This is a difficult post to write but I'm finding it necessary as we ease in to finding our new normal with Titus home from China. One of the things that we covered extensively in our pre-adption training is a concept called "coccooning". This is basically a period of time, maybe three months, maybe more or less, maybe a year, or maybe it gets revisited often, when a family with a newly adopted child steps back from a lot of activity or commitments outside of their home in order to envelop the new child in their family. The idea is to keep their world small and their social contacts smaller. For Titus, he was never outside of two rooms in his orphanage until the day we adopted him. He is having a ton of new experiences all at once and it can get overwhelming. Actually, Titus really does enjoy getting out and seeing new places (as evidenced by his constant antics to try to get out of the house) but he doesn't really know how to act appropriately in these settings yet, so we're keeping a close watch for signs that he is ready for new situations. However, we can not give up certain core parts of our lives, like our church, AWANA, and homeschool community, although I have given up the bulk of my responsibilities in these so that I can focus on helping Titus adjust to them.
You will find that Titus is extremely social. He is so cute, and he knows it! This was a survival mechanism for him in his institutional life. The ones who are cute, who endeaer the nannies, get better fed, better care, and more attention. The challenges is that Titus has had a countless number of nannies. We can only make guesses from our observations, but when we visited his room there seemed to be three nannies assigned to his room at the time. His current favorite nanny had just left when her shift ended and it was mid-day. There was reference to the "night shift" nannies. My guess is that there are 3 shift rotations in a day, so 9 nannies/day. We were told that the nanny he was closest to quit a few months ago. I imagine it is likely a high turnover job. So, let's just take a wild guess that it is possible he has had 20+ nannies in his life. Want to know what he has called every single one of them? "Mama".
As a result of this background, Titus feels very comfortable around just about every woman. To him they are ALL potential sources of affection, food, and care. He will go up to other women and lift his arms to be picked up. He will charm and entertain and beg for attention. (And He's SO SO SO cute when he does it!) He will blow kisses, offer to share bites of food, and try to grab your cell phone or rummage through your purse. The clinical term for this is "indiscriminate affection" and if not kept in check can lead to significant attachment disorders, and can be dangerous for him. We all want our kids to have a healthy fear of strangers, right?
The most important task we are facing is helping him to understand what "mama" REALLY means. It is SO important for Titus' well being, our family's health, and his future relationships that Titus learns that God's intention and his new reality is that he has ONE mommy and ONE daddy who do not quit, do not rotate off, do not disappear without explanation; who love unconditionally, have consistent expectations, and do not need to be manipulated in order to meet his needs.
Because of this, I have to ask you to (not) do some things that may feel counter-intuitive.
The most helpful guideline is to deflect attention and affection and guide him back to our family.
What does this look like? Here are some examples:
- Does he want to hold your hand? Gently hold his wrist while guiding him back to mommy (or daddy).
- Does he want a hug? Say "Save your hugs and kisses for your mommy and daddy." and again, direct him back to us.
- Does he KEEP insisting? Settle for a high-five and direct him back to us.
- Does he want to be picked up? Tell him "Go have your mommy/daddy to hold you."
- Is he looking to you for attention? Point and say, "There's your mommy/daddy."
- Does he want to feed you or you to feed him? say, "No thank you. This is mine/That is yours. Share with your famiy."
Please, do not under any circumstances:
- Correct or discipline him if I'm available to do so
- Give him food or drink
- Give him gifts directly
(Gift and food items may be handed to mom or dad and we can find the appropriate time to give them.)
Please don't be surprised, offended, or hurt if we:
- Pull him away from a situation where he is getting too much attention, whether from adults or children.
- Leave immediately and unexpectedly if the situation is counter-productive for his attachment.
- decline invitations for parties and play dates for a while.
*** We may even need you to treat our other children this way if Titus is around, or it would be confusing to him. Remember, at the heart of all this, is a child who has no understanding of what family means. Both his caretakers and his roommates (other children) have been transient. Siblings are a new concept too.
This is super hard for me. Like any other new mom, I desperately want to see my friends dote on my new son. This "coccooning" is a lonely time for most adoptive families. We need to hear how much you adore him as much as we need you not to show it to him! While the most natural way to show your support is to love on the child, we need you to love on US instead. And grace. There's oh so much grace. He's hard to resist and we're not going to freak out if you absent mindedly give him a hug, just please be understanding if we pull him away. And have grace for me. Please don't let yourself feel like I don't like you because I'm intentionally keeping my child away from you. If you're a good enough friend that you've read this far, I WANT you in my life! I NEED you in my life! We will let you know as we see signs of secure attachment and can gradually let up on some of these guidelines. In the meantime, thank you for helping us teach Titus about what "Mama" really means.