Not bonding with newly adopted child

Dear SMCS,

I’m struggling with feelings I never thought I would have for my newly adopted 4-year-old son. It took a few months to come to grips with the fact that I do not love him the same as I do my 8-year-old biological son. It had not occurred to me that that was possible. It was somewhat therapeutic just recognizing it for what it is worth. I would like to think this difference will fade with time.

Responses from Our Wise SMC Forum Members:
“I hope you can give yourself a break. A 4-year-old comes with his own history, complicated by the whole issue of transition, further complicated with whatever trauma might exist related to his previous history and post-institutional stuff. The chances are very strong that the boy you are parenting now will be very different once he develops the confidence to know that you are his mom forever and he gets to know you and his brother, just as you get to know him.”

“I love my daughter and would do anything for her. But that deep connection of mother/daughter is missing, at least on my part. My daughter has TOTALLY bonded with me. Thinking about it, it could be that I don’t “love” motherhood. This weekend was the first time I said out loud, “I don’t feel like her mother.” I didn’t like how it sounded and burst into tears. All my friends are supportive and it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

“My personal opinions after adopting two children is that sometimes we feel as though we have to be happy and if we don’t…then there is a huge amount of shame. I adopted twice and I can tell you the experiences were very different. It took me about 8 months to feel like my first daughter’s mother. With my second adoption, I felt love much quicker yet I didn’t really like this little girl. She was angry, stubborn, and not very cute. She will soon be home for a year and I can’t tell you the difference. I just love this child. Never could I have pictured how well we would all be doing since the adoption in China and the first couple of months home were brutal. So be gentle with yourself. This is a huge life change.

“I wonder if parents in general can sometimes love children differently (regardless of whether adopted or biological) simply because each child has a different personality and “chemistry” with his/her parents…and by “loving differently” it doesn’t necessarily imply a better/worse comparison.

“You don’t say how long you have had your son, but if he is “newly adopted,” I think it’s likely your love will grow over time. I started to connect with my adopted son on about the third day of his arrival, but it took at least six months for me to love him really deeply. My daughter (2) is about arrive from the same orphanage, and I’m thinking it may take months for me to love her as deeply as I do my son. FWIW: my stepmother, who birthed four children, once remarked that she never loved a just-born baby as much as the children she already had, that it took time to develop the relationship. I think it’s possible what you’re experiencing may not be completely driven by the “biological” versus “adopted” distinction.

“Children have different needs that they need fulfilled by their mothers. Some children need more cuddling; others need more limits; others need more protection. As mothers, we respond to that.

“I brought my son home right from the hospital and basically did all the care after his birth. Around day six, a friend called to see how it was going and I fell apart crying on the phone. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and didn’t really like this creature who sucked all the energy out of me. I was the friend everyone loved to watch their kids and now I couldn’t handle one little baby. My friend who has a bio son told me she used to lay on the floor in the nursery and sob for hours after he was born.

“I had very similar feelings after I brought my daughter home. It felt like to wasn’t real, like any minute the movie would be over and the “real parents” would come home from their night out. My daughter, however, bonded to me almost instantly. It has now been a year and 5 months since we arrived home, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I am her mom, but there are still times when I wonder if I would be feeling a stronger connection had she come from me. But that’s not terribly significant to me on a day-to-day basis since she is so clearly the joy of my life.

“I have many of the same feelings. Rather than feeling like a mom, I feel more like mother bear—very protective. I would do anything to keep her safe and I can’t imagine life without her. But I don’t always feel like a mom. I think that’s perfectly normal, even for biological moms. Shortly after I returned home with my daughter, my sister told me she didn’t feel like a mom right away with her biological son.”

“I’ve definitely felt that way. I still do, sometimes, when I have the guilts about not spending enough time, not showing enough patience, worrying about work when I should be focused on her (a “real” mommy wouldn’t feel/act that way, right?). I actually talked to a therapist about it, and it’s not abnormal. The bottom line is, even though I feel that way sometimes, it doesn’t negate the fact that I absolutely adore her and can’t imagine my life without her. Babysitter or mommy, she is the best part of my life.
“I did have that “more like a caregiver” feeling with my adopted daughter. She came home when she was 23 months old after living with a foster family in Romania. Shortly after we brought her home, I started emailing the foster family with updates—they loved her and missed her so much. But I felt she was more their daughter than mine. I loved her from the beginning, just didn’t feel like I was the mom. I do now. She has now been home with us two years. With my biological son, I felt like his mom from the minute he was born, if not before. But I’ve read the posts where women say they didn’t feel like that with their biological children. I love them both very much, but it took me a while to feel like my daughter’s mom.

“A friend of mine with two bio kids tells me that she periodically loses that mothering feeling (her oldest is now 10!), in part because each new stage of her kids’ lives in some ways means that she is learning a new way to be a mom. So she feels like she doesn’t know what she’s doing, which makes her feel less like a “mom” and more like a caregiver. My daughter is now 2 and a few months… and I’ve been with her since she was 4 months old. I still go in and out of that feeling, and think that may always be the case. Like the others, though, I adore her, can’t imagine life without her, and am amazed by the power of my fierce mother bear instincts. Anyone messes with my baby, they’d better watch out!!! That is pretty powerful mom stuff.

“It took me a LONG time to feel like I loved my son. I would read all these postings about how parents were so thrilled to be home with their babies and loved them instantly. I felt like a monster. I felt terribly guilty. Shortly after we returned from Kaz, I told my therapist how I was feeling — not love, but actually put upon by this little creature I had brought into my life. I called it “the dirty little secret of motherhood.” I hated motherhood for a long time, felt I had made a big mistake. After we had been home four months, another mom in my neighborhood told me that about three weeks after she gave birth to her son, she told her husband, “We’ve made a terrible mistake.” By the time I she told me this, she felt differently, but I can’t tell you how comforting it was to hear another mom openly express the feelings I was having.”


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