When Families and Friends Don't Understand
Since many of the symptoms associated with attachment problems look like normal childhood behaviors, it can be very difficult if not impossible to explain to friends and family. Some, in an attempt to be helpful, try to dismiss the problems. You hear, “Oh, my son has temper tantrums all the time,” all the while thinking to yourself, “Not like these, lady!” Others try to generalize, “He looks perfectly normal to me,” while you roll your eyes, knowing that he is at his worst only when he is home. Alone. With you.
And then, there are the friends and family who, in the spirit of helpfulness, begin to question your methods, or even worse, your sanity.
A low point in our attachment road came about nine months after we first identified the problem. After months of progress, we plateaued, which felt at the time like a major upset. For support, I turned to a close friend. From the beginning, she supported our journey through regular contact, prayers, and listening sessions. I divulged more to her than most, feeling that she truly accepted what I’d been teaching her about the attachment process. After sharing the latest struggles, I was shocked to receive a note from her asking if my child could sense my love for him as he was, rather than as a project that needed to be fixed.
And this, a Do's and Don'ts list for Family and Friends
that includes information about general attachment, and suspecting attachment disorders:
2. Trust the mother's instincts. Even a first time mother may notice subtle symptoms that well-meaning family and friends attribute to "normal" behavior.
3. Accept that attachment issues are difficult for anyone outside of the mother to see and understand.
4. Be supportive even if you think everything looks fine to you.
1. Assume an infant is too young to suffer from emotional issues related to attachment. Babies are not immune.
2. Underestimate a new mother's instincts that something isn't right.
3. Judge the mother's parenting abilities. What looks like spoiling or coddling may be exactly what the child needs to overcome a serious attachment disorder. Parenting methods that work for many children can be detrimental to a child with attachment issues.
4. Make excuses for the child's behaviors or try to make the mother feel better by calling certain behaviors "normal". For example, many children who suffer from attachment issues may be labeled strong-willed by well-meaning family members. While being strong-willed can be seen as a positive personality trait, this type of behavior in an attachment-impaired child may signify problems.
5. Accuse the mother of being overly sensitive or neurotic. She is in a position to see subtle symptoms as no one else can.
7. Put your own timeframes on how long attachment should take. One mother was hurt when she was chastised by a relative who couldn't understand...after all, the baby had been home six months. It could take weeks, months, even years. Every child is different.
9. Fall into the appearance trap. Some babies/toddlers with attachment issues can put on a great show to those outside of the mother/father. What you see is not always a true picture of the child. Even babies as young as 6-months-old are capable of “putting on a good face” in public.
And this, Red Flag Phrases
Red Flag Scenarios
You notice something one day, something you'd taken for granted. You realize your daughter never faces you. Hmmm, you think. You notice she always takes a hug with her back to you. Not only that, she doesn't like it when you two are face to face. You mention it casually to your husband who says:
"She's probably just more comfortable that way."
Your daughter is the sweetest child in the world--everyone says so--your playgroup, school, church. Sometimes you wonder how you got so lucky. You realize that at home, she is very directive. You're glad though, because you want your girl to be strong. It's just that sometimes you wish she'd listen to you without so much opposition. She tells you what she wants to wear, what to play, how to play, whether she wants pretzels for a snack. But, you remind yourself:
"She's just strong-willed."
You child is in the "I'll do it myself stage." All children go through that, right? You just didn't think it started this early or was this persistent. If you help her with something, she flies into a rage! Your cousin says:
"Independence is good. Consider yourself lucky!"
You go to the playground with some friends. Your son takes off across the grass toward another family. He allows them to pick him up, laughing and chatting all the while. Your friends reassure you, saying:
"He’ll probably be a politician!”
Your toddler has started hitting. He occasionally smacks you in the face. Nothing seems to deter him from hitting his siblings. Your neighbor says that, just like her son:
“He's all boy!”
(Adoptive mom's note: "all boy" should apply to the fact that my son would sleep with a matchbox car if I let him. It doesn't apply to him hitting me or being oppositional.)
Ever since your child was very young, he would play quietly by himself. In fact, he doesn't seem terribly interested whether you come or go. He pays attention to a toy for long periods, playing it over and over again. You secretly think he must be highly intelligent. Something nags at your heart, though, but the nursery school teacher says:
“He's just the quiet type."
Your 10-month-old throws fits. He pitches food from the highchair and screams. Your mother-in-law, a teacher, says:
“He's just frustrated because he can't talk to communicate what he wants."
You call your son and he doesn't respond. This is happening so frequently that you begin to wonder if he's hearing impaired. You take him in for a hearing test and he passes with flying colors. Yet the minute you get home, it appears that he can't hear a word you're saying. Your mom says:
"Selective hearing. All kids are like that. It's payback time for when you used to do it to me.