February 28, 2013
A friend asked what all we were doing to promote attachment and bonding with CaiQun, and I thought others of you might be interested, as well…perhaps even more interested in that than in how we are spending our free days (while we wait for paperwork to be processed)!
I’m not sure I can make a comprehensive list – some “building attachment activities” have always just been a part of our routine interactions with Miranda and so they don’t feel like intentional bonding activities to me, even though they certainly serve that purpose. And of course that makes sense….obviously we seek to bond with and build attachment with our biological children as well. That process is usually just a bit more straightforward. I’ll share a bit about what we have chosen to do with CaiQun as she has come into our family.
Examples of activities that fall into the category I mentioned above – our routine interactions with Miranda – are things like playing peekaboo, throwing a ball back and forth, and mirroring activities (mimicking what your child is doing and attempting to have them mimick you). Another would be tickling - cultivating both laughter and skin-to-skin contact are excellent ways to bond and to improve brain chemistry. And we try to get down on her level and play with her in whatever she is doing. We have been intentional in doing things like that with CaiQun, but those interactions are very similar to interactions we’ve had with Miranda over the past couple years.
Something we’ve been doing that I don’t think I’ve read about specifically in any books but that I think has helped our girls bond and, my sense is, has helped CaiQun see a bit of how she fits into our family, is having Miranda along on our travels and giving the girls similar items/activities/clothing. Of course there are pros and cons to traveling with your other children. It has been harder than we anticipated to have Miranda here with us, and my mom has been invaluable in caring for her and helping us. But I think CaiQun has more quickly adjusted to our family and to certain activities that could have seemed scary to her (i.e. bath time) since she has been able to see Miranda engaging in them and enjoying them. Both girls also seem to enjoy that each of them has a snack cup and a drink cup – they know whose is whose and return them to each other. And I’m not sure how much CaiQun has even noticed this, but Miranda has told me that she likes it when she and CaiQun are wearing matching outfits.
This seems an appropriate place to mention that attachment is a two-way street. It is generally easier for parents (or the already-in-your-home children) to bond with their new children – we’ve been staring at this picture for months, imagining what it will be like to hold this child in our arms, and visualizing them in our family. They, however, even if they’ve seen a photo album with our pictures in it, really have no idea what’s happening (at least at this age). Therefore, while my focus here is on how we are seeking to facilitate CaiQun’s attachment to us, it is also important for us to make sure we are bonding with her and that she and Miranda are developing a sisterly bond. I think those things have been happening fairly naturally for us, though that’s not always the case, but it’s important for us to be aware of.
Beyond the activities we are doing with CaiQun that are often part of routine parenting and the ways in which we are visibly demonstrating to both of our girls that they are sisters, these are some other things we’re doing to seek to facilitate attachment -
- Matt and I – exclusively – are holding her, feeding her, and changing her diaper. We are also interacting with her far, far more than anyone else. Even though my mom is here traveling with us, she has yet to hold CaiQun, feed her, or change her diaper (she tells me that I should tell all of you about her incredible patience). She interacts with her a bit but far less than Matt and I do. As we’re all in our hotel room playing together, they inevitably talk or laugh together a bit, but there are never times when my mom and CaiQun are just spending time together or playing on their own. This pattern will continue for as long as we feel it’s necessary once we return home (see our request to friends and family for their assistance with that here) – probably at least a couple months.
- We’re treating her as a little baby in ways in which that’s possible. As a toddler, she wants to play with toys, and she wants to run around and explore, and those things are great, but there are also ways in which she is very much a baby. We see her as a mix of her chronological age, her developmental age, and her family age. When Miranda was CaiQun’s (chronological) age, I’d spent a lot of time working with her on contentedly falling asleep in her own bed by herself - however, I spent months snuggling with Miranda and holding her until she fell asleep when she was a baby. CaiQun can fall asleep in her bed by herself, but she didn’t get to experience the holding and snuggling when she was a little baby, so we’re doing that with her now, as much as we can. I’m also happy to carry her when she wants to be carried or (when it doesn’t interfere with necessities like my also getting enough to eat) hold her on my lap when she’d like.
