For the first eight months of his life, my grandson spent 24 hours per day, seven days a week with his mother. Together constantly, he bonded deeply with her. Unfortunately, I don’t think the reverse was true. At two months of age, she wanted to leave him with me and go live in another state. When the judge told her no, she seemed to accept that. From outward appearances she seemed to live her life focused on him. In retrospect I can pick out various little signs that all was not well, but I was blinded at the time.
When he was eight months old, she asked me to babysit while she went shopping and did not return. This led to a chain of events that resulted in him being removed from her care and placed with me. DCYF ordered that she could not return to my house to live. In order to get him back, she had to find stable housing and get a job. It did not take long for her to realize that those goals might be beyond her ability to achieve at that time. She asked me to adopt him, and left the state.
So suddenly, his Mom was just gone. I remember looking at him lying in the crib and we were staring into each other’s eyes. “It’s just you and me now Buddy,” I told him. To say that I was unprepared to raise an infant at my age and at that time in my life was an understatement. I knew though, that I could never let him go into foster care and that somehow we had to make it work.
I could tell you all about the little trials and tribulations. I can talk about the weeks I couldn’t work until I found a good daycare, about adapting to a new schedule that included night wakeups, about the level of energy required to parent an active baby, figuring out WIC and formula, diapers and wipes and the newfangled things for kids nowadays. I could tell you about doing all of this while grieving for my grandson, my daughter, my mother who had just passed, and for myself and my lost life plans. But mostly, I want to talk about the grief of my grandson, who suddenly lost his most beloved person and source of his joy and security.
It is hard to witness the grief and depression of a small baby. Many times when he would wake, he would turn away from me, turn to the wall and just curl up in a fetal position. Gone were the smiles and giggles. Out of seemingly nowhere, he would just throw himself on the ground and howl with grief and pain. He could not even hear me and my attempts to comfort him. Those episodes could last for hours and I learned to just sit nearby and wait until they were done before I could pick him up and rock him. As the months went by, he started having nightmares frequently, in which he would wail, “Mommy, Mommy, Noooooooooo!” Eventually his grief turned to anger.
As he became a toddler, he became aggressive and oppositional. At daycare, he would bite and hit. At home, everything became a struggle. Just changing his diaper became an ordeal. Cooperation in anything was not on the table. His will was stronger than mine. He began to hit and bite me at times, and to hide from me. It got to the point that I would be in tears by the time I got him ready for daycare and myself ready for work. That is when I knew that I needed help and I needed help fast. I was a wreck.
Somebody recommended Dr. Walker to me, as an expert on attachment. I went to see him, and was surprised that I really didn’t have a chance to talk all that much. Dr. Walker told me many stories and parables. When I analyzed them, I realized how instructive they were, and how they pointed to strategies on how to handle these difficult behaviors. More important, I learned how to think about why these behaviors were occurring. Just addressing the behaviors without having the overall understanding of what lie behind the behaviors is not going to be effective in the long run. I saw Dr. Walker until I felt I had enough tools to work with, and things had improved quite a bit. He told me that in cases of attachment issues and interruptions, that it was likely for me to have to see him periodically over the years. He said that things would improve, then there might be another rough period.
Dr. Walker speaks from more than just his professional and clinical experience. He has raised kids with attachment disorders, and knows whereof he speaks! True to his predictions, we were fine for a couple of years and then a whole new set of challenges popped up. I went back, and am now implementing some new strategies that I have learned. His strategies sometimes seem like the opposite of how you would handle things with kids who have not experienced trauma, but they work! No more tears in the morning.
I would strongly encourage any of you out there who are raising kids with attachment issues to seek out help. Sometimes good professional help is hard to find, but keep looking! In addition to clinical support, seek out other parents on this journey. It is so relieving to be with people who totally get it. People who can top your stories with even crazier stories. People who don’t judge you by your child’s behavior. People who will actually watch your kid for a few hours while you go out, read or take a nap. If you have ever thought, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore” please come and find us. We have all thought that at one time or another, and still we carry on. The load is lighter when shared!