Lessons Learned – Understand Attachment Even Before the Placement Begins

October 25, 2014

This is the first in a series of posts about “Lessons Learned” by ATN Board member, Craig Peterson, who is a writer and a father to six children.

By:  Craig Peterson

Two Little BoysAlex and Travis are biological siblings. In 2001, they needed a home. One was nine and the other ten.

I wanted to help. I felt called.

Since I had done well with my first four children – all diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, I thought these two would be easier to parent. Both were high functioning and personable.

And after a lifetime of abuse and neglect, wouldn’t they jump a chance for a new life in a home full of opportunities? Wouldn’t the words “forever family” mean as much to them as it did to me?

Yet I was realistic. I knew both would need daily one-on-one time which I was ready to give.

But no one in the adoption process ever mentioned the word attachment – much less Reactive Attachment Disorder.

I simply thought they would bond with me through my good deeds – being grateful and hugging me every night with appreciation. That’s happened with my parents – every night.

How naïve!

The first clue was the inability of either boy to actually give anyone a hug. Touching others didn’t come naturally.

And several family members saw through their charming and engaging behavior. “They are trying way too hard to fit in,” my sister said, “Something’s not right.

“They just need more time,” I responded.

And they did respond well. Behavior at home and school was excellent –so I thought. But I wasn’t seeing and hearing everything – at night, behind closed doors.

After nine months the honeymoon period ended. I had set myself up for a rough transition by believing they had healed and were just like me at that age.

When I adjusted my parenting to stop the chaos, both accused me of being mean like all the other adults in their past. “We thought you were going to be different,” said my oldest son. Those words haunt me to this day.

Every family bringing a new child into their home – with a past that’s not fully known – needs to understand attachment. On the surface I did absolutely nothing wrong as a parent, but I should have been more “intentional” every minute of every day. My two newest sons weren’t emotionally ready for most of what I was offering.

I wish someone had pointed me in the direction of organizations like the Attachment and Trauma Network before my new sons ever walked through the door. I would have done so many things differently – not trying to work miracles in the first few months.

Removing the layers of past trauma – including the one that I unknowingly added – took more than a decade.

Lessons learned – wishing I had another chance.

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