This week we spoke to Ben, from our Truth be Told podcast. After a busy life working in London, Ben decided to embark on a new chapter and start a family with his partner in Wales. We discussed the attachment process and how the connection isn’t always instant.
For anyone who has not listened to the podcast yet, can you just tell us a little bit about your adoption journey?
My partner and I adopted our son three and a half years ago. I’d been thinking about having a family and wanted to raise a child for a long time. As a gay man, adoption was always in the back of my mind as the way in which I would start a family of my own.
On the podcast, some of the adopters talked about there being a honeymoon period when your child first comes home - did you experience that and did that play a role in the attachment process?
We definitely did experience what we called the honeymoon period on the podcast. Our son was being very compliant during the first couple of months which I think from speaking to other adopters, is quite common with adopted children. Once they get more comfortable and feel safe, that’s when the bonding process can really start, and you each begin to figure out your roles and how they all fit together for you to function as a family.
Once everything was a bit more settled, was there a moment where you realised the honeymoon period was over and that reality was kicking in?
For us there definitely was a period of adjustment following the honeymoon period, but I also think that’s a process you have to go through in order to get to the next stage where every-day life can happen.
As we adopted quite late in life, we’d had a long period where we weren’t parents and weren’t responsible for a child, so it was a big change for us too.
I think the honeymoon period is where your dreams of a family first comes true and then you have a bit of a reality check when everyday life resumes. For us, that actually coincided with our son beginning to attach and bond with us, which I think happens when they start trusting you and feeling safe.
Once we got used to living and functioning as a family – that’s when he was able to be more himself and act his age which for children means pushing boundaries. It’s what kids do as they develop, so that was a good thing and it showed that he was comfortable enough around us to do that.
What did you do to try and help him form an attachment to you during that time?
We tried our best to keep it very simple and stayed in our local area and at home a lot to make sure he didn’t just attach to us, but also to the environment. We tried to keep it to just us and him at first to make sure we spent a lot of time with each other and meet all of his needs.
The key is to make sure it’s you that’s picking up your child, bathing them, feeding them and putting them to bed. We tried to keep things familiar for him, so we used the same bedding, washing powder and gave him the same breakfast that he was used to from his foster parents. We encouraged him to play with the toys he enjoyed at his foster parents’ and tried to transfer as much as we could from one environment to the next.
It’s a pragmatic and practical approach but it really worked for us. Bonding and attachment isn’t an exact science and there’s not a perfect formula you can follow to get it right because it’ll be different for everyone.
When did you introduce your son to your friends and family?
Like all people who’ve just started a family we wanted to share that joy with our friends and family but we tried our best to do it gradually, so we didn’t overload him and so we could be sure it happened at a pace that was comfortable for him.
You’ve spoken openly and honestly about how the bonding experience was different for you and your partner; can you tell us a bit more about that?
I attached and bonded with our son very quickly but the message I want to convey is that it looks and feels different for everyone, including my partner. Like with anything in life, things happen that you’re not expecting.
Within two months of our son arriving and both of us falling in love with him, my partner was unexpectedly hospitalised and was there for a long time before coming home which did disrupt his attachment with our son. One of the things we did to work through this was to have lots of very honest and open conversations about our feelings.
We then tried to help move the bonding process along as a couple and a family by making sure that my partner was the one putting our son to bed, taking him to the park and reading to him. We just made sure that they got that time together to bond.
I think it’s important to remember that just as much as you can’t force yourself to feel certain things, you can’t make the child feel or do certain things, it has to happen naturally and you have to trust the process.
My partner and son have had a wonderful and different attachment journey to the one I experienced. As a result, they’ve got a very different and unique bond to the one I have with our son. But I think it’s normal for parents to have different relationships with their children.
Do you do anything now three years later to make sure that the bond is kept strong for all of you?
We do our best to always tell him how loved and wanted he is, so he knows he’s safe with us. He is a wonderful, beautiful and funny child but he does have insecurities. His self-esteem is fragile which is understandable considering everything he went through before coming to us. We just do our best to make sure he knows we will always be there for him.
Do you have any advice for anyone going through the adoption process?
Be kind to yourself. If you are going through it with a partner, - talk to each other and if you’re going through it as a single adopter, make sure you have a support network of family or friends you can talk to. Remember it’s all a process and if at any point you feel like it’s going too fast or you need a break, you can speak up and say that. I think people sometimes feel guilty about expressing that but ultimately it has to be right for you.
To hear more from Ben and the other adopters about creating a bond their adoptive children, tune in to episode five of the Truth be Told podcast.