Adopting a Child – Learning to Bond and Celebrate
Although Riley's adoption took a year and 1/2 to finalize, he was living with us after only a few months of knowing him. We had full custody and guardianship by May 12th, 2013 after learning his name on February 12th, 2013.
Late at night, I would scour the internet for what I was supposed to do. I was sure there was a magic formula out there that would make everything seem picturesque and perfect. I read over and over again that there is a period of hard transition after the honeymoon period.
To be honest, I didn't like that phrase - honeymoon period. I didn't like to think that the sweet, quiet moments that I experienced in the beginning would ever end or change. After about month of quiet snuggles, I was sad to find that he was pushing me away. This manifested in biting and tantrums many times a day.
We were blessed to have an amazing transitional adoption specialist. She happened to have experience in the foster care system, which translated greatly to our situation. She explained that with our situation Riley would have a very easy time bonding with siblings and a father, since he had not previously had those roles in his life. She also gently explained that because he loved his grandmother and great-aunt so much, that he would have a difficult time with a new, female caregiver. He would wonder why I took him from them and if I was going to stick around.
She explained that it wasn't about me - that it was about him. This would not happen on any specific timeline. This would happen when he was ready to take next steps. There was nothing I could do to make him love me. It was incredibly important that I just be consistent and be "me".
That is not what I wanted to hear. I searched and searched for proof that my experience would not be like that. In the middle of my searching, I received the advice I was searching for.
A dear friend named Amy, who had been through her own adoption struggles, emailed me this:
"When it is hard, lean in. Lean in to him. Show him that you are not going anywhere and that your love is unconditional."
Guess what? Months later, I am hearing Riley echo the words I would say in those times. He says, "mommy, I just love you." The first time he said it, I melted into a puddle. He had heard me all those times. He slowly let those words move from his ears to his heart, and now he is saying it all the time.
Was the bonding hard? Yes. Did I just have to push through the long days? Yes.
But now that I'm on the other side, please let me encourage you. Just lean in. Don't give up on this.