A Forever 3 Month Old

As I was researching for an article on attachment and adoption, I reread some books that I hadn’t read in years.  One thing really stuck out to me.  In a study done by  Schaffer and Emerson (1964), they noted that babies 3 months of age and younger have indiscriminate attachments.  They would accept food and comfort from any caregiver.  After 4 months of age, they will still accept care from anyone, but do have a preference for a primary or secondary caregiver.  It isn’t until after 7 months that babies start to develop fear of strangers and develop anxiety when separated from his one or two favorite caregivers.

The first thing that struck me about that information is that I know several excellent foster parents.  I know that it has taken them an average of seven months each time to get a child settled in to their home – and the child is usually moved about that time, or sent back to their biological family for a few months, only to return to a different foster home and start the process all over again.  So once the child has started the attachment process – it’s interrupted, time and time again.

I then thought about my son with RAD.  We brought him home at 3 years.  We had heard of RAD, but only the type that they wouldn’t hug you, look you in the eye, and wanted to kill everyone.  Nobody had every spoken about the kind where the child looks perfectly happy and well-adjusted, always smiling and laughing, but will go to anybody at any time.  The kind where you feel in your heart something isn’t right, but all outside appearances show everything is perfect.  By the time things start to really go downhill when the child is older, you’ve lost valuable years of time that could have been used in attaching and therapy, and the window might have closed permanently for that child.  It wasn’t in any of the multitude of books I read, on any of the online searches I did on attachment at that time, anywhere.  So we thought everything was fine, until everything wasn’t, and we had a RAD diagnosis and chaos in our household.

We had said for years that our child never changed from the day we brought him home.  We may have curbed some behavior, and he may have gained some not so pleasant behaviors as he aged and became more capable, but the essence of “him” and who he was never changed for many, many years.  And now, with that study coming back into mind, it made sense.  He was a perpetual 3 month old during all that time.  He was indiscriminately attached.  He was acting out because he wasn’t attached to anyone and at the same time attached to whoever was in front of him at the moment.  He was a 3 month old emotionally in a 9 year old’s body.  I had never put it together like that before.

I can feel guilty about those wasted years when we could have been doing something, when I was the only one who felt something was “off”, but you don’t know what you don’t know.  You can’t feel guilty for not finding information that isn’t even out there!  Even now it’s rare.  I have to put aside that guilt, and just move forward with what we have now, and where we are now.  I have no time for guilt or regret.  Maybe when the kids are grown and out of the house I can regret the things I should have done differently.  But for now, I have to focus my energies on what I can do now to help him heal.  Identifying where he’s at emotionally, and where he was at, has helped me realize that in the past six months he has grown, he has moved into a different stage.  He has finally changed.  It took him well beyond the general guidelines of how long they can fake it before they fall apart, of how long it is before they start to develop attachments, but then he’s a stubborn little guy, he is, after all, my kid. 🙂

Since I can’t go back in time and tell myself what I now know about attachment and everything I’ve learned over the past 8 years, the best I can do is offer up this information to other parents who might be in the same boat, or to prospective adoptive parents so that they are fore-warned and fore-armed.  You can do this.  You will get through this.  But you need all the support, resources, and information that you can find.

Hang in there.


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