Monday, May 28, 2012

Humor, Hair, and Bonding with Your Adopted Child




All of my talk about Amelia's hair has me thinking about attachment. Because in case you didn't know, there are two major concerns for every white family adopting a black child... Attachment, and hair. :)

Yep, those are the biggies consuming our pre-adoption thoughts. 
Racial harmony, self-esteem, and social issues? 
Secondary to the hair. 

Okay, I kid, I kid. Sort of. 

In Amelia's case, hair and attachment were integrally linked. In the early days after she came into our family, Amelia would shriek in ear-splitting agony as I fumbled for hours with her hair. We'd both be crying before her hair was detangled. Sometimes Caroline would join in the tears.

Thank God Amelia's preschool teacher stepped in to allow us a year of bonding and hair care learning while she styled my baby's locks.  Trust is hard to earn while yanking a child's tangles. 

Fourteen months later, hair care isn't so traumatic.  Sure, Amelia has come a long way. She's less anxious, less volatile, and more trusting.  But I've come a long way, too. 


See, one of the essential ingredients to proper attachment is a parent's sense of humor.  Humor is what I lacked in the early days when Amelia was newly ours. 

Her world had been turned upside down, and she was determined to tantrum over it. Often. Go for it, baby girl. You have a right. Change is hard, and you've been dealt a heaping serving. Scream, if it makes you feel better. 



Amelia would stub her toe and fall into hysterics. She'd see a picture of her prior orphanage worker and slap me. She'd want food and convulse on the floor rather than ask for it.


I overflowed in compassion over Amelia's pain. Compassion is good, right? You can't have too much compassion, can you?

Wrong. When it comes to parenting a new-to-you child from across the world, compassion, unchecked by humor, can cause great grief. 

Back then, when Amelia would fall apart, my compassion-softened heart would crumble to the floor. Neither of us could hold it together. We were two distinct puddles of tears, each unable to accomplish a thing. I couldn't see any humor in the situation.

Today, life is different. Smoother. We're more resilient.


These days, we laugh a lot. Sure, Amelia freaks out much less. But when she does, we don't attribute it to her being adopted and say "bless her poor once-orphaned soul!" Humans are all crazy; it's not a unique condition for Amelia. We might as well laugh at the lunacy. Today we're more likely to watch Amelia's tantrum in amusement as I pat Brad on the shoulder and console him for having a house full of dramatic women. Chances are, I was also recently "tantruming" (in a different form) only hours before.  

And because Amelia's insanity is no longer fueled by my own wild response, she generally decides the energy isn't worth it, gives up the screaming, and calmly climbs into someone's lap.

It's not like I never worry about how we're bonding, or never think adoption affects us. Many nights, Amelia begs her way out of my arms because she prefers Daddy put her to bed. I, of course, think this is clearly a diagnosable attachment issue. What two year old doesn't prefer her mother? Brad winks and says it's a matter of Amelia having good tastes. She's simply a daddy's girl. 

He could be right. 

Please don't mistake what I'm saying here. There is an entire spectrum of attachment disorders that can be debilitating and severe. In many cases, the solution is not a simple need to laugh more often. It would be cruel to stop naming true disorders, making them difficult to identify and treat.

But for those of us who've had great adoption bonding with normal bumps in the road, I do think laughter can be the best medicine.  Lighten up.  Tantrums can be as endearing as they are annoying, if you put the right spin on them. Marvel at the humor of your child's fist-sized snot balls; and then take the opportunity to grab a tissue before Junior buries his slimy nose into your shoulder. The dry-cleaner will thank you. 



10 comments:

L.O.T. said...

Thanks for this post, Rachel!!! I so appreciate the insight and knowledge. I've been looking for some good recommendations on books related to attachment/bonding etc(summer reading). There are so many out there that it's hard to know which to choose. And so I go to blogs. At least they are free! And I know your blog is a reliable source. :)
Thanks so much!!! This is what this mama heart has been searching.

Kait said...

I'm SO glad you wrote this! It's something I've thought about a lot with our kids. It's hard to look at your kid having a tantrum and wonder "Is this because she's two or because she's adopted and this is a sign of how deeply damaged her little heart is?" Sometimes you just need to laugh it off and love your kids.

RACHEL said...

I'm glad it struck a chord with y'all! I am by no means downplaying true attachment disorders, of course. But I don't want us to be so paranoid that we're constantly finding issues that aren't there, either.

Laughter leaves room for good balance!

Liz said...

Wonderful post Rachel!

Anonymous said...

Our daughter was and still is a Daddy's girl. He would come home for lunch in the early days of Angels being in our home and she would start screaming until he picked her up. I got those looks of what have you done to her all morning and then Id cry too. I think it is just part of little girls. Thanks for all you share

And boy do we miss you all!

Christen Price said...

Gosh, we've got the tantrums too! I think every two year old does, adopted or not :) Thanks for the encouragement about humor...it is always something that I have lacked in life and I admire the mothers that can just go with it instead of melting down themselves. Great post!

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