Friday, May 25, 2012

Attachment Advice for those First Days

If I had one piece of advice to give to parents adopting older kids and to the agencies helping them, it would be to get between the child and the guide.

Although we were experienced parents, our "gotcha day" was so traumatic for the kids being adopted that we allowed the guide to take over that first day -- and she never looked back.  For the 2 weeks we were in Beijing, she would take the girls' hands everywhere we went and walk about 15 paces ahead of us.

This one thing affected (and is still affecting 4 years later) the bonding we could have been forming with our daughter. So not only did she lose her birthmother and her foster mother -- who she'd only known to be her "real" mother, she also had to lose the guide when we left for Guangzhou.

Thankfully, the guide we had in Guangzhou was an experienced parent herself and had her own daughter to care for, so she did not interfere with our parenting.

Even if you have no children and are parenting for the first time, don't let the guide/translator act in your stead. Even if you are afraid of screwing up, just remember that there will be many more opportunities for screwing up in the future and your children will survive. There won't be many more opportunities to take back those initial days of bonding, where you can become the life raft your child clings to.

Yesterday, Annie left the above comment under What I'm Learning: Older Child Adoption and Attachment.  It was too good to leave hidden way back in the archives of Death by Great Wall

Thanks, Annie.  And thanks to all the new readers who've stopped by in the last few days and left comments.  Your comments have added value to this blog, making it an even better resource for all of us touched by older child adoption.  I love what is happening here.

So what about you?  What one piece of advice would you give parents adopting an older child?  Leave a comment below.  Don't be shy if it looks like you're the first one.  I moderate all comments, and today I'm away from my computer.  As soon as I get home tonight, I'll publish all comments. 

Today and tomorrow, I'm off to the FPEA (Florida Parent Educators Association) Annual Convention.  It's not too far from my home, so I'm a commuter.  Still, it's rare that I have a whole day apart from my kids, much less two whole days, so I'm excited. I already have a post ready for tomorrow morning, so I'll see you then!


  1. Great post about the guide's involvement with physical contact with newly adopted children as it relates to relationship and bonding. In addition, there is an important area adoptive parents can use their guide, especially if they have a great measure of trust as we did for our guides. This area is translation.

    Our older child adoptions were two on two different trips. A 3y9mo and a 7.5yo.

    For the 3y9mo old we waited too long to take advantage of the translation for a much-needed communication and when we did, things turned around. When we had our gotcha day late at night in the hotel which was an unexpected surprise to jet-lagged us. The director and ayi observed our son happily playing with us and before I could process what was going on, they snuck out so they would not upset him. Well, the opposite happened. He was abandoned yet another time. It was traumatic. He saw them the next day, but he always wanted out of the hotel room and night-time was rough. Later, a friend recommended we give some very clear messages to our son through our guide. Our son was told via our guide that 1) The Director gave you to us to take care of, 2) You are not going back to the orphanage, and 3) We will love you and take care of you forever. We gave this message two times, once from our guide and another via Jordon on the island. Our son deserved to know that on day one as he may not have been told by the SWI. Once that message was given, things were better.

    For our recent adoption of our 7.5yo, we had no transition issues at all. He knew what was going on and was happy to join our family. But we utilized the guide for communication BETWEEN us and him (not in place of, which was the thoughtful purpose of your post). He also had a right to know what was going on, or what was happening next, so we constantly kept him informed and always followed it up by asking him if HE had any questions. He always did have a question or two. In Guangzhou, we had one "misdemeanor" come into play, and we utilized the guide and Jordon once again to talk things out. The "crime" has never happened again. But our son was scared at first not knowing how we were going to react or likely how he was going to be punished, and once we translated our parental heart, he relaxed.

    In all our guide communication/translation, our children were in our arms.

    Thanks for blogging! It is so important for waiting families to learn from others' mistakes and successes.

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing both stories. We had a similar experience with our guides being very helpful as translators between us and Wenxin.

  3. I got this reply from Linda via my inbox:

    First - I love your blog.

    Adoption is not for the faint of heart!

    We have 7 adopted daughters
    We are about to travel for 2 more from China. Ages are 16,14,13,13,11,11,8,9,7.

    The one thing we learned very soon is that there is a big difference beween acceptable behavior for orphans, for children with parents and guests.

    So based on this do not confuse your children by treating them like guests. If you do this, the first time you act like a parent they will be very confused! They have never had parent before so they do not know how to act for parents, so they will revert to orphan behavior

    Be in charge from the beginning. Your tired and nervous, but don't hand over the reins of control to anyone else. These kids are use to being controlled because they are orphans. Do not feel sorry for them, just parent the way you do so they can learn you as a parent.

    I second the school thing. Schools are locked into testing and achieving by government mandate. They are narrow on this. They can't, or don't dare, see ouside the box. It may seem like the adopted kids will get behind if you keep them home until they can understand some English, but they are already behind.

    The school ELS programs here are mostly about Spanish!

    They need to meet their peers in small groups (like church)

    They need to be comfortable a home before trying other

    They have been on a very ridged schedule and it takes time to relax into family ways.

    Some are mal-nourishd and under weight - they need a home environment so they can be fed.

    Some need counciling and this takes time and is easier to fit into a "home school" type of schedule.

    Been there, done that!

    PS Never give up on your child!

  4. Our experience adopting a 12 year old this past February went exceptionally well. We stayed in a private home and had 24/7 guide/translator services our first week with our daughter. Because this was a family, the parents understood that we needed to be our daughter's parents and deferred to us, but our daughter appreciated being able to have things explained and have people she could communicate with.

    1. Wow, Sandy - that sounds like an ideal situation. Thanks for sharing.


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