Wednesday, February 22, 2017


 The adoption community is all about attachment. I mean REALLY all about attachment. Before we even finished the process to bring a child home, we had to attend all of these required trainings to learn how to help our new child attach to our family. Even at the time it felt a little overkill to me, but I jumped through the hoops because it was part of the expectation for adoption.

I mean, I understand: it's important for both the child and the family to feel connected, especially since you don't have the pleasure of growing a baby in your body and welcoming them into the brand-new world. To create the connections that one needs for lifetime relationship, it takes intentionality.

But recently, I have read a couple of posts from popular adoption blogs debunking the myth of attachment as the sole pinnacle of a good adoption. Kids come home with so many challenges, and it's nearly impossible to imagine that we might attached to them in the same ways that we attached to our biological children.

Maybe it depends on who the kid is that you bring home, but in our case, attaching to Matthew and loving him have taken a different path than with our first two, homegrown babies. 

And it's not bad. It's just different. It has taken me several years to be able to say these words and not feel guilty about them.

I love Matthew deeply. I do. He's a hard guy to parent, but I feel very connected to him. But because of his many challenges, especially with autism, it's not possible for me to have the same kind of social relationship that I have with my first two children. Matthew doesn't give love and affection back in the same way.

I'm being honest, I have carried a lot of shame and guilt about this for quite some time. We did everything the adoption agencies, the books and the blogs said to do: We wore him in the ergo, we did skin to skin time, We fed him his bottle hundreds of times while snuggled up close, and for several months after he came home, we kept our lives very simple and focused on him. Both my husband and I did hours and hours of floortime, playing with Matthew, teaching him skills, helping him with emotional and social growth. 

I don't regret doing any of these things. They helped build the foundation for the relationship that we have with our youngest son. But along the way I have carried quite a lot of guilt over not having an attachment with Matthew that mirrors our attachments to our other two kids.

So just like so many other things on this adoption journey, I am learning to let go of that too.

And instead I'm trying to open my heart to the relationship I do have with Matthew: one that is filled with humor, fun, and a sense of presence. When I am with him, I try my best to be very present with him. And when I'm away, I try my best to get the breaks I need and not worry about him and what he's up to. 

There are so many things I could worry about. But by letting go of some kind of forced notion of attachment, I find I can re-orient myself to the relationship I DO have with my child: One that may not look typical but is deep and real in the best way it can be. 

And then I'm free to be Matthew's mama in the best way I know, which I hope is also the best for my sweet boy.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Emotion Coaching

We’ve finally been able to take a breath at our house. The new medication seems to be working for Matthew, and he’s made his way out of the crevasse and back onto the well-trodden path, to continue a metaphor I started in another post. It’s a SNOW DAY today—no school for the kids and no work for me (I’m a high school teacher so I benefit from school closures just like my kids). I’m sitting in our living room with a steaming mug of tea while Matthew plays with a balloon he earned from pooping on the potty (his favorite reward). It’s a rare moment of calm at our house, and I’m grateful for it.

Last year during his final pre-K year, Matthew did two rounds of an autism day treatment program at the neurodevelopmental center in our city. One component of that program was a parent training course that both Aaron and I attended (one during each session). My parents came to several of the sessions as well.

During that parent training, we learned invaluable skills in working with Matthew—things I would never have figured out on my own. I would highly commend a training program to any parent—even the most experienced parent—struggling to parent a kiddo on the spectrum or with behavioral challenges.

One of the most helpful parts of that training was the series of sessions on both social coaching and emotional coaching. We’ve been using emotional coaching so much lately, as Matthew is living into being a six year old with very little spoken language and some developmental delays. I am pretty sure he feels a huge influx of emotions in his mind and heart—and sometimes those emotions are overwhelming and contribute to his challenging behaviors. Aaron has taught him the signs for several feelings: sad, mad, scared, angry, happy, excited . . . and we regularly ask him how he’s feeling or model the sign we THINK he might be feeling so he starts to learn them. He likes to play the “feeling” game, where we do a sign and then he tries to make his body act like that sign. Happy brings a smile, angry brings a scrunched-up face and a tense body, and so on.

This isn’t by any means the entirety of our parenting or working with Matthew’s challenging behaviors, but it feels like we are building a foundation of skills that will help equip Matthew for more independent, autonomous interactions and relationships.

These are things that typically developing kids tend to learn on their own just by watching the modeling around them. But it takes extra work for a kiddo like Matthew to gain these skills—and yet they are important for all children.

As I’ve said before, we don’t exactly know where Matthew will land when he is an adult. His development Is pretty uncertain at this point. But equipping him with skills to express his emotions seems like a good plan no matter how independent or dependent he is as an adult.

It might make his teenage years easier too. In fact, emotional coaching would probably help every teenager, so we must be doing something right.

Anyhow, I'm happy to report things are on the upswing here. It feels good to be back dealing with the layers of behavior that we are used to. It's funny how hard things become normal--but that's what life is these days. So we're digging in, embracing this path because it's the only one we've got!