If it takes a village to raise a child, it goes without saying that parents need the support of their community along the way—especially when tough questions obscure the answers.
Here’s one such question, asked by an adoptive mom whose child was struggling with attachment. It’s followed by a response from WACAP’s adoptive parent support group—an online community for families, where WACAP social services staff and adoptive parents offer their experience and perspective when it’s needed most.
One Parent’s Question:
We recently adopted our child internationally. She’s about 18 months old, and after nearly one month home, she is bonding with me, but struggling to attach to her dad. With his return to work and her ongoing rejection of him, I’m worried they’ll have issues bonding going forward.
Do you have any tips that can improve or help speed up attachment between my child and my spouse?
Response from WACAP Social Worker Zia Freeman:
I know it is hard to deal with watching your partner be rejected, especially if you might like to take a breather once in a while!
For those who’ve adopted as a couple, it is very common for a child to prefer one parent over the other for a while. And the short answer is that you can’t force or “hurry” attachment, especially in such a short amount of time.
Children of this age take an average of 6 months to get a comfortable bond going with any new person. If time becomes more limited for your spouse during the weekdays, he will have to bond with your daughter during weekends and evenings. And you’re not alone in that.
For most parents who can’t take much time off when their child comes home, it’s just the reality that attachment may take longer. Your daughter isn’t bonded to you yet, either; she is doing “insecure attachment,” where she needs to have you present most of the time in her line of sight.
It can be exhausting for you (the “clingee”) and upsetting to the other parent who is being rejected, but remember it isn’t personal. Having been adopted internationally, your child is likely more used to caregivers who were women being around her and caring for her needs, as well.
It is good that she is responding well to one parent and that is progress!
We have to remember that we can’t expect children of trauma and loss to bend to our schedules in such a short time; the fact that she is doing so well so quickly shows how much progress she has already made.
Going back to work, school starting, or vacation coming up are schedules that are expected societally and among adults, although newly placed kids need the focus to be on attachment with them as much as possible in the first 6 months to a year.
Though your child is very young, her world has already impacted her brain, and she is reacting very normally to being placed with complete strangers and losing every person and thing that she has been used to.
Don’t lose heart!
Here are eight tips to support bonding between your child and your partner:
- Encourage your partner to be around you often while home, so that your child can see your partner is safe and not going anywhere.
- Have your partner offer food and toys (there’s nothing wrong with “a little bribery” in this cooperative, positive way).
- Don’t force your child to be alone with your partner, beyond what your child is already comfortable with.
- Rather than holding or picking your child up, have your partner just use light touch when possible, or let the child observe your partner’s activities (e.g., playing with the child’s toys).
- Remember the messages you’re both sending to your child: Once your child realizes your partner is not going away for more than a few hours and is safe to be around (plus has food and toys to share!), the child will likely respond more positively.
- Understand the response and timing are unique to each child. For a young child adjusting to two parents, the adjustment time may take a few days to a couple of months.
- At times that your partner is away and you are with your child, show a picture of your partner to your child, and act very excited when you’re all together next.
- Don’t require your child to go to your partner, but instead show your child that you are happy with your partner around. Your child will soon understand your partner is part of the family package!
Adapted from advice shared by WACAP social worker Zia Freeman on WACAP’s Facebook parent support group.
WACAP is committed to providing lifelong support to families, including through this vibrant online community where families and social services staff can share resources, perspective, and advice.