Nurturing touch restores security in adoptive families

sarah kucSome of my favorite parts of the day are when my husband and I get down on the floor with our sons to wrestle and play, hearing them belly laugh. Or when I lie down for sleep with two tired, little boys snuggled tight under my arms.

Since we started our adoption journey four years ago, we have received so much joy and love from our sons and their birth mothers. However, it’s bittersweet…for although it’s true that there are countless joys and benefits from building families through adoption, there’s also inherent sorrow and loss resulting from separation from their birth mothers — they who had comforted them in the womb and held them during those first wakeful moments.

For some adopted children, this loss of a birth mother can have profound effects on their sense of personal security and ability to trust others. Undertones of anxiety and apathy may affect their relationships with loved ones. Furthermore, children who have experienced prenatal and perinatal trauma and loss may display even stronger, more vivid emotions of fear or anger when exposed  to stress in the future. Adoptive parents, being aware of these potential challenges and facing them head-on, is one key to the child’s successful bonding, growth and development. 

When we brought our sons home from the hospital, we couldn’t verbally make them understand that both we and their birth mothers love them immensely. However, we could — and did — use nonverbal communication to express our love and commitment to them.

We did skin-to-skin contact, laying them on our skin and allowing us to connect without words. We also chose to respond quickly to their cries by holding them close and reassuring them that we will always come when they need us.

Babywearing became an essential aspect of early bonding, especially with our second son. Life became noticeably busier with two young children. Both need love and special attention, and babywearing allows me to keep my little one close while still freely interacting with my older son. I can provide simultaneous security to both of my children.

These forms of physical contact are categorized as nurturing touch by Attachment Parenting International (API). When words are difficult, as is the case with newborns and young children, nurturing touch transcends language while still communicating security and love. It involves everything from massage to physical play and can be as simple as putting your arm around your child while on the couch together.

As our sons continue to grow, we are finding other ways to deepen this connection. Our 3 year old loves to wrestle and pillow fight. Each night, we happily indulge him to meet his need for physical contact, helping him to build trust and confidence in us and himself. Later, at bedtime, I lay next to him and rub his back through stories and prayers. He craves this connecting, nurturing touch and the security of knowing that we love him immensely.

Parents can never undo the loss that some adopted children experience, but hiding or not acknowledging it can be detrimental to them. Being aware of these challenges and meeting them with
persistent affection and honesty can allow healing to take place.

My husband and I are so blessed to have two happy, spirited and loving sons. Looking back, I am confident that much of our boys’ smiles, laughter and love are due to our decision to follow API’s Eight Principles of Parenting. There is so much unique joy experienced in adoption, and connections formed through nurturing touch foster this joy — allowing our children to feel secure and build necessary, lasting trust in us.

Nurturing touch beyond babywearing

kelly shealer 4Use Nurturing Touch is one of Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting. With a baby, there are so many ways to put this into practice: babywearing, breastfeeding, the fact that babies want to be held most of the time anyway. But as my son has grown older, he’s become less and less interested in hugs, kisses, back rubs and other types of nurturing touch that naturally follow in the toddler years.

He’s almost 5 now, and it’s a challenge for me to still remember his need for physical touch and to find creative ways to meet that need.

I try to make a point to do small physical gestures — a high-five or a silly, exaggerated handshake — and to engage in more physical play with him or just be close to him during playtime. Sometimes, I pretend that he — not his sister — is the baby, and I playfully pick him up, rock him or carry him on my hip. That usually gets a giggle from him.

Most importantly for us, though, I’ve found that a big part of nurturing touch means also respecting my son’s desire not to be touched. If he doesn’t want to hug me or if he pushes my hand away when I go to rub his head at bedtime, I listen to him and I don’t take it personally. I understand that it’s not what he needs at that moment and that it’s important for me not to force it. I know that he, like me, is very sensitive to touch and only wants to be touched on his own terms.

I think it’s important for me to at least offer a hug. There are times when he will accept the hug, and even if he doesn’t, I feel that it lets him know that I’m willing to connect with him that way.

I’m sure that as he gets older it will get even harder to connect with him through nurturing touch, but I hope that I can continue to show my love in the ways that he needs.

Editor’s Pick: AP Month on “Flourishing Parents”

“Are your children flourishing? Are you flourishing?”~ “Children Flourishing” on AP Month 2014

apm logoThese are poignant questions, particularly the second one.

I think we, as parents, often ask ourselves whether we feel our children are doing OK. Especially those of us involved in Attachment Parenting (AP) closely monitor this in our children and make adjustments accordingly so that our children can flourish.

But we are less likely to ask ourselves if we are doing OK.

It may be that we assume we are flourishing if our children are. Parenting is so personal, and by our very biology, much of our own self-worth can be tied into how well we feel our children are doing.

It may be that we feel selfish or guilty if we feel that we are not flourishing alongside our children — if we are feeling burnt out, if we feel that our life balance is off.

We may fear that if we take a bit of “me” time that our children will suffer, since they won’t be getting all of our attention.

Because many of us grew up in families that did not practice Attachment Parenting, we are still getting a feel for what a good balance is. Some of us may wish to give our children more attention than we had growing up, and so we may be timid to give ourselves more “me” time because it feels like we may be taking too much.

And it can take a while for parents to feel confident in their parenting approach, so that they are able to feel better about taking “me” time.

Or perhaps your children are at ages or stages that makes it difficult to take “me” time.

There may be another reason why you’re reluctant to make changes so that you feel that you’re flourishing, but balance a critical part of Attachment Parenting. If you’re dealing with burn-out or trying to figure out how to gain more life balance, reading Attachment Parenting International’s Eighth Principle of Parenting: Strive for Personal and Family Balance can give you some ideas to get started on adding more “me” time to your life and start you back on the path of flourishing.

So, how do you know if you and your children are flourishing? Check out the list on AP Month’s “Children Flourishing” post, but here’s one that I think sums it up nicely: “Living on a trajectory of decreasing fear and increasing love in self and others.”

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