Nick King's Blog

I've done some pretty cool things, but nothing's as cool as creating our family

Immediate affection

Writing the post about how our daughter's distress at being left at play school was, actually, a positive sign of her unconditional attachment to me, made me consider expectations of affection.

 

Our experience with both our children was that their affection was something that had to be earned, but that once trust had been established it grew.  Slowly.  But it did grow as they not only learnt to love us but also learnt to love and trust someone, full stop.

Validation of that affection comes through the bond built with your child.  In the early days of both children's adoption that bond simply did not exist.  We had no expectation of it being there.

The best we both felt we could hope for when they first came to live with us, was for them to recognise us as trusted carers.

The hope we had ourselves was that we would be the best possible carers.

 

Both children had experienced a breakdown of attachment, and trust, with the adults around them.

Our son had been the subject of enormous neglect and, subsequently we learnt, some abuse from his birth parents.  Our daughter had similarly been neglected for very long periods by her birth parents.

Both had witnessed domestic violence.  Both had been moved into foster care under stressed and enforced conditions.

Our little boy had seen his relationship with his first foster carer break down almost immediately and came to us more fearful of being returned to her than his abusive birth parents.

In those very early days both children's responses to us were instinctive, intended solely to encourage our care. They seemed almost blind to the fact that we wanted to care for them. They would do and say things seemingly designed to trigger our parental instincts to provide comfort, safety, attention.

 

The most distressing moments came with our son.  

I've talked in a post about how he parroted the words spoken by his Teddy Bear, they being the only words of comfort and love he came to us knowing.  To hear them and know they were learnt, by rote, from a toy because that was the only source of comfort he had, was heart breaking.

Slightly less distressing, but with much greater opportunity for embarrassment, was his behaviour when outside of the home.  For the first few months he had little sense of appropriate space and distance between us and him, and between himself and others.

Instinctively the attached child retains a distance they consider safe between themselves and their parents/carers.  That distance growing with age and confidence.  That instinctive space being felt by both parties.

Our son had no sense of that.  He would immediately run away.  Not because he didn't want to be with us, but because he was unaware of what was an appropriate distance.

Finding himself isolated he would become distressed, realising we were not within his immediate environs.  Seemingly out of sight, out of hearing.  Of course, we weren't.  Learning to jog was a necessary feature of the early days of adoption, providing us both with more cardiovascular exercise that we had experienced for some time.

Reaching him he would be accusatory, surprisingly eloquent in his denouncement of our not caring for him, not being aware of where he was, 'losing' him, not keeping him safe.  J in particular found this very distressing.

 

Our first trip to the local park both highlighted this and its related behaviour.  Seeing other people, particularly those with children, our son would have no hesitation in going up to them and attaching himself to their family group.  

Inevitably he seemed most attracted to those people who reminded him most of his birth parents.  Inevitably also they were the people least willing, or able, to understand his behaviour and often most rejecting of the obvious fact of his being cared for by two men.  

He would just wander up and join in whatever play, conversation, even picnic the family he recognised as most familiar were enjoying.

Sometimes this was simply an expectation, standing sadly on the sidelines as he watched others enjoy themselves.  On other occasions he would try and force his way into whatever the family group were doing.  

Mostly people were friendly, understanding, indulgent of this odd behaviour.  On other occasions they were not.  

In any event it was universally upsetting for us and almost always so for our son.

Slowly, of course, it got better.  I have a clear memory of visiting our local theme park, watching our son run ahead of us and then stop, look back.  Checking we remained within a safe radius of him.  That was a great day.

 

One positive with our son was his being tactile. He craved physical comfort, most particularly in the safety of home.  Cuddles, hugs, cradling were a feature of our relationship with him from the first few days of his living with us.

Our daughter has been different.  Younger.  Fiercely independent.  For some considerable time she only looked to us for physical comfort when feeling sick, or tired, or frightened.  It was therefore something of an epiphany when she snuggled down to watch tv with J about six months after her arrival.

Even more so when I received her first spontaneous kiss six months ago, eighteen months after she came to live with us.

 

Speaking to other adopters (and prospective adopters) we found that some had an immediate expectation of a bond with their adopted child.  An expectation that their affection would be returned.  

Our experience, and expectation, was entirely different.  

Children who are adopted are often damaged.  They most often have been in the care of a number of different carers.  When arriving in their adoptive home they are placed in another unfamiliar environment.  Their survival instinct tells them to do all they can, all they need, to obtain the care they need.  

Obtaining genuine awareness of and responsiveness to others only comes later for the adoptive child.  It takes time.  But with the right care, attention and most of all love, it does come.

 

We felt, when we first adopted, that the reward of adopting a child would come from the self satisfaction of helping them.  From offering that child a future immeasurably better than their past.  

Perhaps managing our own expectations, we expected little, if anything, back from them.

Those expectations have been exceeded enormously by our children.  

Talking about the subject last night with J.  Writing this post.  Looking back.  We now see how our children have changed.  Have relaxed into our family.  Have bonded irreversibly to us. 

And they have returned the love and affection we show them beyond anything we ever expected.