Bonding can take time

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When you see new born babies with their Mum more often than not there’s an instant bond, an invisible cord that seems to bind them together. The goggly eyes from the adults and the response from the baby. This is not always the case of course and we hear much about bonding and not bonding in birth parents. However we don’t talk much about bonding in adoptive parents. We talk a lot about the child bonding to us, feeling safe with us and knowing they are with their forever family now. But we don’t talk much about our feelings of bonding to our adoptive children.

The whole world of adoption is surreal. The fact that you can not be a Mum one day and then the next have a child or children descend on you overnight who are calling you Mum and looking to you to meet all their needs. Of course with natural childbirth it’s a shock I know to have a baby rely solely on you to meet their needs, when you have just come into this role with not much preparation. It’s a steep learning curve however you come to parenthood!

Whilst I’ve been thinking about this whole bonding process I’m aware that for some of us we might feel that same instant bond with our children as birth Mums do. However for others it may take time and still for others it may never come to the same degree. It’s one of the more difficult aspects of adoptive parenting I believe, that you are expected (and you expect yourself) to feel an overnight bond, love, protectiveness, that you would die for your child type feelings and sometimes they take a lot longer to appear.

Due to the nature of what some of our children have experienced in their early lives, the pathway to bonding can be rocky. Children with an avoidant attachment style for example have developed a defence mechanism that keeps people at a distance. The fear of rejection and hurt from adults is greater than the need to bond, so feeling a bond with these children can be difficult. Children with ambivalent attachment styles can be so demanding, as for them the fear of not being seen is greater than anything else – their attention needing behaviours can be exhausting which in itself makes it difficult to bond.

Sometimes we don’t know how much we feel for our children until they are in difficult situations. The first time I really knew the bond between me and my son was there was when he had to go under anaesthetic to have his broken bones fixed when he broke his arm. We’d been in the hospital together all day and night and then in the morning we wheeled him down and I held his hand as he went under. When I came out to wait I just burst into tears – seeing him so vulnerable really touched me and I knew I loved him. More recently when I see any of my children in difficulties the pull on my heart strings tells me just how much of the motherly instincts are there. It’ not easy all the time but I know that I want the best for them and will protect them as much as I can.

One of the areas around this whole bonding though that I think is really important is that we don’t judge ourselves and beat ourselves up about how we feel. It takes time and some times are better than others. These children have complex coping strategies that make bonding difficult for them and for us. I guess the trick is to notice the times when there is that bond there – when you feel protective or compassionate or love towards them. They may be just moments in-between the challenging behaviour – but they are moments worth noticing and celebrating. Our children need those moments as much as we do – to see love in our eyes, or to know we will stand up for them, to see us being proud of them or speaking out for them is a powerful thing.

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