adoption attachment and rejection

My friend Eryn asked me a few posts ago about our attachment to the Bean, and his attachment to us. You might remember when we first brought the Bean home (August 08) that I felt like his auntie, and didn’t yet feel like his mother. If not, here’s the post where I answered some hard questions.

At that time, the Bean was 5 months old, and I still had to learn all these things about him that would consecrate our relationship as mother/son … I needed and wanted to be the person who knew him better than anyone else on the planet–how to soothe him, discern his cries, how to feed him, how to encourage him, etc. We’re on the back-end now, and I absolutely feel like the Bean’s mother (I am!). But it took some time, and I thought I’d address some of the reasons why.

1. The Bean happened to be a completely different baby than my other babies. He was my first ‘spirited‘ child. His personality was big, assertive, determined, courageous. I wasn’t used to this at all. My other two were cautious, orderly, and easily contained. The Bean’s personality was foreign, and it made him stand out, and it made me wonder about his DNA, and fear what I didn’t know, fear the future, fear that he might feel out of place in our family not only because he was adopted, but because he was black, and now because his personality was boisterously miles above the rest of the family.

2. When we brought him home, the Bean wasn’t himself then either. He was trying to get to know us, just as we were trying to get to know him. Courting each other took time. You presume that because he is a baby, it will not be that big of a transition for him. But it was. And I underestimated this truth, which probably didn’t do me good, or the Bean either, for that matter.

3. The Bean loved (and I mean REALLY loved) his daddy more than me. I felt rejected by him on a daily basis. It seemed that he would rather be in anybody’s arms than mine, including all of my girlfriends. I was the bath lady, the food lady, and the song lady. (I think that singing to him was one of the biggest bonding activities we did together, because he loves music so much.) His clinging to Daddy is still a struggle, actually. It’s great that they have such a strong bond, but it divides the family at times. The other children need Daddy time too, (and Daddy has limited time to give compared to Mommy). And Mommy and Daddy need time too.

We talked with our social worker about the third issue, and she gave us some good ideas about how to tackle this. Now, please note there’s a difference between attachment and preference. We all believed the Bean had attached to me. But he preferred Daddy’s company. And it isn’t atypical for a child to pick one parent over the other. But it did affect me and trigger some of my personal insecurities. And it was another emotional hurdle because I had always been the preferred one when the older kids were babies (now I see how BookGuy felt back then!). Why didn’t my baby want me? Was it attachment related? Was he rejecting me because he was rejected by his BM? and the worry: What will our relationship look like when he’s a teenager if he doesn’t want me as a 1 year old? These were big, hard fears that I felt at that time.

So I would say for us, it took about 9 months to feel settled into our new family. And when I think about it, with the other kids it took about 9 months too. 9 months to get used to another member of the family, another personality, another child needing attention and love, to figure out who he was, and for him to learn who I was, for us to emerge from the blur of new baby and enjoy each other and our new completed family.

I’m sharing this information hoping it will help. It’s good to be vulnerable with each other. It’s good to share that mothering isn’t always easy, and attachment doesn’t always come straight away. (Remember too, it’s not uncommon for a parent to feel disconnected to a birth child–it isn’t necessarily adoption related, is what I’m saying). You are a good mother. Choose to love and hang in there. And it WILL come. And stay vulnerable with people you trust–we need each other.

If you are a mother, will you comment and share about how long it took for you to feel settled with your new child, whether adoptive or birth child? I’m very curious what your answers will be. I’m not talking love. (I truly felt LOVE for the Bean before I even met him). I mean settled, adjusted, over the hurdle, bonded…

Here are my answers:
Pumpkin: 5 months
Peanut: 10 months
Bean: 9 months


  1. It took me 4mo with Wesley and almost 12 months with Liam and that is must me being totally honest. THank you so much for your post! Liam often prefers Daddy and has from Day 1. We go through phases where he prefers me. It now revolves around being hungry, tired, or hurt, that he wants me everything else is Dadda all the way. I think I dealt with a lot of insecurities when we brought him home at 6mo. I was replacing all of his amazing care givers and I didn’t feel an instant bond/connection like I thought I would. I didn’t feel adjusted/settled until after he had been home almost 12months. It was hard and I would do it all again in a heart beat.

