Saturday, April 16, 2011
it's good for bonding! unless it's not.
As we approach the two-month mark with our sweet boy, I am taking a moment to reflect on what we have learned together. We have learned way more than I have time to blog about right now, but I'll share one quick thing that might be helpful to those on the road with us...
Of course the big focus in this first season is bonding and connecting with Z. In addition to our training and educational home study visits, we also read lots of books, blogs, and articles about connecting with a newly-adopted child. All of this has proved to be immensely helpful to us, and I think the bonding process is going great - better than I would have hoped or expected, in fact. But here's what I'm learning: activities that are supposed to promote bonding are not "one-size-fits-all." Some of them just plain don't work for us, and forcing my child (and myself) to do them doesn't do us any good.
Here's an example. Knowing that mealtime = bonding time, I often chose foods for Z that a) I knew he liked (which meant not always what the rest of the family was eating), and b) I could feed to him. According to adoption literature, feeding by hand helps create a sense of dependence and trust between parent and child, and helps them understand that the parent is the source of food and nourishment, as well as comfort and pleasure. Sounds good! Except sometimes it wasn't. Z did let me feed him sometimes, but other times would refuse to take a single bite from me. More often than not, this led to his meals ending prematurely because he would get madder and madder and eventually escalate into throwing, screaming, etc. Not exactly bonding. I was getting pretty frustrated until we had a breakthrough at breakfast the other day. Before I had gotten him any food he signed "cereal" and pointed to his brothers, who were both eating cereal and milk. I gave him exactly what they had, and decided to let him try eating it with a spoon. He grinned at me, as if to say, "Now you're getting it Mom!" He needed lots of help getting the cereal on the spoon, so I helped him with each bite and gave him a high five every time he got the spoon and cereal to his mouth without dropping it. Not only did he eat tons of cereal, he made lots of eye contact and let me help him throughout the meal -- we were connecting with each other the whole time. I also think it made him feel more like a part of the family to eat the same thing as his brothers. If I had rigidly stuck to my plan of feeding by hand, I'm not sure he would have eaten a single bite of breakfast and I know we wouldn't have had such special moments of connection together.
I am a by-the-book person. Flexibility is not my strong suit. But Z is helping me learn that my job is not to do everything the book says to do: my job is to be the best mom for him. That means listening, observing, being sensitive, and using his cues to help me discern what is best for him in any given situation. Sometimes it means laying down the law and sticking to my guns. Sometimes it means laying down my pride and letting something go when it's not working. Here's hoping I can figure out which is which!
[P.S. Since that breakfast, I have been giving Z exactly what everyone else eats and letting him eat it with utensils and lots of help from me. He is eating way more than before and we are all happier at mealtime!]