- We’re co-sleeping. I know this is controversial (particularly outside of adoption parenting), and I understand that. Matt’s and my general tendency toward the “attachment parenting” end of the spectrum is another post for another day, but adoption parenting is, in some ways, its own separate category. Children coming out of an orphanage have almost universally been deprived of normal levels of human contact. Our bodies and our brains need that human touch to grow and develop appropriately. In particular for toddlers or older children who are on the go throughout the day, co-sleeping is a great way to get in hours of physical closeness. Adopted children are also entering their new families through trauma – orphanage life is generally not good, but it is familiar to our children, and we’ve just pulled them out of that. They need comfort and reassurance – and far too often, their experience has been that when they are hurt or when they are scared, they are alone. We don’t want that to be CaiQun’s experience with us. We want her to know that we as her parents are there with her and for her. She isn’t (yet) comfortable with being held and snuggled all night long, but she is comfortable holding our hands as she falls asleep and tucking into us during the night. We’d love for her experience in our family to be that drifting off to sleep is accompanied by comfort and security and love. Add to all of this the simple fact that she expressed a preference for it – the first night she was with us, we got her and Miranda ready for bed, and Matt pointed to the crib and to the bed, and she pointed to the bed. Since then, she and Miranda have been napping together (with a pillow between them, because they both sleep a bit like helicopters!), and at both naptime and bedtime, I lay with them until CaiQun falls asleep and then snuggle with Miranda for a few minutes before I get up and let her go to sleep, and the 4 of us are co-sleeping at night.
- CaiQun came to us taking several bottles a day, and while normally in the United States, she might be considered rather old for that, we’ll maintain that for as long as it seems wise. Bottle-feeding is great for fostering a sweet time of connection. One huge way that newborns are cared for and develop a sense of security with their parents is through the warmth, physical contact, and nourishment of breast-feeding or bottle-feeding. CaiQun has probably never experienced that – bottles for even tiny babies in orphanages are generally propped up – so we want her to experience that with us. Bottle-feeding time is also a great time for cultivating eye contact and setting it in a positive context. We’re holding her and seeking to make eye contact with her as we give her bottles as much as possible.
- At the risk of being considered entirely a fringe lunatic, I’ll go public with the fact that I’m going to attempt to breastfeed her. Miranda still nurses a couple times a day – she doesn’t need it, but she enjoys it and has never seemed at all interested in giving it up, so I still have a bit of a milk supply. CaiQun may be too old to really get it, or she may not be interested, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll drop it, but if she’s interested, it could be such a good, sweet experience for her. I’d love for her to have that opportunity, so we’re going to give it a try.
- We’re cultivating regular eye contact in a variety of ways. Many children coming from orphanages are frightened by the intimacy of eye contact. We look into her eyes as we feed her, as we play with her, and whatever other opportunities we get. We also sometimes play in ways that specifically cultivate eye contact (i.e. putting a sticker between our eyes and laughing about it).
- We’re making a big deal out of it any time she falls down or bumps her head or anything like that. We want her to know that this is a safe place to express hurts, and we are here to comfort her – she doesn’t need to pretend nothing is wrong or just get over it on her own. It’s okay to feel her feelings here and express them, and we’re here to walk through them with her.
- We’re keeping food pretty available to her. This one has been a bit of a challenge – kids in orphanages do not generally get enough to eat, so it can be bad for their bodies to over-compensate and start eating a lot very quickly, but food also communicates such a sense of safety and care. We want to give her enough food to meet her nutritional needs and help her feel safe but also don’t want to overfeed her.
- We’ll probably “cocoon” to some degree once home. We’re not sure exactly what that will look like, and we’ll probably have to figure a lot of it out as we go and as we see what works and what doesn’t for CaiQun and for our family. We’ll probably be at fewer art shows and church gatherings and social events for a while. We may or may not be able to have people over to our house easily. We may try to keep our errand running or other outings to a minimum. That will be hard for me in particular, because I’m very much missing all of my friends back home, but we need to give CaiQun an opportunity to settle into our family and life in America without too many distractions if they seem to be interfering with her adjustment.
Those are a lot of the tools we’re using to facilitate bonding and attachment :) Some of these are things we’d talked a lot about beforehand, while others have just seemed right in the moment as we’ve been here, and we’ve agreed to continue to try to do them.
CaiQun really is fitting into our family beautifully. I realize I’ve written quite a list here, but most of this feels very natural and normal as we go about our days here. CaiQun is an incredible blessing, and we want to love her as well as we can!
Feel free to ask questions about any of this – or anything else – if you’d like!