Adoption involves so many decisions, but those decisions don’t end when the baby or child comes home because then the bonding process needs to happen. And that process involves much intentionality and patience.
I held each of my babies on the days they were born and bonding came naturally for us. I’m incredibly thankful for that. This year as my son navigates his identity as a middle schooler, I’ve actually seen firsthand how there’s a deep separation that happens when a baby is bonded to someone not his biological mother.
Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything about bonding with our babies. We were there from the beginning and we’ve been there nearly every day since. We’ve told them stories about their birth families and celebrated the faithfulness of God who made us a family. I’ve hardly spent significant time and rarely overnight away from my kids.
Yet the separation that affects kids of different ages is a real thing. Of course, it varies because every child is navigating different circumstances and has unique personalities.
Don’t rush the process
When you adopt a baby, you’ll want to bond with her as quickly as possible. It can take some time – even if you start on day one. Honestly, thinking about the different adopted families I know, the younger the baby, the quicker bonding will happen, although there are exceptions to that thought.
Remember: All babies cry, so tears don’t mean a lack of bonding.
Bonding happens with each snuggle, diaper change, bottle, and burp. Just keep going. Yes, of course, it can feel monotonous, but it’s all working for the good of your relationship.
Care in the right way
I know when the nurse handed me hours-old Cate, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. That feeling continues all through my parenting years, although I’m more confident now. Don’t be ashamed if you need to learn to care for your baby, adopted or otherwise. There are so many resources out there, so don’t hesitate if you need to take a class or have a conversation with an older mom.
Each baby is different, which is both freeing and terrifying for moms. They’ll respond to things differently and have specific preferences about eating and sleeping.
Alongside this, you’ll need to know how to treat particular conditions, such as baby heat rash. These can be relatively common and easy to take care of, although you’ll need to know what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to call the pediatrician either!
Don’t forget family support
I don’t know who claimed it takes a village to raise a child, but that person knew what she was talking about. While you won’t need an entire village every moment of every day, you will need support. That should begin with your spouse and then go outward to family and friends.
Some families who adopt choose to “cocoon” with their new addition. This can be particularly important when bringing home a child from another country. Hunkering down as your immediate family can help to bond when a child has lots of cultural and language adjustments. But still don’t forget to ask for help from people outside your home. They can bring groceries, meet you in the driveway for chats, or assist in whatever other ways will free you up to care for your adopted child.
Focus on eye contact
Communication with your child is vital. An overlooked aspect of this is eye contact. Getting and maintaining this can be tricky, although it shouldn’t be difficult as you go about all the hands-on care for a baby. You can play peek-a-book, make funny faces, and sing songs while you feed or diaper.
These small moments help develop routines and traditions within your family too. We still sing bedtime songs to two of our kids and the song choices are the same ones we sang when they were tiny in our laps in the nursery rocking chair.
Since bonding takes time and is an ongoing process, it’s something you should think long-term about. Starting some family traditions now can help you bond more effectively with your child in the years and decades ahead.
Doing so now will give you memories to look back on when your child is older. Because they may be too young to remember them, it’s worth documenting them. That’s why I love scrapbooking and posting on social media. I want to remember and I want them to remember.
If you’ve adopted a baby from abroad, then it’s worth considering some holidays from the country you adopted them from. In the future, they’ll appreciate how you helped them learn and maintain parts of their cultural heritage.
Take care of yourself
When you have a baby – regardless of who you became a mom – it’s easy to put their needs ahead of yours. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look after yourself.
You’ve probably heard about postpartum depression. Though this applies to women who have given birth, there’s a similar condition called post-adoption depression. If you fail to look after yourself, the likelihood of developing this could increase. Be sure to take the time to look after your needs – even simple ones like eating meals, taking showers, and catching up with a friend.
Other ways to bond
There are multiple other ways that you can bond with your baby. When doing so, you’ll need to keep in mind that each child is different. That’s really become such a mantra in my own motherhood. Kids go through similar situations as they grow up, but how they handle things certainly varies.
Bonds need to be created with biological babies too, but the following two strategies can be especially helpful with adopted babies:
- Snuggling: Showing your child affection and cuddling them helps you bond with them while also helping you look after them. It’ll encourage increased closeness over time. I’ve got one kid who is now in kindergarten but still considers snuggling her love language.
- The Kangaroo Method: Skin-to-skin contact is essential to bonding with a baby. New fathers can even bond with their babies this way. Try carrying your baby in a sling to encourage more skin-to-skin contact while promoting bonding with them.
Figuring out how to bond with an adopted baby can be complicated. Each child has their specific needs, but as long as you’re trying you’ll figure out the best way for each child. Timing will vary from child to child too, but be patient and keep going. Yes, bonding with babies is important, but it’s also essential to maintain those bonds as the babies grow into toddlers and elementary school children, and teenagers.
Parenthood doesn’t stop at a particular age, but laying the foundation from the beginning is the best way to begin.
Bonding is just one aspect of bringing an adopted baby home. If you looking for more adoption resources, check out my “Peace in the Process” page, where you can learn more about my book, listen to a playlist, and read other articles.