As families move toward placement in their adoption process, one area of concern is often how to preserve the process of attachment with their new child while also embracing the excitement of their family and friends. One idea that can be of great help in this area is to help those closest to you understand the needs of your child before they come home. Many families have done this through a conversation or letter to their friends and family prior to their child’s homecoming. We hope that this sample letter will help guide you during this exciting time!
Dear friends and family,
We wanted to write to let you know a little about what this transition period is going to look like for our family – and how you can help!
Because our daughter is new to us being her mommy and daddy, we will have some strict boundaries for the first few months. If you’re someone who we will see regularly at home, church, our just out and about, please take the time to read these thoughts on attachment:
Attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need, communicates that need, and a primary caretaker meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats between a parent and child over and over to create trust within the child for that parent; the baby is hungry, cries in distress, mom nurses and calms the baby – which teaches him/her that this person is safe and can be trusted. By God’s very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect their learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. The security provided by parents will ultimately give children a trust for and empathy towards others.
Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process. The loss of a biological mother and father at an early age can be a major trauma on their little hearts. For our daughter, she is about to experience the loss of familiar and comforting caretakers as well as the sights, smells, and language of her birth country. When she comes home, she will be overwhelmed by this loss. Everything around her will be new and she will need to learn not just about a new environment, but also about love and family. She has not experienced God’s design for a family in an orphanage setting. Her world will turn upside down. She may struggle with feeling safe and secure and may lack the ability to trust that we will meet her needs.
The good news is that, with the Holy Spirit, we can now, as her forever parents, rebuild attachment and help her heal from these emotional wounds. The best way for us to form a parent/child bond is to be the only ones to hold, cuddle, instruct, soothe and feed her. As this repeats between us, she will be able to learn that parents are safe to trust and to love deeply. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once she begins to establish this important bond with us, she will then be able to branch out to other healthy relationships.
Please know that these decisions are prayerfully and thoughtfully made choices based on personal experience, research, and instruction from trusted adoption mentors. We will be doing what I believe is best to help her heal from the early interruptions she had in attachment as effectively as possible.
While some of this may seem like overkill or even sound a little bit crazy, we hope that you will understand and trust that we are doing this to give our little one an ideal environment to become a secure, well adjusted, and confident little girl. We can’t give an exact timeline on what this will look like or at what point I’ll say that she is “attached” to us. This takes time and every child is different. We hope and pray that this transition will be smooth, but given the huge amount of new sights, people, and experiences awaiting her in America, we don’t know what to expect.
Why are we telling you all of this? Because you will actually play an incredible and vital role in helping our little girl to settle in, heal, and lay a foundation for the future. There are a few areas in which you can help us:
The first is to set physical boundaries. It will help us immensely if adults who are around our daughter limit what is typically considered normal, physical contact with a young child who you are around frequently. This will (for a while) include things like holding or excessive hugging and kissing. Children from orphanage settings are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone – which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. Waving, blowing kisses, high fives, or a pat on the back are perfectly appropriate and welcomed! She should know that the people with whom she interacts are our trusted friends.
Another area (probably the biggest as we’ll be keeping her close to us for the first few months) is redirecting her desire to have her physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having us meet those needs.
Former orphans often have had so many caretakers that they, as a survival mechanism, become overly charming toward all adults. A child struggling to learn to attach may exhibit indiscriminate affection with people outside of their family unit. It may appear harmless and as if they are “very friendly” but this is actually quite dangerous for the child. Please understand that we want nothing more than to have our daughter hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you. But until she has a firm understanding of family and primary attachments, we would be so grateful if you direct her to us if you see that she is seeking out food or comfort from anyone but us. It is totally fine to let her hug you, but please don’t pick her up or hold her on your lap.
Also, please feel free to ask us any questions at any time. We are so grateful to have a community of friends that will help our daughter feel loved, safe, and secure. We couldn’t ask for a better extended family and circle of friends for her. Thank you so much for your love and support over this adoption process.
*Original letter written by Andrea Young. This version has been adapted by Erica Shubin, Rachel Walser, and Mandie Joy.