While welcoming an older baby or toddler into your family comes with a host of challenges, a 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents (NSAP) offers hope if you're struggling with an adoption bonding process. The survey found that 9 out of every 10 adoptive couples noted their relationship with their child is "very close," and nearly half admitted that it's even "better than expected."
Look, there's no measuring stick of attachment to measure up to. Instead, you need to feel completely fulfilled and happy with your parent-child relationship. Of course, it's not always going to be perfect. If you've adopted an older baby, you're probably still working on bonding with your babe, even at one year old. Here are a few tips to help facilitate the process as you get ready to celebrate your baby's first birthday.
- Keep familiar items nearby. OK, so you can't be on maternity/adoption leave forever. At some point, even if you stay at home, you're going to have to leave your little one for some reason or another. Make sure that you keep the bond strong by offering familiar items, suggests Brooke Randolph, a licensed mental health counselor and adoption attachment expert. "When parents are away from the child, they can leave a clothing item with their scent with the child, recordings of the parent's voice, and photos of the parent surrounding the child," she notes. This ensures that your little guy doesn't suddenly become super-attached to his babysitter, undoing a year's worth of hard work.
- Work on your birth parent relationship. 20 years ago, it was less common for adoptive parents to keep in touch with birth parents. Today, just about anything goes when it comes to a relationship with your child's birth parents. Defining your relationship can help you fully bond with baby. If the birth parents are an unwelcome presence that makes it hard to see your baby as yours, consider scaling back their involvement. If you suspect that your birth parent relationship is to blame for bonding issues, regular updates and pictures may be a better option than face-to-face meetings.
- Facilitate trust. Your almost-toddler's getting smart—maybe even too smart, as he's able to recognize when you promise something and then don't follow through. You want your little guy to trust and attach to you, so don't confuse him. According to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, fear, anger, and distrust are all common reactions in older babies and toddlers after adoption. Never say you'll "be right back" and then leave the house for hours. Don't put him in his bed, promising that you'll come back to check on him and then zone out in front of the tube for the night. Watch your words and follow through so there aren't any trust issues between you and your little one.
- Copycat cutie. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Facilitate a healthy love between you and your baby by playing games where he imitates your words or actions. Say a word or make a facial expression and then clap and offer smiles when he does the same. This helps him develop cognitive and physical skills, while bonding with you, the primary caregiver in his life. Encourage him to refer to you and your partner as "mama" and "dada," or whatever monikers you've chosen. This allows him to associate names with your faces, a crucial step in the "getting to know you" process.
- Keep up with medical necessities. Many adopted children have some health issues to deal with, such as asthma or anxiety. While heading to countless doctors appointments and seeing specialists can get old, it's the perfect way to solidify yourself as your child's caretaker. Knowing that you can provide for your little guy to feel healthy, safe, and happy can help create a stronger bond between both of you. Plus, when your baby gets nervous at the doc's, it's nice to be the one he looks to for an loving squeeze or pat on the back.
- Retool expectations. Guess what? Every child and parent relationship is different. Just because one family in your adoption group seems completely enamored with each other doesn't mean there's something wrong with you if you're not the same way with your babe. In the end, bonding happens when you've met all of the physical needs for your child—but attachment happens over a much longer period of time. Judy Miller, an adoption education coordinator and support specialist suggests that you take your time. "Remain patient and committed," she warns. "Everyone is adjusting. Adjustment equals stress." Don't force yourself to feel emotions that seem unnatural—give it time and you'll create a completely unique relationship with your baby.
Of course, if you're having serious bonding issues, such as not feeling attached or loving towards your guy, it can help to see a counselor specializing in adoption and bonding. You might have some unresolved issues that stop you from forming a more stable relationship with your older baby.
Life certainly won't be hiccup-free from now on, but once securely bonded, you should be able to worry about normal baby stuff—like tantrums at Toys R' Us and potty training woes. Relax and enjoy the ride, mama!