In adoption and attachment parenting, the term cocooning is used for the initial weeks or even months where parents keep outside distractions low and focus on activities that help with bonding with a newly adopted child. When it comes to international adoption specifically, there is a huge change in language, food, sights and sounds. Even the way majority of people look can be a huge adjustment to make. For babies and toddlers, the change is just as significant, but the adoption literature seems to give many ways to accomplish cocooning with them. No visitors, babywearing, eye contact during feeding and rocking are frequently suggested for little ones. I remember reading this and imagine what I would do to simulate this with a 7 year old boy. I figured babywearing was out, and I was right.
After trial and error, we came up with ways to accomplish our own cocoon or bonding period. It didn’t come instantly and I am not sure why I thought it would. Two strangers with histories and stories needed time for our stories to begin to merge. I hope this list might give you some ideas as you prepare to adopt and older child or as you parent in those initial months.
Finding Common Ground
My son loves cooking and is quite skillful at it. At age 7 his knife handling skills were superior to mine and he could make many different dishes that were familiar to him. We brought home spices and other ingredients from his country to ease the transition and then added rice and eggs from home. I noticed that cooking was a great way for us to bond. We started talking about what we would make early each day, we went to the grocery store with our list and then came home and started chopping. In between tasks, I noticed a dialogue that didn’t usually happen. I let him be in charge of spices (Ghanaian cooking comes with lots of spices!) and I was the student. This dynamic was great for bonding. I looked forward to our culinary explorations as I knew it would lead to talking.
I am your Mom, but I’m not replacing your Mom
One stumbling block to attachment with many older children is the feeling that they are replacing or even betraying their first family. It took me a while to realize we had this dynamic and how it could become a bigger thing if not addressed. I couldn’t just say how I felt about this situation and how open I wanted to be about our adoptions. I had to show that I truly cared about this other family and how I wanted him to also. Some of the ways we acknowledged the existence of two families was through writing letters, having pictures available to look at and the general attitude of hoping to see each other again. We have also traveled to Ghana twice after the adoptions and keep in touch with extended family, which I hope further communicates the love and respect that exists. I am their mom, but before me, there was and still is a mom that will not be replaced.
Some children are used to the routine of school and want to start as soon as they can. Adoptive parents who have made this choice often say it worked well for them and didn’t hinder attachment. For us, the right decision was to wait. I wanted the time to bond without the long school days and it worked well for us. We spent our daytime playing soccer, cooking together, working on language and getting to know each other. It was precious time that has not come since. Eventually we knew it was time for school and routine but he had the confidence and language to handle it well.
We are an affectionate family that hugs a million times a day. We have the good morning and good night hugs, have a great day at school hugs, tickle hugs, comforting hugs and just because hugs. Really, we hug a lot. It was hard to not to squeeze my newly adopted children the way I was used to, but also respect their comfort level with a stranger who was now mom who loves to show affection this way. It wasn’t a long phase, partly because we respected those boundaries. Forcing physical touch is not the message to send to any child so be patient if this should take a while. One parent may be the favorite for a while or forever which can be hurtful, but ultimately it is about the child, not the parents.
So in our own way, we created a cocoon. Our home was the place that was familiar and visitors were few. Sometimes we did rock while watching a movie together, but it was sitting side by side. We went to the store and he would slip his hand in mine as we crossed the street and I knew I was the safe person in his life. We had great conversations in the kitchen as cabbage stew would cook. Other times we would enjoy bites of pineapple and talk about how much better pineapples are in Ghana. It wasn’t perfect but it was perfect for us.
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