Building attachment is the first step to becoming a ‘forever daddy’
Our adopted toddlers are busy exploring every nook and cranny of their new home, writes Anthony Watt. But we have to prove we’re there for keeps as parents
A social worker is the accessory de jour of every adopter – everyone has their own one: the adopters, the children, the birth mother, the foster carer. Ours is adamant that we spend the first few months of life as a family as closely knit as possible: “funnelling” is the technical term, and in practice it means we can’t introduce any of our family or friends to our new children until they have had a chance to build an attachment with us, and only we can feed them, change them, bathe them, comfort them when they hurt or fulfil any of their myriad other needs.
So while other new parents might call in their own mums and dads to take over some of the cooking, cleaning and playing, our children’s new grandma is dropping off boxes of nappies under cover of darkness until she has permission to meet them. What a hoot!!!
A selfish desire to show off our family (and maybe have a nap) aside, I actually buy into funnelling and know that it’s really important for the children to build an attachment with us and that is easier if we keep everything low-key and focused on just them and us for a while.
Food is key to creating an attachment. We all know that food is more than just nourishment – it can be comfort, celebration and even an expression of love. So while we try to gain our children’s trust, only we can give them food, even handing over an apple comes from us. It feels a bit false sometimes but we’re trying to let them know we are their primary carers and we’ll do everything we can to meet their needs.
It’s also odd asking friends to hold back from giving cuddles to our new darlings, but for the moment, if they fall over and just want an “uppy”, it is always us until they trust that we will always be there for them.
But while our family and friends are held at bay, and the children have time to settle into their new surroundings and new parents, the professionals have set up office in our house. The first two weeks of adoption involved one meeting with no less than four social workers, another meeting with a frankly useless and insensitive health visitor, and a visit with their previous foster carers. When we did get out, it involved a very fraught visit to the doctors to register them (note to self – we need more snacks!). Week two brought the delights of hospital visits (yes, plural), more social worker visits (yes, plural) and a court official. Phew – I’m getting tired writing this, and I’m nearer 40 than three.
The children are amazing at coping with all these changes. We’ve had so much preparation but for them it must be so scary and odd with these new people feeding, bathing them and comforting them, and all in a new environment they don’t know. They are busy exploring every nook and cranny of our house, trying to figure out the new rules and boundaries, doing their best to please us, and not knowing that this is forever. The signs of anxiety are there: no dancing or singing, eating everything they are given with no complaints and sleeping a lot.
But there are really happy times too – pretending to be runaway trains, reading stories, fingerpainting (although that mainly ended up on the walls) and lots and lots of cuddles.
For us the reality of being with the children is so, so much better than all the paperwork/preparation set us up for. I can honestly say that any initial sensitivities we need to observe will be worth it as the children come to terms with their new home, their own sense of grief and loss and learn to love and trust their forever mummy and daddy.
• Anthony Watt is writing a regular blog on his experiences of adopting children. He writes under a pseudonym.