The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world,
then to organize and act to change it. That's never been impossible and never been easy. ~Noam Chomsky

Monday, December 20, 2010

Attachment stress and the holidays

The day after I submitted our 6 month post-placement report stating that we had "no concerns about Ariam's attachment" we began to have concerns.

A few little questionable moments - my inability to console her during a few nights of wake ups, her complete disinterest in me when I picked her up from a friend's house, a huge crying tantrum at my birthday lunch - reached its peak on Sunday.

On Sunday morning we, the three of us, were the family chosen to light the advent candles at the front of the church. I dressed Ariam in her cutest purple outfit - striped tights, velvet tank dress, white blouse - gave her a Sunday morning bath and hair style, and sang Christmas carols all the way to church. It is a wonderful feeling to enjoy Christmas carols at church this year and not end up a sniveling pool of tears.

So we lit the candles, marched proudly back down the aisle, and I carried Ariam up to the church nursery like I do every week. She has been attending the nursery for a couple of months (it is one hour in a room full of awesome toys and fun little friends) and sometimes we stay with her but usually we drop her off and head back to the service.

On Sunday something compelled me to return to the nursery halfway through the service. She was sitting at the little round table on a toddler chair eating her goldfish crackers out of a papercup with about 8 other toddlers. She saw me and said "hi!" but didn't make a move to come to me, which was ok.
But then she started messing around on her chair and before anyone could catch her she had toppled the chair backwards and hit her head. The nearest nursery worker scooped her up and Ariam cried into her shoulder as she rushed her over to me.

Because of course the woman assumed a crying toddler would want her mommy...right?

Apparently not. Ariam refused to come to me and continued to snuggle into this TOTAL STRANGER (to her) while sobbing very melodramatically. I sort of yanked her out of the woman's arms and forced her into a cuddle but to be honest I was in shock and dismay.

This hasn't happened before. We've had no reason to question Ariam's attachment. She runs to either of us when we get her from daycare full of smiles and hugs. She clings a little when we go somewhere new. She doesn't try to hug or kiss or love on strangers, or even friends. It took her awhile to warm up to her Aya and Papa (grandma and grandpa) even.

But looking back over the last month I can see how we have relaxed our attachment standards. We've become complacent as we've assumed that the attachment bonds are strong. This month alone Ariam and I have traveled for five days without Jeremy, we had her at daycare (Mondays and Tuesday), at a friend's house 2 Fridays, and babysat by another friend (once in our house and once at hers) twice. Oh, and we've had her in the church nursery every Sunday. We have been distracted. Busy decorating the house. Traveling. Frantic to unpack and renovate. We have relied on Baby Ein.stein a bit too heavily for entertainment. We have not lingered in play or cuddled without glancing at the clock. We haven't had leisurely family meals or weekends uninterrupted by errand running and Christmas shopping.

And look what this has gotten us. A broken attachment thread.
Sure there are many threads we've woven together with the good stuff, but I think the holiday frenzy has set us back.

Ariam doesn't care about presents. She barely even acknowledges the giant green tree in our living room.
She wants us and if we don't give US to her then her attachment...I don't know...wanders? Is that the best way to describe it?

I am pulling it together and regrouping. Attachment style. We are shortening daycare hours as best we can. No Fridays at a friend's house for a few weeks. No church nursery unless one of us stays there with her. I'm trying to think of some things that she and I can do together that get us out of the house and having some fun while restringing some of the attachment threads. First order of business needs to be less concern about grocery shopping, Target errands or post office runs and more focus on things that little girls enjoy doing!

Do you have any suggestions for navigating the holidays? How do you get it all done while promoting attachment?

Thanksgiving at the Olson house - TX - 2010


  1. Honey, I'm so sorry that this challenge has raised it's ugly head. I have no real suggestions...I'll leave that to your fellow mom bloggers...but I have every confidence that you're right on top of this. You & your fellow adoptive moms are so much more aware and intentional than I ever thought about being 30+ years ago. Big hugs from me to you!!

  2. Julie - she HATES the Ergo. Have had many marathon sobbing sessions in the Ergo. Had to give it up. I WILL start carrying her around on my hip more though...

  3. I think you've hit on something that can go unnoticed. A big part of the holiday issue is us parents. Distracted. Busy. Gone. It's not just that kids have trouble with the change in everything, it's that we are not clued in as well as usual. One feeds the other, for sure. The idea of structure is for us as much as them.

    What are we doing this holiday season? Saying no to a ton of stuff.

