Cocooning After Adoption

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GAB Photography, LLC

Your new child’s world just changed. Your world did too. And somehow you’re to figure out how to blend those two worlds — histories — into a new normal, a new love, a new family.

The honeymoon period feels like the stars are dancing through the skies, aligning to bring each person into your family together. The giggles and joy echo through your home and the first fruits of connection are ever so sweet and sacred.

But soon enough, everything starts to feel uncertain. With lack of sleep, big emotions, and probably some behavioral struggles or misunderstandings, you may start to feel scared for the moments and days, weeks, months, years ahead. At the end of the day, you just don’t know how this new life will work its way out. Hopefully, someone will lovingly inform you that you don’t have to have it all figured out.

Some days, you feel elated and relieved to be home with your family — that sweet babe you fought long and hard for is finally in your arms. You’re soaking up these days all alone as a new family.

Some days, after you comfort your child grieving for their old “normal”, you may actually grieve for the life you had before too. This one is hard and different. But you feel shame in admitting that because after all, YOU chose this path. Hopefully, someone in your circle shares with you that you’re not alone in that feeling. You’re not a bad mom for grieving too.

Some days, you feel like a rockstar mother. You CELEBRATE over new milestones — for your child, yourself, or your family as a whole in this new season!

Other days you’re unsure if you are really enough for your child. You’re at a loss as to how to help your child adjust, and how to cope with everything yourself. You may have other family members struggling too, and it may all feel like too much.

You teeter. You either strive so joyfully to do the intentional, challenging work of connecting and bonding. Or sometimes you call it a day early, eat all the comfort food, and lay around watching TV with your kid just to make it through. Some days you beat yourself up over not doing more, and probably not keeping yourself together. Mom guilt seems to be lurking at every corner.

Some days, you may not even have those strong, motherly feelings in the thick of it all. That in itself scares you. Hopefully, someone reminds you to put one foot in front of the other — to keep doing the work of love. It’s the actions that precede the feelings in tough moments.

Most days you feel some version of tired. Sometimes you realize you forgot to feed your own face, and oh — time outside would be good for everyone too.

Some days you cry.

Some days you laugh endlessly.

It can be hard to see past the fog of uncertainty, confusion, and exhaustion in front of you. But for this season, you’re to BE at home. You’re in survival mode. All these feelings are completely typical during this season of cocooning with your new child. This is the hard work that brings a family to fruition.

Cocoon (verb): to envelop or surround in a protective or comforting way

What is cocooning?

After adopting a child of any age, cocooning is a period of time in which the family intentionally pulls back from the busyness and social expectations of life. The family purposefully makes their adopted child’s new “world” as small as possible for a time. It’s a choice made by the new parents to slow down and help solidify the most important relationships in their child’s life. After all, these relationships — parent(s), sibling(s) — are brand new.

Why is cocooning important?

Children who are adopted don’t have the luxury of getting to know their forever parents innately from the womb. In instances where a child isn’t adopted right at birth, there may be multiple caregivers in their young lifetime. With multiple placements comes multiple broken attachments. A child learns to trust their caregiver, then for whatever reason (be it a change to/in foster care, institutional care, or adoption) the child loses that initial caregiver and has to adjust to a new one. Over time, with multiple caregivers, this takes a toll on a child’s heart and attachment capabilities. Cocooning is a way to meet the child where they’re at, with full attention to bonding with one another and creating trust in the child’s heart.

What may cocooning look like?

It varies by family. There is no one-size-fits-all. However, an initial cocooning timeframe typically lasts between several weeks to months, depending on the family’s capabilities and the child’s needs. It may be a time where the extended family is asked to give some space, and friend visits are on pause as the family adjusts. The new parents take this time to get to know their child and consistently meet their child’s needs, for survival and connection. They are the only ones to provide food, bathe, diaper/assist with toileting if needed, hold, hug, kiss, comfort, and put the child to bed. It is important for the new parents to prove to their child, over and over again, that they are the child’s parents.

Cocooning also looks different depending on the age of the child. In our experience with toddler adoption, we tried to keep in mind that with our child’s placement into our home, their emotional age started at “birth” again. Our sons had to relearn trust, attachment, and love with us. Along with providing for physical and emotional needs, we aimed to dial things back to babyhood with them: physically feeding as they allowed us, cradling, and carrying them close to us as much as possible. Now, this isn’t recommended for a newly adopted teenager, obviously. But the mindset of the new parents should be about connecting with their child on deep levels as much as possible, especially in these early days of building trust.

Taking time away from the rest of the world, and setting boundaries with others is the most beneficial decision you can make for your new child and your growing family. Later on down the road, you may even find at different times that you need to pull back in as a family again. Becoming a family through adoption takes time, but oh, is it worth it to experience the miraculous growth together.

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