AIR DATE 1.30.18

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Speaker 3: Blog Talk Radio.

Jennifer J.: Good morning and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer Jaworski and I’m a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates premier talk radio blog show. Adoption Associates and its staff are trusted leaders in adoption and we have placed over 5,200 children into loving homes.

Since 1990, we have advocated, supported, and nurtured both birth families and adoptive families, and helping families grow through the adoption process is important to us. Our offices are located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, and Saginaw and our private adoption services are available throughout all of Michigan. One of Adoption Associates commitments is to this weekly radio show, so thank you very much for listening in today. We do hope that you find this forum to be inspirational, educational, and thought provoking.

Today we are talking about a topic that’s very important in adoption and we are welcoming to the show Kris Burow. Kris, are you with us?

Kris Burow: Yes I am.

Jennifer J.: Good morning, thank you for being on Adoption Focus Podcast this morning.

Kris Burow: I’m glad to be here.

Jennifer J.: Kris, could you share please a little bit about yourself as well as your connection to adoption.

Kris Burow: I began working for Adoption Associates in February of 2000, so it’s almost 18 years that I’ve been working in adoption. Much of my work there has been with international adoption, but more recently I’ve had a greater focus on domestic adoptions. Prior to coming to Adoption Associates, I had worked in a foster care and adoption program with a private agency. A lot of my work there was focused on refugee children, children coming into the United States without their parents.

Jennifer J.: Very interesting. I mentioned earlier, Kris, that today we’re talking about bonding and attachment and it’s also a topic that many prospective adoptive parents can become worried about to be quite frank with you. In the early days as they’re beginning to educate themselves.

A few weeks ago on this very podcast we did hear from a mom who explained that prior to adopting, this was something that she worried about, this concept of bonding and attaching in adoption. She was also a bit embarrassed to talk about it openly and, you know, who would understand, or was she silly for worrying about these things? So, Kris, let’s go ahead and just dive in here because I think this is important. Would you start us off by talking about what is bonding and attachment? When we use those words, what are we talking about?

Kris Burow: One of the significant professionals in attachment in adoption is Deborah Gray and I like her definition in her book. Her book is Attaching in Adoption and she says, in its simplest definition, attaching is a relationship. In an adoption situation, both the child and parent are learning to build a unique and exclusive relationship with one another, so I think when it comes to defining attachment between a child and a parent, you can extend that definition that Deborah Gray gives to a lifelong relationship. Attachments are a close lifelong relationship for both the parent and the child.

Many people use the term bonding and attachment interchangeably. Many will disagree that that should happen, that they are somewhat different. You may have a bond with … you may talk about having a bond with someone else in your life, maybe a teacher or a neighbor, but of course that relationship is very different from the strong attachment you’re going to have to a parent.

An adopted child may feel some sort of bond with their birth parent, but they may not actually have an attachment relationship with that birth parent. There is a slight between those two, and I think mostly today what we want to focus on is attachment.

Jennifer J.: Okay, and so you’re-

Kris Burow: I think the other comment maybe to make is that there is some value in people learning about different attachment styles. That’s something we also talk about in adoption. How you were raised and what your attachment style was as a child. There may be, there’s what they call secure attachment, anxious or preoccupied attachment, so there’s some different attachment styles that professionals talk about as well.

Jennifer J.: I know that you’ll get into some resources a little bit later in our conversation, but I think that in terms of those different attachment styles for families who are new to this or unfamiliar with this concept, there’s a wealth of information available to them to learn about their attachment style or maybe their own childhood experiences with attachment too. We also know, Kris, that there are misconceptions about what this looks like practically speaking. What do you think is important to understand about attachment?

Kris Burow: I would say one of the things going into an adoption is to understand that attachment is a process and it takes time, it’s not … I think people like to think about well when you see the child is it love at first sight? That probably very seldom is the case. Attaching really takes time. It takes time for the child to attach to you and it takes time for the parent to attach to the child.

Everyone’s experience may be a little bit different. You and the child may be on different timelines, but I think it’s important not to be over concerned if you don’t think attachment is coming as quickly as you might hope. I think that’s something pretty important to keep in mind as you go into an adoption situation.

I think some other things to know that are important for adoption is that if a child has learned to attach in one situation, they most often can transfer that attachment in another situation, so the child’s history with secure and trusting relationships can be important.

Jennifer J.: And you know I like, Kris, that you mentioned love at first sight. That’s been included as part of the title of today’s podcast and I think that there is … people tend to kind of love the fairy tale, the happily ever after ending in movies and in life in general and that’s what we look for. I think that sometimes in the field of adoption, for a family who’s waited for a very long time for an adoption, it does feel like a fairy tale and dreams coming true to become parents.