  4. Not to minimize your concern or provide an excuse -- but this time of year is HARD. Even Benjamin, who is now seven, unravels around the holidays. All of our routines and schedules -- and everything that was predictable -- becomes chaotic and uncertain. He becomes undone emotionally -- and I almost don't notice because I'm running around like a headless chicken making sure everyone has the perfect gift. What they need is the gift of our time. Not just in the sense of minutes or hours, but actually being in the moment, like you said. Does A like hot cocoa yet? One of my favorite girl dates is a "tea-party" date where I indulge S and E with luke-warm hot cocoa and biscotti (while I sip my peppermint mocha)! Also, the library and book store are big hits, especially this time of year when they have their seasonal holiday books on display. We've talked about it before, but at least for me, it is easier for me to be in the moment when we are doing something that is mutually enjoyable. I'll keep thinking!

  5. Mutually enjoyable - yes. Errands and shopping - she hates. "Playing" Ariam style I don't quite hate but I do have a hard time staying in the moment. Ideas welcome!!

  6. If you ever want to come to Longmont on a Friday- we go to Discovery Days at the museum- $3 for art stations- each week has a theme. There are little crafts at each station w/ items pre-cut so each craft takes 5-10 min. + there is a playdough/sensory table, an easel, and a sand/water/rice table for play- it changes weekly/seasonly. One is at 10:15-11:30 and another is 12:30-1:45 (I think). It's so much fun. Elia LOVES it! Come up sometime!!!

  7. Another "fun" things we do: Indoor nursery/flower shop (smells good + warm in winter)- We have a huge one in L-mont- I'm sure there are lots in Denver....

  8. It isn't necessarily a broken thread. Some people say "there is always a toughest patch before a breakthrough" (in fact i've said it) but- I think it is a tough patch for them because- it's new ground-- literally on many levels. New experiences they don't know how to maneuver and also the love that grows is painful, new, and they don't knwo how to maneuver through it. I tend to think if you recognize it the way you get throught it is predicitive of how you are on the other side. Sounds like you are on the ball. We have many many many of these 'points' along the way. I notice them more often if I let his schedule become unpredictable and he gets tired. You're doing great. Merry Christmas

  9. We too had this 6 month mark of frustration and sought attachment therapy. Of course the prescription is to carry the child in a carrier. My child HATED being in it and it was sheer torture for her. I could do nothing the attachment therapist had suggested because it either made me or her crazy. Really the only thing that helped the two of us grow closer was time. I stopped forcing myself on her, things are pretty good today - we came home in June 2009 (11 mos old). The other thing I have noticed that is not cool with my daughter is lots of stimulation. Places where there are lots of strange people or things to look at - we avoid. She will fall asleep in situations where she is uncomfortable, and that is the sign that she can't handle it. We are trying to be careful with that this time of year. Not sure if any of that is helpful.

  10. In a nutshell, what we have found in the past 5 months: there is no substitute for TIME, focused attention, eye contact, physical affection, etc. No babysitters (except my Mom 2 hrs/day). We stay aware of the amount of stimulation in a given day; we try not to have 2 busy days in a row. We maintain a routine as best we can. We try not to make it too complicated: the basics of time, affection, and structure are working for us. J & I are tired but we'll live.

  11. I totally do not know the answer to this. BUT. I do think that being open to saying 'hmmmmm, maybe everything is not perfectly peachy on the attachment front' is an excellent start. I struggle with this. A lot. I hope things feel better now that things are slowing down.

  12. It's so hard to pinpoint what is attachment-problematic behavior (I totally just made that up, obviously) and what is just 18 month old behavior. You wrote "my inability to console her during a few nights of wake ups"-- and I noticed with my own biological son, right around 19 months of age he started waking up in the middle of the night and I wasn't able to console him either. He would actually scream louder and become more upset if I picked him up. I know that is just one response to your list of behaviors, but I wanted to encourage you. Go ahead with purposefully working to repair any attachment "hiccups", but know that some of this may just be the age.

    Also, Corban HATED all carries so I ordered a sling off Etsy (recommended by Rachel aka "ReSoNate") and after about 2 sessions of rebelling against it, Corban LOVES IT!

    You may want to try it, as it basically just keeps her on your hip while keeping your hands free. She gave me the "adoption discount" too, which is like getting something on sale, which is always a good excuse to buy it. :)

    Hang in there mama. You are doing a great job. You love your baby girl fiercely and she feels it.

  13. Hey Amanda,
    Well, I'm just reading this now and it looks like you guys had a wonderful Christmas! YEAH! What a difference a year can make, no? :)

    Speaking from the perspective of a parent with a child who has struggled tremendously with attachment, the best thing I have found is low-stimulation and being present. Meaning, virtually boring the eyes out of my sockets days at home for me to concentrate just on Sosi. No play dates, no errands, no nothing. Just quiet play, dancing, singing, lotioning, painting nails, anything that includes a lot of calm, affectionate touches. We take a lot of baths together--the skin-on-skin is so good for attachment. I could go on forever, so if you want to chat with ideas, email me!

    Hoping things are on an up! Happy new year!


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