault on this valuable tool. We are told by society the doctors know better, the books know better- heck, even Fisher Price knows better. I will tell you this, though- I believe a woman who has been a mom for one day knows more about her child than any doctor or book will ever know. (Important distinction- She knows more, but still not everything!) It is your instinct to learn everything about your baby- to work out all the knocks and pings. I often hear my child crying upstairs before anyone else does. Most of the time, I’m not sure if I actually hear him crying, or I just know he is crying. Trust your intuition, not the advice of others. If in your heart you have doubts about leaving- don’t do it!

Last of all, make a trial run. Who says your first outing should involve a weekend away, leaving your child with a sitter he has only met briefly in the past? Perhaps, a relative or friend the child knows well could come over while you and your mate take a much needed nap? Maybe you could just run out for lunch, or take a walk? When you get home, evaluate your child carefully. Is his ‘check engine’ light on? Worse yet, has he completely stopped running- has he shut down? Perhaps he is running like a well-oiled machine? If so, you’re probably ready for the open road. After you give your child time to refill his emotional gas tank with love, try a longer outing. Whatever you do, don’t force a separation before you are both ready. Leaving should be gradual, not jump started!

Understand it may take longer than you think. For our family, at 14 months post placement we seemed to be on the home stretch. Now, not only are we moving ahead, but the road is smoother, with less twist and turns. In the months leading up to today, we made a lot of repairs to our relationship with our baby. Thankfully, most of the potholes have been smoothed over.

No one will be able to tell you whether your child’s attachment is in overdrive or on cruise control. You have to make that determination. If you learn all you can about your child’s neurological development and listen to your instinct; you will know if it’s time to idle, or to open up the throttle and move on.

Your child will only reach his full potential under your fervent care and attention. How long will it take? It will take as long as is necessary.


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