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Wednesday, 24 February 2021
When Family & Friends Don't Understand Print
Since many of the symptoms associated with attachment problems look like normal childhood behaviors, it can be very difficult if not impossible to explain to friends and family. Some, in an attempt to be helpful, try to dismiss the problems. You hear, “Oh, my son has temper tantrums all the time,” all the while thinking to yourself, “Not like these, lady!” Others try to generalize, “He looks perfectly normal to me,” while you roll your eyes, knowing that he is at his worst only when he is home. Alone. With you.

And then, there are the friends and family who, in the spirit of helpfulness, begin to question your methods, or even worse, your sanity.

A low point in our attachment road came about nine months after we first identified the problem. After months of progress, we plateaued, which felt at the time like a major upset. For support, I turned to a close friend. From the beginning, she supported our journey through regular contact, prayers, and listening sessions. I divulged more to her than most, feeling that she truly accepted what I’d been teaching her about the attachment process. After sharing the latest struggles, I was shocked to receive a note from her asking if my child could sense my love for him as he was, rather than as a project that needed to be fixed.

I was devastated. Yet, at the same time, I knew that I couldn’t expect her to understand. She’d never parented a child who’d undergone separation and loss, let alone a child who experienced four different mommies in less than six months. But it hurt, and I still desperately hoped that she could understand. I wrote her a reply:

If I had a child with leukemia, would that child be able to sense my love for him as he is, not that he is a project that needs to be fixed or completed? If I had a child with leukemia, a nosebleed or a bruise would take on different meaning and attention than it would with a child who is believed to be physically healthy. In the same way, when my son exhibits behaviors consistent with attachment issues, I tend to respond to them in the light of that knowledge. To accept him as he is means to accept him fully including his attachment needs. To ignore that would not be loving him any more than ignoring the needs of a physically ill child. It would be denial.

My son is what he is, attachment issues and a host of other things....he is bright, lively, entertaining. But if we enjoy him and ignore attachment related behaviors, we would be denying him the help he needs to become the person God intended him to be.

She never replied. Our friendship continues, although the attachment process is no longer on the discussion docket. Instead, I have found friends “in the trenches” who understand what it means to walk this journey.

Some of the greatest pain comes from those who insist that, as the song goes, “all they need is love.” Anyone who has parented an attachment impaired child knows that it is not that simple. The following letter is from an adoptive mother to another adoptive parent who said that all one must do is love children with attachment problems and they’ll be fine:

If one follows your thought through to conclusion then anyone who has an adopted child who experiences attachment issues does not love their child enough, does not nurture their child enough, and does not give their child enough attention. Is this what you meant? Can you really know something that all of us who are dealing with this do not know? Do you realize that part of the agony of attachment disorder is the ignorance of the people around us? Do you know the nights we mothers have spent weeping over our children? Do you know the hours I, personally, have spent praying for my precious baby? Begging God to help her accept our love? Do you know that I gave up my life this entire last year because I quickly discovered that she could not handle anything other than having mom 24/7? Do you know how long it has been since I have slept for more than 3 hours in a row because my beloved daughter has nightmares and night terrors that keep her (and me) up? Do you know the flack I have taken from virtually every member of my extended family who says, "Just love her. Babies are resilient?” Do you have any understanding of how isolating this is? How lonely this is? Do you really believe that I have made up this "nonsense?" Do you have any idea what it is like to have a baby who never looks you in the eyes? Who refuses to be held close to you? Who screams and arches her back when you try to change her diaper, hold her, rock her, sing to her, dress her, bathe her? Do you know how unbelievably difficult it is to continue to love a baby who hates you? The mothers I know who have avoidant children are heroes in my book. They love children, who, for a while, are unlovable. We comfort them at night, even though we are tired beyond description. We persevere in our love for our children because we would do anything for them.

I have two sons by birth. They are happy, well adjusted boys. I am an experienced mother. I knew very early on that something was not right with my beloved daughter. I thank God I was smart enough and brave enough to go against the flow when everyone told me I was wrong. I have worked (and yes, it is WORK) for 8 months with my daughter. She is a different person today because I was brave enough and strong enough to be the mother she needed me to be. I loved her, nurtured her, and paid her all kinds of attention. Guess what? Bonding did not happen. It took more than that. It took parenting that is counter intuitive. We are not done. We know that our beloved daughter is still not as bonded or as joyful as an 18 month old should be. We are spending the last of our savings to get her the best help that is available. We are willing to learn anything we need to, to do anything we need to, to help our daughter heal. However, according to you, if I just loved her enough, paid enough attention to her, and nurtured her, she would bond. How do you expect me to respond to that?

I want to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are a kind and loving person who loves your child the way all of us do. (I hope and pray you never experience what many of us have gone through with our beloved children.) I must point out to you, assuming that you are kind and loving and that you would never intentionally hurt other loving mothers, that you have. I have friends who are first time mothers, who did not have the luxury of having some confidence in their parenting skills and ability to love like I did, who have been cut to the quick because of your careless comments. You have hurt other mothers who have been through agonizing years of infertility, only to have a beloved child come home who, despite the mother's very best efforts, is unable to accept a mother's love.

Clearly, your child has not experienced any of the more severe symptoms that some of us have endured. You are very fortunate. I have to point out, however, that I do not believe it is because you loved him more than I love my daughter. I do not believe it is because you are a better nurturer than I, or that you paid him more attention. I believe, in part, it was luck, and in part, it was your child's personality and pre-adoptive experience. You should consider yourself very blessed and fortunate. Please do not criticize and dismiss the pain and agony that many of us have experienced. And, most of all, do not attribute our pain to our lack of love and devotion to our children. (a. 7mo, FC)
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