Some people, while we’re talking today about attachment being a process, you know I think it’s fair to say that in some cases, from a parent’s perspective sometimes they do feel that love at first sight or that fairy tale ending, but you know today we’re focusing a little bit on what that process is for some families who may not have that love at first sight feeling. Would you say that’s a fair synopsis that it’s not a one size fits all?

Kris Burow: No, absolutely not. It’s going to be very different from one situation to another. Even for both parents who have given birth to biological children and in adoption situations I’ve heard parents say, “Well, it was a different experience from my first child to my second child and how long it took or how that relationship developed.” Each situation is unique and I think that’s important to remember.

Jennifer J.: When we’re talking about, you know, you talked about different circumstances and different adoptions, along that same mindset, how does the process of attachment differ between domestic and international adoption?

Kris Burow: Likely one of the most significant factors is not whether it was a domestic versus an international adoption, but rather what the life experiences have been for that child until they come to the adoptive home. That being said, I think one of the good things with an international adoption is that for the most part, the children have lived in orphanages, and of course, in an orphanage you’re going to have multiple caregivers. Even if they’ve been very positive relationships with the caregivers, the reality is every eight, or 10, or 12 hours, you have a turnover of who your caregiver is. You haven’t really learned what it means to have a parent to have one or two people in your life who are very significant who are your most significant relationships. It’s been a very different experience.

Of course, here in the United States, we have not have orphanages for many, many years. Our children who go through our child welfare system are most often in foster homes and even in those situations there can be very positive learning about what in a parent relationship is and that there’s one or two significant people who are going to care for you, and so the child learns to trust and feels secure.

Again, if they can do that in one situation, most often a child will be able to transfer that attachment style to another situation. I think that’s the orphanage versus no orphanage certainly is a factor there. Other than that, it is the history for the child, what their life experiences have been, how old they were when they adopted, and those things can be very similar in both domestic and international adoption.

Jennifer J.: Yeah, thank you for pointing that out. Yeah, it’s not so much the adoption program per se, but the early life experiences of the child. What are some things that parents can do, Kris, to promote a healthy bond and attachment with their child?

Kris Burow: Maybe going back a little bit to the last question then moving into the question you just asked, I think many adoption experts will say that if an adoptive parent is able to adopt a newborn child shortly after birth, they will say well they are really kind of working with the child as if they’ve had no prior experience. For many that’s true. There are some who will place more significance on the prebrith relationship. Even a child in the womb gets used to her birth mother’s heartbeat, her birth mother’s voice, even though it may be muffled while the baby’s in utero, but just even hearing the cadences of her voice and how she uses her voice. Those become somewhat familiar.

Even for a newborn going into an adoptive home, there are some differences. You are going to want to be doing things to help your child get used to your heartbeat. As an adoptive parent, to your voice, how your household sounds are, your newborn is even adjusting and making that transition from what was known in utero to your home.

There’s many good pieces of advice. You mentioned resources early in the conversation and certainly one of my top pieces of advice is that people do as much education about attachment and bonding and other adoption issues prior to the adoption. Read, read, read is what I tell people. There’s awesome articles and books now available. I would say that’s probably one of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in the 18 years that I’ve been doing this work, is the availability of excellent education materials for adoptive parents.

Some of my favorite books, I mentioned Deborah Gray, Attaching in Adoption. There’s another book called Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections, and that book, it’s a series of articles by both adoption experts, professionals, and adoptive parents. They cover a multitude of topics in that book, so that’s a great book as well. The Connected Child, Karyn Purvis, is a well known adoption expert, and out of her work at Texas Christian University, they have created what they call the TBRI Institute. That’s called trust-based relational intervention, so that’s another excellent resource.

In terms of concrete things that people can do to promote healthy attachment, knowing and understanding the attachment cycle is very important. It’s very simply, for today’s conversation, a child is aroused and we call it the arousal cycle, where they have a need, either they’re hungry, or they’re cold, they’re uncomfortable, they’re wet, something is going on in their life that they don’t like. Then they communicate that they’re uncomfortable, which typically is crying or fussing, and then they’re hoping someone will come and meet that need.

So this cycle goes on and on thousands of times in a young child’s life. The point is for any parent to come and satisfy the need of that child and as that need gets satisfied is they can begin to trust and learn that someone’s going to care for them. That’s how they learn to trust and feel secure in life, and then that trust and security transfers over into all the rest of their relationships throughout their life. Understanding that attachment cycle is very important.

Back to what things can you do. Deborah Gray gives some very concrete things that people can do. Gentle touch with the child, having the child hear your heartbeat as I mentioned, learning the touch of your skin, of your body, the odors of your body, all those things are very important. I think using a calm and soothing voice, singing to your child, reading books to them even very young children, even newborns I think is very important. Having a predictable and calm home environment is very important.

