We went to attachment therapy today...we weren't sure what to expect, but it was great!
One of my professors in January just welcomed his second daughter through adoption from China over Christmas. We were talking and he mentioned that they had found this attachment therapist to be really helpful when their older daughter joined their family, so I got her info.
After a significant game of phone tag b/c our phone availability absolutely did not mesh:-) we saw her this morning. We just wanted to make sure that we were on the right track and to get some feedback/strategies to deal with a few specific questions/situations.
She was really helpful, respectful, insightful, and had specific and pragmatic suggestions.
Neither Ababa nor I had ever been to a therapist of any kind, so we weren't sure what to expect.
I had emailed her a full history of B and of our past 9 months as a family so that she would have some context ahead of time, and I included some specific questions we had.
We were 15 minutes late to the session (thank you Second Avenue subway construction! grrrr!!!) but she was calm and gracious and engaged.
B played with a young social worker at the end of one hall, with the door open, and we sat in a living room-like room at the other end of the hall and spoke to the therapist.
I thought that the first part of the session would be more of a play therapy/observation kind of thing, but she only observed our brief interactions arriving and getting B settled in the playroom, it was really more of a sit and talk kind of session.
Yes, there were phrases like "fully evolved" and "ego has been strengthened"bandied around, but all in all it was very practical. It was also very nice to have most of our parenting choices affirmed and to get professional feedback that we are doing what's best for our child to help him grow and develop. Overall, she thinks B and we are doing incredibly well, are securely attached, and are in a great place, but, as with all families, especially those with complex situations like adoption, there is work that can still be done.
We talked about some specific questions we had and got some interesting answers, here are a few highlights (disclaimer, I am not a professional, this is my understanding of the professional advice we received, every child and family is different):
Co-sleeping: As we thought, this should continue for as long as needed, and it is definitely still needed for our family. She stressed that we should trust our intuition and we'll "know"when B is ready to sleep in his own bed at night, and it might not be for several more years and that's ok. We are going to take it one month at a time (as much as we love snuggling with B at night, the thought of co-sleeping until age 8 or 10 is not really attractive to us:-)
B doesn't get out of bed to come and get us if he needs anything (a big indicator that he's not totally comfortable/secure, and a significant detriment to night-time potty-training, sleeping in his own room at night, etc.). He has started getting out of bed during nap sometimes to play with toys but he won't come get us.not ever.not once.not for potty.not for a drink.not if he feels sick.never...one suggestion she had was to take the toddler rail off of his bed. Although he clearly has the dexterity to get out of bed with it on, she suggested that perhaps it is emotionally a reminder of orphanage life where he was most definitely required to quietly stay in bed and not ask for things (we saw this first hand). She also said it might just take more time, and that's ok.
We have been faltering about how to tell B his story, the story of his birth, his first family in Ethiopia, and his adoption story. I tend to overshare and make it too detailed for a 3 year old to understand (he understands that he grew in his Enat's tummy, but for some reason he also thinks I grew in Ababa's tummy!) and Ababa tends to not talk about it much. She helped us find some language that strikes a good balance and that we're both comfortable with. She suggested that 3 year olds need really simple concrete language like:
"Your ____ died and is in heaven now. ______ took care of you but then they couldn't take care of you anymore so you stayed at the orphanage. Sometimes you were happy and sometimes you were sad. Then mommy and daddy found you and we are a family now, forever and ever and ever. Mommy and daddy love you so much"
"Your _____ lives in Ethiopia. It's sad that we can't see them now. Someday when you are older we can go and visit them."
"Babies grow in their Enat's tummies. You didn't grow in mommy's tummy, but you grew in mommy's soul. Mommy will love you and take care of you forever and ever."
One scenario she described (which doesn't relate to B's situation, but I thought it was such a great example I wanted to share) is what to say to a child who is conceived through a non-consensual situation.
I thought it was really helpful to see how the explanation unfolds so that it stays age appropriate but also builds a clear foundation so that it is not a shock for child to learn of these circumstances when they are older. Of course ages/exact words are approximate:
-Age 3-your birth mommy and birth daddy didn't know each other (or didn't know each other very well)
-Age 6-your birth father didn't grow up in a house where he learned right from wrong.
-Age 8-Your birth father didn't have good manners
-Age 10-Your birth father didn't ask permission to make a baby with your birth mother
-then when the child is a teen they can learn more details/terminology
She said that you reveal more as the child grows up, and the "why" of their story (why was I adopted, why couldn't my first family take care of me, why didn't my parents know each other...) usually starts to become more important around age 6-8.
She STRONGLY supported our efforts to try and get photos/interview transcripts from our placement agency (who have said that they have some of these kinds of materials and are compiling them into a video lifebook for B but they are "behind schedule"). All we really want are a few photos, but to date (9 months in!!!)we have not received them from our agency. We are still working on this and are quite frustrated.
She suggested some strategies to help strengthen the bond between Ababa and B and Mama and B. We had read many of these in books and tried some, but it was a good reminder to keep doing these things, especially she suggested putting stickers on your face (just one or two small ones, like stick-on earring size) in different places each day, writing shaving cream "disguises"on mirrors and play with aligning your reflections on the disguises, hand feeding foods...
The bottle stays. As long as B likes it and is making eye contact we should keep doing it. I have to say that I am glad about this for now too as I love that special time with B:-)
Since Ababa doesn't do the bottle, she suggested him finding a special toy/activity that he can regularly play with B. She especially suggested a toy stroller that B and Ababa could play with together outside. (Guess who is getting a toy stroller for Easter:-)
She also had great suggestions re how to continue our work of helping B to firmly attach to us while empowering him to explore the greater world and preparing him to build meaningful, fulfilling, and positive relationships in the future (no big task, right:-). She suggested framing other people's roles more clearly. E.g. right now we say, "your teacher is nice, but she's not our family. Our family is mama, ababa, and B". She suggested something like "Your teacher is nice. Her job is to teach you lots of fun things and take care of you when mama and ababa are at work." and then restating our family mantras if needed.
She also suggested that 3 year olds are really visual, so it might help B to start to grasp extended family by drawing a poster diagram of concentric circles with us in the center and then circles going outward that include people like daycare providers, extended family, family in ethiopia, very close friends, etc.
She affirmed that we're handling things in a positive way when B is overly friendly to someone (gently redirecting him to us but not completely snatching him away from the situation, remaining neutral, not getting emotional/showing if our feelings are hurt...) and overall thinks that the rare times B is inappropriately friendly are due to a deep sense memory (maybe the sound of someone's laugh, or their smell, etc.) and that it's important for us to acknowledge that those are real feelings, we just need to show B how to process and act on them appropriately and to remind him that we are his family forever and ever.
In all, the hour was totally worth the $150 fee and we plan to keep getting yearly or bi-annual check-ups!
And, just because he's cuter than you can possibly imagine, here's my little man:-) He's getting so big! Today he wore 4T pants (b/c we have a laundry situation:-) and they basically fit him!