When you decide to adopt a child, you probably can’t imagine anything other than instant attachment once you hold your child in your arms. As amazing as it is when attachment happens quickly and naturally, it’s OK if that isn’t your story. The good news is regardless of the natural level of attachment that does (or doesn’t) happen, there are things you can do to encourage a healthy bond between you and your child right from the beginning.
Before we look at some practical ways to foster attachment with your child, here are some important things to keep in mind.
Just breathe and give yourself time
The first thing to remember is to breathe and give yourself time. With a pregnancy, many women grow attached as the baby grows within them. But even many biological mothers have issues attaching to their child. In both cases, it’s often a process of falling in love over time rather than “love at first sight.” And that’s OK!
If you’re telling yourself you must be head over heels in love with your child in a certain amount of time, that is putting so much unnecessary pressure on yourself. Give yourself some grace.
And, if your child is more challenging, give yourself some extra grace.
I’ll tell you from experience. It’s easier to feel “all the feels” toward a child that barely cries and sleeps through the night at 3 months old than one that still wakes you up multiple times in the middle of the night at over a year old.
But here is the thing that I am sure of. The child you will end up with, or already have, is the child you are meant to have. Maybe they are in your life to teach you something. Maybe you’re exactly what they need. But, most likely, it’s both.
Keep in mind what God has to say about adoption
What exactly is the Bible’s take on adoption? “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
If you dig into the word “visit” you’ll find, like many words in the Bible, it has a much deeper meaning. It means to look after, care for, and provide for. There isn’t a more significant way to care for an orphan than to adopt them as your own, give them your name and make them part of your family. So, if it takes a while to feel the love, that’s OK!
I’m going to give you permission to “fake it til you make it”.
If it takes some time, don’t worry. Just do your best to nurture this little child the best you can. The simple act of taking care of someone incapable of caring for themselves will build upon itself over time and create a level of attachment.
You get to choose
The Greek word that is translated as “receive” means “take,” “grasp,” “seize,” “receive” as well as ‘to take to oneself” something or someone. The opposite of receiving something is to reject it.
You have a choice. Your choice is to receive this child God has placed in your life regardless of feeling or to reject them. By receiving them, you are not only honoring God. You are also setting yourself up for the best He has for you. He wouldn’t have called you to adoption and placed this specific child in your life if it wasn’t what He intended for you.
Now, let’s look at 5 practical ways to encourage attachment between you and your child.
1) Don’t underestimate physical touch.
Hold your child. With an infant, enjoy skin on skin contact and invest in a good baby carrier. With older children, keep them close by holding hands or putting your arm around them. Carry your child to bed or in from the car. Play piggyback. Cuddle and rock.
My daughter is 4 and there is no doubt that physical touch is her love language. She is happiest when she is attached to me in some way. It’s sweet and I’m so glad she has that level of attachment to me. I believe at least part of the reason she is this way is that I have always held and snuggled her as much as I can.
2) Play with your child
Children love to play. It helps their development and social skills but it also helps with bonding. You are speaking their language when you play. With an infant, this can be something simple like shaking a rattle or stuffed toy for them or laying on the floor with them. For toddlers, it can be a simple game of blocks, playdoh, and a game of catch. Don’t overthink it. They are just happy to play with you. If they are old enough to make a certain request, play what they’d like to play. And, you don’t have to play for hours on end for this to help with bonding. Even just a few minutes a day goes a long way to help build attachment.
3) Look at your baby
Eye contact helps establish an emotional connection. And, when you take the time to look at your child this helps you learn them and form a bond. A mutual gaze is a form of communication. It helps them learn that you are the one caring for them and helps to start building trust.
4) Read to your child
Reading to your baby gets them used to your voice. When a child is adopted, this is a wonderful way to get them familiar with your voice A recent study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that reading to babies in the NICU can help parents develop the same feelings of intimacy that parents of healthy newborns cultivate in the days and weeks after a baby’s birth.
It doesn’t matter what books you read to your baby. The idea is really that they consistently hear your voice and start to learn that you are the one caring for and loving them. However, if you need ideas for great books to read to adopted children of all ages, here are some great suggestions.
5) Sing to your baby
This also revolves around your child hearing your voice. And, it helps build the bond between you and your child. Singing to your baby can also improve your baby’s mood and therefore help with feeding and sleeping. This all contributes to growth and development.
And, the good news is that your baby loves the sound of your voice whether you consider yourself a good singer or not. Even my 4-year old has yet to judge me when I’m off-key and hitting all the wrong notes.
Bonus Tip: Say “I love you” as much as you can. You can never say it too much!
And, remember, God didn’t put this child in your life by mistake. This child is 100% yours, even if you don’t feel it yet. Look into their eyes, look at their sweet little hands, smell their sweet little head and realize, that by the grace of God, they are yours! Whether you feel it or not, they are yours!
Just keep caring for them the best you can. The rest will come. You waited as long as it took to adopt. Don’t beat yourself up about having to wait to feel attached.
God is faithful to His promises!
He says that “Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me.” – Matthew 18:5.