May 9th, 2007
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A recent comment where I was asked about the bonding process closed with,

“Thanks…glad I stumbled upon you. I’m definitely thrilled to hear that life is really bumpy for you too.
It’s reassuring.”

If nothing else I have learned that my odd ability to bounce back constantly has been either enlightening or comforting for others. A kind of, “If Cindy can get through all her monstrous stuff each day, I suppose I can deal with mine.” Or the best I ever heard was, “When I think my life stinks (although they didn’t use that word, I’m cleaning it up here), I just think of your life. Then I feel better.”


Glad I can be of service. We country folks, raised in the Bible Belt, do like the theory of service to others. It’s the doing it that gets tough at times.

What about the bond between adopted older children and the new parents? Can it exist? Is it instantaneous? Do we simply fall in love with photo listings of cute children, imagining our soon to be sweet life with grateful orphans? Then they unpack their Pandora’s Boxes at our houses and we get overwhelmed with the level of emotional damage that has been wrought upon them. Do I get to second guess my decision? Lord, I can’t deal with all this?

I don’t instantly fall in love with my new children. I was always happy and excited to meet them, reassurance immediately falling out of my mouth, arms open wide with a goofy grin on my face. I’d simply step in the mama mode, which left them only the children’s mode to use and a pattern of stability would form and grow.

We’d have a glorious honeymoon period when I felt I could parent a thousand children, and then the facades would crumble and the testing would commence making me wonder if I still could successfully get shoes tied each morning. They’d lie, steal, manipulate, destroy, rage, cheat, be deceitful, hateful, angry, mean, rude, disobedient and demonstrate any other negative behavior that they could think of using.

Then it’s really hard to love them. Early on I was very fortunate to have a caseworker who somehow got through my hard head, and she explained the acting out and testing process to me which enabled me, strengthened me for the battle, it allowed me to step back and see the behaviors differently; to understand that it wasn’t about me at all.

Then it was somehow easier to love them, to see them differently, as terribly wounded individuals. It became my challenge and my goal to prove my love and commitment to them. That’s where my hard-headedness really served me well.

It sure wasn’t easy. I’d buckle and cry, I’d holler, fuss, and scream “Woe is me!” in prayer, but I’d always get back up and keep going. It’s a wonder my caseworker would even take my phone calls as I’d complain and moan and wonder aloud why love and logic wasn’t working.

Decades ago I’d run to my favorite pastors also only to gently hear the obvious, “Well who ever told you this would be easy? What did you expect?” Hearing the truth from those I respected also welded my backbone solid upright and unbreakable.

But this is how the bonds and the love grew over time. The kids watched me not quit, not dissolve into a puddle too often and they began to dare to love me back, finally understanding that this was the real deal.

Now I’m the grandmother to 13 of their children, nothing has changed. Change being their greatest fear as it always led to loss. The tough, hardened children I adopted in their pre-teens are now grown folks leaving me with the only answer I can give to other parents. This takes years and years and years, and it was never easy, but it can be done. An easy answer for a long, difficult process.

5 Responses to “Bonding With Older Adopted Children”

  1. Your honesty about the process is a continuing encouragement. Again, you hit the nail on the head today, as you might as well have been describing what goes on here. Thank God we have a patient caseworker, who mostly lets me vent frustration, knowing she can’t do much more than make comforting noises. But it helps.

    I like your description of the Pandora’s box. I had a variation of it that I told our caseworker the other day. It’s like they arrive with big suitcases under their arms. When they arrive, they open them, and you discover (far too late) that they are filled with “poo”. They then take this “poo” and distribute it quite evenly over your entire life. It’s already all over them, and now it’s all over you, and your bio kids, and your home, and your marriage. And somehow you are left trying to figure out how to clean it up. I asked our worker how you can teach this in adoption classes and not scare everyone off. She wasn’t sure but she agreed that it needed to be done. Well, the “poo” is mostly cleaned up around here these days. Every now and then I find a corner or crevice that I missed, and we get to work.

    I am glad to hear that you don’t fall in love with your kiddos right away. But clearly it happens along the way. How does it happen, and when do you realize it has? Is is a clear line that you know you’ve crossed, or do you just realize one day, “Hey, I’ve been loving this kid for awhile now…when did that happen?” Because it’s really hard to love a stranger that destroys the peace in your home. I never fell passionately in love with this child as a baby, or learned their smell, or “banked” other good stuff to see you through the times of conflict.

    Anyhow, thanks, and I would love to hear you explore this topic more.

  2. a04toyou says:

    ‘I would love to hear you explore this topic more.’

    Many frustrated parents are finding out there isn’t much out there to educate yourself regarding attaching/bonding strategies for the ‘older child.’ Older child is usually defined as 18 months – 3 years old (meaning books/resources available). Our six came to our home each over the age of 7 years. We have had to stumble our way through this process. I too think this is a GREAT topic to explore further. How do you make steps towards bonding/attaching when your ‘child’ is a teenager? So far for us, time and consistency has been our best friend. Cindy, please share your experiences. Thanks! Elaine

  3. BEACHLADY says:

    Good blog – as always.
    I love the honesty that you share.
    Becoming a member of this blog has really opened my eyes to many things – mainly – that we all share something in common in the world of adoption.

    Good comments also.

  4. Cindy Bodie says:

    I will blog more about it. I like the poo example, it describes perfectly what I’ve seen. Thanks for the feedback.

  5. veggeman says:

    I agree about the poo example.
    Cindy and everybody else – I appreciate your honesty.

    We are definitely just plugging away at consistency, honesty and “doing” love – it’s just wild cuz you know that “bond” is missing. Everybody feels it. I’m glad to know that we’re on the right road – it’s just a matter of time passing now.

    We celebrate our 10 month anniversary this weekend. Our two foster teens (who are ours’ forever -whether adopted or not – it’s an interesting situation)…are our first children. We go out every month and do some special family activity to commemorate the day we brought them home.

    I have to say that my husband and I were open to God using us in this way. I am always amused at how God calls my bluff and really does what He begins working in my heart.

    I’m gonna just keep trudging along…it’s gotten MUCH easier over the last 10 months. The poo is getting less thick…

    Our 14 year old boy is difficult. He internalizes stuff and rages when the stuff gets to be too much.
    It is difficult to feel comfortable around him cuz it’s like walking in a land mine.
    We give him one on one time…he’s got a great therapist…
    He IS starting to communicate more…but it’s still pretty rugged…

    It’s hard to like him.
    Honestly sometimes I really dislike him – tho’ I’d never let him know that…

    This is a wild process:)

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