"Families Stick Together" is a phrase I read in Karen Purvis's Connected Child on adopted children. Parents say it to reinforce to their adopted child that strangers are in fact STRANGE, as in stay away from them. Where many parents of biological children are teaching their toddler how to be friendly and share, adoptive parents are doing the opposite. Not because we are exclusive, possessive freaks who want our children all to ourselves, but because our children do not have the "caution sign" or "red flag" or "safe zone" that most well-adapted bio children have. This can lead to very awkward moments between children and adults, and even adults with one another.
Mark and I decided to make today a day about reinforcing family bonds. We tried to stay away from other people as much as possible (which is really impossible at a guest house - key word is "tried.") For the most part, we were together and interacting with one another all day. We played a few impromptu games like, "Where's mommy?" where I hid my face and surprised Zane with "Here I Am!" We also played "Go Get Daddy/Mommy!" outside where one of us holds are arms out wide and the other one says to him, "Go get Daddy/Mommy" as we lead Zane to the other parent. Mark also came to me many times and "love Mommy" while hugging and kissing me, compelling Zane to join him. We also played "Kiss Daddy/Mommy" making an elaborate kissing noise that makes Zane laugh. Zane hums with his lips puckered up and kisses us with a loud smack. When I need to change Zane's diaper or feed him, Mark now picks him up, hands him to me, and says "Go to Mommy!" This has been great for two reasons: it reinforces who I am, Mommy, and it keeps Zane from feeling like he's being "snatched" away from something he wants to do. We realized taking him abruptly away from something is a HIGH anxiety move. He needs to be gently coaxed or made aware of a change before it happens. This is something totally normal for adopted children to experience.
A few times today, Zane said Mommy or Momma, which has not happened consistently yet. In fact, Zane says Emmie for Mommy a lot and he's been using the word to call out to most white women he wants attention from. Like the word "Daddy", he has not learned that Mommy is an exclusive word for a very close relationship. People who want to be friendly to children look at this as a cute, endearing thing for a child to do. It strokes any woman's ego for a cute baby to call for them, reach out to them, or love on them; however, when women reach back for him, hold him, or love on him, they reinforce that Mommy is not a sole person responsible for my nurture and protection. Mommy is anyone who will pay attention to me.
An AWAA friend, Brandon Hatmaker, put it perfectly when he was here picking up his son Ben last week. He said, "I don't want my daughter to be 16 and unable to be without a boyfriend because she is still desperately trying to fill the place I, her Dad, should fill." My heart breaks when I think about the possibility of raising a child with all your will power, yet never getting that it's about attachment and bonding. A mom and a dad can be present, loving, and attentive, yet when there is a place in a child's soul full of fear, isolation, and rejection, they can completely not receive the love being shown to them. I too do not want Zane to grow up with the insecurity many orphans have that they must fight for themselves in this world, they must get there needs met by whatever means necessary, and then search for love in all the wrong places!
This is why Mark and I are convinced that a period of "nesting" is absolutely vital right now in Ethiopia with our son in a somewhat familiar environment. In addition, we are becoming more and more aware of the need for a period of solitude when we return home. This is so uncomfortable for us because we are so social, excited to see family and friends, and eager to return to our lives back home, but the investment we pay in Zane's emotional health now will save us a lot of tragedy later. While Zane is healthy and seems to be happy, there is a deep emotional and spiritual battle waging in him, as it does in all of us, for security, protection, and family.
While Mark and I will try not to be rude, stand-offish, or offensive in our attempt to nurture the bonding taking place between Zane and the two of us, we will reserve affection to be displayed toward us alone initially. Hugging, kissing, cuddling, holding, and the provision of all needs, such as food, water, shelter, and getting dressed will be benefits we have as being Zane's parents. We will ask friends and family to remain loving and friendly, but somewhat distant at first in affection and provisions. For example, Zane may run to a family member after falling and scraping his knee. We would like for that family member to point to Mommy or Daddy, or hand him directly to us to comfort him. Another example might be when Zane is giggling and playing hide and seek, he may run to a friend to hide behind their legs. This would be a good time to step aside and allow Mommy and Daddy to "protect" him or "shelter" him from the "play bad guy".
We are so thankful to have the advice of Karen Purvis and other child specialists who have taught us so much about what little things like the events mentioned above can do to promote attachment. It is a small sacrifice at the beginning of an adopted child's relationship with the parents that makes a huge impact on their life long-term. We are also so thankful for family and friends who pray for our family and understand the monumental endeavor we are undergoing to build trusting bonds with our child. Your prayers are being answered and we see that every day. The breakthroughs we've had just today, after a difficult day yesterday, have proven that God is listening and acting in our midst as you pray. The best possible way you can minister to our hearts and our family's wholeness is to go before God's throne and ask Him for his wisdom, mercy, and love to be ever present in our minds and hearts. We thank you so much that you are already praying for that.
We love you!