Especially in adoption situations, we really encourage people to limit visitors initially when you bring the child home. You want the child to learn that you are the significant person in their life, the two parents are the significant person, and so having lots of people streaming through the house initially may be somewhat confusing to the child, so we tell people to avoid large family gatherings. We don’t want them to be passing the baby around at family gatherings. The baby should be in your arms so that they know you’re the one taking care of them and protecting them in kind of a new and different situation. Those are some of the things you can do. Deborah Gray-

Jennifer J.: Thanks Kris.

Kris Burow: … will talk about … yeah?

Jennifer J.: Oh, I was just going to ask you, you mentioned also as part of the limiting of visitors, the importance of establishing routines. Could you talk just a little bit more or elaborate on that for us?

Kris Burow: Well, a consistent, daily routine. Again, having the home be fairly calm and quiet. I know I would encourage parents to take as much parental leave as they possibly can from their work and so that you can establish this good and healthy routine, and quiet and calm routine for the child. Some of the things Deborah Gray will mention is when you are with the child, be with the child. At feeding time you want to be making a lot of eye contact with the child, and play time as well. The touch and the eye contact are important.

She’ll say put away the phones, put away the computer, put away the TV. When you’re with the child, fully be with the child. That can be something that’s kind of important and even playing games with the child, family time, things that you’re doing that are interactive, face to face, all of those kinds of things can be important.

Jennifer J.: Well, thank you for that. Anything else before we move on, Kris? We’ve been talking about tips for promoting a healthy attachment.

Kris Burow: I think sometimes people can worry about when they’re seeing signs that maybe attachment is not going as well. Things that they can kind of look for as the child progresses with their attachment is when they are in new situations, does the child look back to you, to the parent? Are they wanting to come back to you? Are they making good eye contact for you? Are they reaching out for you? Those are the kinds of things that people can be aware of to know that the attachment is progressing so …

Jennifer J.: If someone is concerned that either they as the parent or their child may be having some issues with attaching, what should they do?

Kris Burow: I would suggest that they, if they’re … first of all, probably give it some time. I would initially, as time goes on, if they become concerned, go back to the people who assisted them with the adoption and talk things through and say, “This is what I’m seeing. This is what I’m noticing. What do you think? What are some more things I can be doing to promote good and healthy attachment?”

But if, as time goes on, if you’re still having concerns, and again working with the adoption agency that you connected with, involving a professional at the therapy level would be good. You know, speaking with a specialist about attachment and adoption issues and there are therapists in almost every community across the state where there are therapists who’ve specialized in this. Involving professionals is very important as time goes on.

Jennifer J.: Yeah, and I like what you said, Kris, first give it a little time because some of our families are so anxious to do the right thing for this child that they’ve longed and waiting for, and they want to do what’s best and so sometimes that ends up in rushing things and the need for perfection. Give it some time and then as you said there’s the level of the agency, reaching out to your agency, and then beyond that, therapists and other resources.

You mentioned earlier too about in the preparedness phase of this, which also would relate to what we’re talking about now after a child is home continuing the education from the parental perspective, continuing to be knowledgeable about the information that’s readily available I think is important too. We are approaching the end of the show. Kris, we’ve got a little extra time here if there was anything else you felt that we needed to pay a little more attention to, anything else we should discuss today?

Kris Burow: We’ve covered a lot of the material that I was thinking about. I think one of the points Deborah Gray makes in some of the articles she’s written is just kind of a fun way to the end the interview and that is to develop a pattern of having fun together as a family. Shared enjoyment times really helps to cement relationships, so that gets back to playing games with the children. Things that promote the eye contact, for very young children that’s peek-a-boo, playing hide and seek. Children love that. Toddlers love that. Those are the kinds of things that can be really important as you’re moving through this attachment journey with your child.

Jennifer J.: Also that opportunity just to hold your child when you’re reading a book. Being-

Kris Burow: Oh, absolutely.

Jennifer J.: … physically connected to each other.

Kris Burow: Yes.

Jennifer J.: So, Kris, we very much appreciate your time and more importantly your information today on what is a really important topic. Thank you.

Kris Burow: You’re welcome. I’m glad to do it.

Jennifer J.: For those of you that are listening and maybe interested in connecting, reaching out to Adoption Associates, you can reach us at 800-677-2367 and you can also reach us on the web at Another great big thank you to Kris Burow for today.

We will continue to offer Adoption Focus Podcast live on Tuesdays at 11:00, and we do hope that you continue to join us for that programming as you listen, learn, and grow in adoption. Next week we’ll be hearing from a young woman who made an adoption plan about her story and experiences and topics that are important to her. Thanks again for your listenership. For now, this is Jennifer on Adoption Focus. Have a great day everyone. Bye bye.