Building bonds with your baby can be an emotional endeavor if you are convinced there are only a few basic ways to do it, but relax -- there are plenty! As an adoptive mom of two boys born five weeks apart, we’ve learned to think beyond the boob -- there are so many ways intentionality can lead to strong bonds that bring families together in special, intimate ways that are unique to you.
In the beginning, I couldn’t feed our boys from my breast, so we figured out how to make bottle feeding a sweet and intentional time with them. Not breastfeeding was something I grieved at first, but eventually learned to celebrate -- our special connection from parent to child was strong, as we learned to provide for their needs and go the extra mile to give them the healthiest options available through milk sharing.
We’ve learned so much since then about intentionality and seizing moments. We didn’t know their time as bottle-dependent infants would speed by so rapidly. My wise cousin once said “Long days, short months,” and boy, was she right! I grieved the day I packed away the bottles. What had become an instrument of bonding between us needed to be shed so the sippy cups and plastic utensils and dishes could take over meal times. I thought things like that would never carry that same intimacy as being their source for food, for quality nourishment and sweet cuddles. But I quickly learned that as they grow, every meal time means I have the chance to make great choices for them and know I’m doing my best to nourish them. That as they become more adventurous and climb, jump, and practice walking, those boo-boos and scrapes are the chance for me to comfort them. To encourage and show them how much I love them and always scoop them up when they fall. As they get older, they’re able to understand more, to give their own affection, and to have special “us only” affections. One of my sons recently melted down in the grocery store and when I finally got him into the van, I picked up my other son who gave me the most intentional, tight bear hug and pat on the back, as if to say
“I get it, mom. That was rough. I see you. I love you. I appreciate you.”
It was my favorite moment with him, and it’s ours. It’s special to him and to me -- a true bonding moment.
We learned that we can continue to create bonds with our boys by embracing their history and educating ourselves on important cultural aspects. We opened our hearts, minds, and relational capacities to commit to honoring our children by connecting with their birth families through our open adoption relationships. We made an effort to reach for the relationships, even when fear told us to pull back. Celebrating milestones and having conversations about our children’s biological families has helped us bond with our boys and their biological families.
Celebrating their first birthday -- a sweet milestone for all families, of course – is twofold for adoptive families. In that first year, so many papers are finally signed, court dates come and go, and big checks clear the bank. A sigh of, “we made it!” hits you at that first year, and you start to feel like you’re really becoming a family -- one that was meant to be all along.
We invited our boys’ birth families to join us to celebrate -- without them, there would be no happy family for us! As white parents who’ve adopted children of color in open adoption relationships, we have so much to learn which requires us to put ourselves out there, even when it feels safer or easier to pull back, sit tight, and just be “us”. But we are committed, and we’ve seen bonds form with their birth families that are indescribable and important. They’ve embraced us as we’ve embraced them with their cultures. We’ve learned through this unique process and family expression that we are able to expand our minds and hearts, and that when we do, we can understand and bond with our sweet kiddos in a much more complete and necessary way.
A family member spoke for what seems like most of our friends and relatives by recently saying “You guys just do things differently.” At first I was thinking that was meant to be a criticism, but I decided to receive it as a compliment, after my husband reminded me,
“Babe, we’re weird. We cloth diaper, give our kids coconut milk, and they’ve never had a chicken nugget. We aren’t normal.”
Whether you love your disposables, your kids can’t get enough of cows’ milk, or nuggets are the only thing they’ll eat (which means YOU’RE WINNING, THEY’RE FED!), your story and our story aren’t going to look like each other’s. We’ve started to really love that.
I hope you’ll allow yourselves to really love that too.
We believe our family is one that intentionally looks a bit different, because of who we are and how we’re wired. Every family is valuable and a treasure and we do ourselves a disservice when we compare or settle into the lie that we’re “boring” or “normal.” Your family bond will gain strength as you embrace the special details of personalities, relationships, and desires. You will become a more settled unit, embracing the “us” and “we” that is so longed for. Bonds that bind are ones that are intentional, full of love, and mutually loyal to one another, and that makes you unique.
As our children continue to grow, we see a few specific opportunities for bonding, like spending intentional one-on-one time. Mentors of ours have made it a point to do “date nights” with each child individually, once a month or quarter, making special time for conversation to get to know our children on a deeper level. This special time is something that both the parent and child look forward to: a moment where they truly feel seen. We see this as an awesome opportunity for attachment to develop over the lifetime of our children; to know them in new ways and to truly lend our ears to listen to their hearts and their dreams and fears. They are created so uniquely, so specifically -- how can we take the time to bond with these beautiful creatures by gifting our time? Children learn about love and life from their families, and we have a great opportunity to make our relationships solid foundations for our kids to build from. They learn about love and respect, and even that they aren’t the center of the universe! Quite frankly, we need more selfless humans in this world. Understanding that their parents need and want this relationship to be strong and well cared for is huge for children!
Cultivate new memories and “favorites”. My dad used to take my brother and I for donuts, and then we’d go to our “secret spot” to watch a waterfall in the heart of our town. Those Saturday mornings are etched in my mind. Nothing fancy or over-the-top -- just donuts, quality time, and a “special” component. It was that “something special” that made it unique to us; no one else knew about it or could compete with it. When our kids reflect on their childhood, will they be able to point to special times when they felt truly seen and enjoyed by their parents? Making memories builds bonds that last forever.
We’re no experts at family building after a mere year-and-some-change, but what we have seen is that love is the tie that binds. It may sound cliché, but love is truly what makes a family. Feeding can be a special bonding time, whether you’re breastfeeding, pumping, or strictly bottle-feeding. Don’t buy the lie that if you aren’t able to or you prefer not to breastfeed that you won’t be able to bond with your baby. For adoptive families especially, you may feel challenged to find ways to bond, but demonstrating some creativity as you get to know your child will really help your unique family expression start to build.
Make memories. Seize moments. Create special times that mean so much to your children. Remember, building bonds goes well beyond the boob -- you have a whole lifetime ahead with your baby!
Missed Part I or Part II? Be sure to check them out! In Part I, Jen shares how she was able to bond with her children through feeding without breastfeeding. In Part II, Jen talks about how she bonded with her 1yo babies by getting to know a more about them.