Parenting as an Adoptee: When Attachment Doesn’t Come Naturally

My sister and I never talked about being adopted when we were younger. The first time we had a discussion about adoption was just a year ago, when she was 31 and I was 29. A couple of weeks ago, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I spent the weekend in Indiana for an adoption conference. I had been invited to speak, and they made the drive to join me for the weekend, which was absolutely amazing. We spent a good part of the weekend talking about adoption and our own experiences. My sister shared things with me about when I first joined my family in Minnesota—things I had never heard before. I’m not ready to share everything she told me, but one of the things she mentioned really put something into perspective for me.

My sister told me how easy it was for her to adjust to her life with our family. She mentioned that she was out playing with the neighborhood kids on the second day she was here. It definitely didn’t come as a surprise to me, as my sister has always been very outgoing, friendly, and just very easy to love. My sister told me that I just wanted to be alone and often looked really sad when I first came to be with my family. This really clicked with me, and made me think about my own attachment issues.

My desire for alone time has always been a part of me, ever since I can remember. I think people would say that I am a kind and caring person, but I often find myself putting up a wall between myself and others—even the people I love. My fear of being hurt or abandoned—a fear I have harbored since I was little—developed into a need to always keep my guard up. The wall I put up between myself and others is my go-to coping mechanism.

My children are my life, and I would do anything for them. They know how much I love them. As much as it pains me to admit this, I would be lying if I said that my attachment with them comes easily for me. Most parents don’t think about attachment with their children because it comes naturally to them—it’s a non-issue. My love for my children has always been there and has never been in question. But, I often question my ability to fully attach with them. I believe that, due to my experiences early in life, I never learned how to fully attach correctly. I have relationships I cherish and very much value the people I have in my life. I have found that attachment has always been a balancing act for me, as I have often vacillated between becoming overly attached and pushing people away.

I feel like I am really putting myself out there, but there are times, as a parent, when I feel like I do things for my children because I’m supposed to, not because of an innate feeling of wanting to do it for them. There are times when I feel the walls go up between my children and me, and it takes everything I have to break through them. My husband and I provide my children with the things they need, and they don’t want for anything. They are happy, loving and caring little guys.

There are times when I feel extreme guilt because, as much as I love them, I sometimes look at them and can literally feel the wall between us. It scares me to feel this way, and I know that this is because of my attachment issues, but it makes me feel like I am an awful person. I feel absolutely horrible that, even though I feel like I am a good mom to my sons, I’m not a complete mom. I believe the fact that my children both have special needs is one thing that has somewhat exacerbated these feelings of not having fully attached. Every parent has dreams for their children, and most parents want to protect their children from anything that could possibly hurt them. When your child has special needs, you learn to adjust your life to fit their needs. These adjustments include letting go of some of the dreams you have for your child. It’s also difficult to know that you can’t protect your child from his or her special needs. Some parents are able to adjust easily to their child’s special needs, and are able to view the situation from the glass half-full perspective. Other parents greatly feel the loss of their dreams for their child and the guilt they carry for not being able to protect their child from something completely out of their control. I tend to fall in the latter category. My children’s special needs are seen as a source of pain, so the desire to block out that pain sometimes translates into my putting up a wall between myself and my children.

My attachment issues have been a source of frustration and extreme guilt for me. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I am not a bad person, and I am a good mom. I also have to remind myself that my attachment issues are there because of something that was beyond my control. I love my children more than life itself, and I have developed a strong bond with them—it’s just not something that comes as naturally for me as it should. I have heard some parents say that their child “got over” their attachment issues. For children who never learned how to attach correctly, the ability to develop healthy attachments will most likely not come naturally and will be something they will have to work on throughout their lives. We’re not freaks or sociopaths or bad people—we’re simply wired differently than others and we have to work harder in our relationships. Rest assured, I love the people in my life and hold them all very close to my heart. I love, I genuinely care for others, I feel pain, and I feel empathy. Every person has a burden to bear—mine is just one of the many reasons why I hold my sons a little tighter and tell them I love them, and tell them again…

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16 thoughts on “Parenting as an Adoptee: When Attachment Doesn’t Come Naturally

  1. Deb says:

    Dearest cousin,

    I can understand completely why you might feel somewhat guilty or concerned about your “attachment issues” with people or especially your children due to the society we live in. However i invite you to entertain the possibility that this”obstacle” as you might label it is actually a gift and one that most people on the other side of the fence might be lacking.

    In letting go of expectations of any kind in life whether it be what you would want for your children or yourself, creates a beautiful thing called infinite possibility. Something above & beyond what our limited minds can conceive. With letting go of a desired outcome you gain the lessons and gifts that life has to offer. “The bigger picture” can emerge and our seemingly limited existence all of a sudden transforms into something more universal.

    Attachment of any kind (in my opinion) is not a healthy thing. God, nature or the universe (whatever higher power you choose to believe in) has a bigger plan and we are but little pieces of that plan. The moment we attach to anything we begin to limit its existence. It has now become smaller than it actually is. Appreciating and honoring ourselves and those we love is the best anyone can really do. Maintaining a sense of self yet understanding the connectedness we share with every living thing on this planet is the ticket to freedom from the mind and true happiness. We are all here for a limited time yet for a purpose (some might know their purpose & others maybe not). Understanding & accepting the laws of nature creates a healthier relationship between all.

    Im not saying that we all dont have our inner work to do but again i invite you to the possibility that maybe our experiences as a child were a blessing to you (as hard as they were) to put you in a place of learning not pain. “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.”-Richard Bach

    It is very difficult for people to learn how to detach which is a key factor in life, its just not something most people in our society do or understand.

    Kahlil Gibran said it best in his book “The Prophet” :
    “Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the bow that flies,
    So He loves also the bow that is stable. ”

    I love you 😉 deb

      • Deb says:

        You’re so welcome beauty. Ur honesty is beautiful & ur heart is even more so. Thank u for both. you are a lot healthier than you might think!! Tanti baci xoxxo

  2. I think you may be closer to “normal” than you realize. I truly believe any parent who claims they only act out of an innate desire to care for their children, and has never parented out of a sense of obligation, is simply not telling the truth. Admitting how often parenting doesn’t come naturally takes more honesty and courage than most people have. Attachment takes work in all families; work that is rarely recognized for what it is.

  3. Mark says:

    Dear Miss; I am interested in the adoptee phenomenon and you have indicated that you are Korean by heritage, although raised in America. Do you identify more with your Korean heritage or the culture of your adoptive parents? Or both? What has been your experience with Asian-Americans reared in Asian families and their experience with you? Did they treat you positively or negatively? What was your sense of yourself, did you have a sense of being Asian or just American? I noticed you using some Italian words in this thread. I am Italian-American and so have to ask, were you raised by an Italian-Am. family? I realize I am asking very personal questions, so I also beg your patience if my questions irritate you. MASSIVE LOVE.

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