  2. Thanks so much, Karen, for posting this! I really appreciate it. I think I have had some of the same assumptions of what it will be like, and I’m sure they’ll all be blown out of the water 🙂

  3. i cannot speak to the adoption experience…yet! 😉 but even with my birth children, i had difficulty bonding with #1 and #3. even within the last 2 years, insecurities have arisen about how my parenting has affected my relationship with #1…did i do enough, pay attention enough to create a bond that will stay strong through the teen years? and #3, well, he was a handful from the beginning…it definitely took 9 months to bond with him. unfortunately, my feelings usually dictate the bond, which tend to be “me” driven, so it ends up sounding like this: how does this child make me feel? how well do they obey/respond to/respect me? does this child show love/affection to me? and if I like the answers to these questions, then I’m “bonded”, but if not, then I’m not bonded. it shows how my affections are wrapped up in my children’s behavior, and how faintly my affections resemble my Heavenly Father’s. I’ve got a long way to go on this front, but God’s grace is so extravagant that He calls me to come meet with Him. And when He talks to me, He whispers to me how He loves me and how it’s going to be okay because He is LORD, and my life and my childrens’ destinies are not determined by me, but by Him, because He reigns as LORD over me, LORD over my children, and LORD over all His creation. And so I can sit with Him and celebrate His love and marvel at His power and jump up from our “alone time” with renewed energy to love my kids and others like He has loved me. p.s. my word verification code to type this comment was: reign! 🙂

  4. Cameron: 5 months due to the “newness” of it all, trouble breastfeeding, sleep, etc.
    Kendall: Right away due to great breastfeeding, great sleeper, no “newness” to get used to.

    Thanks for sharing so honestly about all this. Such good perspective for those of us who have probably wondered about it. 🙂

  5. You know, I’ve never really thought of it before…
    I know once she was sleeping through the night, I started to get some sanity back and that was around 7 months…. but I’ve never thought about when that attachment really started to take hold. Her personality really started blossoming once she started crawling which was around 10 months. …I think perhaps it started happening around then?? I”m not so sure… she is still only 13 months old!

  6. Thank you for sharing so openly! My RR was in the NICU when she was first born and I saw her as this thing to keep alive for about the first 10 months. I charted her every move until a friend asked me when I was going to stop. I stop that day and began to bond with the little girl that God gave to me.

  7. Having always wanted to be a mom, it really only took me a few weeks to get settled with JT. He was a dream child and we settled in so nicely with him almost right away. We took him everywhere with us and our life didn’t really change. He was a delight and having been around babies all my life, I wanted nothing more than to be a mommy. Now, when my Curly arrived, that is a whole another story! Getting used to 2 little nuggets was a difficult struggle for me and getting settled seemed a lot harder. JT wanted me and only me and Curly had colic and was fussy and he didn’t sleep and he nursed all night and dad traveled a ton! I found the transition to 3 kids not as difficult. Cupcake was a very cooperative baby and the boys adjusted so easily to her too. So…with that said, here are my time tables:

    JT – 6 weeks
    Curly – 11 months
    Cupcake- 4 months

    Thank you for your vulnerability. I loved reading this post last week, just didn’t get around to commenting! xo

  8. I think you make a great point about the personalities of your children AND your stage of motherhood.

    No.1 was (is) a high maintenance child and being a first time mother w/very little experience in child care I pretty much did it all wrong. He was a Spirited baby as well. I was an emotional wreck and exhausted all…day…long. And the Hubs worked 10 hour days so I was lonely on top of everything. It took us about 9 months to really find a groove. 18 months before I completely enjoyed him and my roll as his mother. Today, he’s 5 and still very active, talkative, easily bored and a complete and total delight.

    Final Answer: 18 months.

    I always say No.1 was my gift and No.2 was my reward.

    As a second-time mother I felt much more relaxed in every way. Emotionally stable, prepared, more organized. She was a prototype of an Angel baby. Slept often and easily. Played happily by her self for minutes at a time. Laughed and smiled easily. Additionally, the Hubs worked from home so while No.2 was napping I could go places (Going places!! Why hadn’t I thought of this with No.1?!?!). Life was somehow easier with two children than with just one.

    Final answer: Day one.

    As we enter the adoption stage…I feel so much peace and readiness to bring a third baby into our lives, home, family. But I’ll be honest. I’m praying for an easy baby 🙂

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