What does it mean to belong? As a baby its first attachment or bond is to its birth parent or parents. The baby depends on this caregiver for life itself as well as a developing awareness of self. To belong to another defines us, helps us to grow and creates a secure base from which to live life.
Fast forward several months or years then to when an adopted child is placed with their new forever family. Now what does it mean to belong?
What does it mean to belong to a family that doesn’t look like you, sound like you or smell like you? How can we truly belong to a family with whom we don’t even have a shared history or experiences never mind DNA?
As an adoptive Mum I believe that the connection of belonging has to be worked at. As an adopter I have come to believe in re-creation, not creation. Blood does not tie my son to me or his Dad but the act of choosing him was our starting point instead and the bond or attachment grew from there.
We were lucky in love. Our darling son opened his heart in foster care where it was filled with love and positive affirmation and he was ready to continue with us; to love and receive love.
Being available was the first way that we established an attachment with him. Having a good amount of adoption leave and then my not continuing with work meant we were able to be devoted to his care. Making daily life into predictable routines meant he learnt to trust us and feel secure and taking the trouble to show deep concern every time he hurt himself showed him our protecting love.
Creating a new family identity was key to his sense of belonging too. Photos of him around the house, giving him our surname, placing him on the family tree and letting him choose new family traditions added to this.
We are three and a half years in now and it seems to be a good point to wonder about how much we feel that we belong to each other. For me, I feel like a limb is missing when he is not around! For him, we asked him whether we still feel like a new family, to which he replied in a bemused tone, “well you’re just Mum and Dad”. So I guess that says it all!
In three and a half years we have created our own albeit short history. Repetition in the way you celebrate special days or where you go on holiday or even what you have for breakfast at the weekends is really crucial. ‘We do it this way in our family’ is a key concept to belonging.’My Mum makes it this way’, ‘ we watch this together as a family’ or ‘Dad takes me swimming on Saturdays’ are the things that create your family’s unique identity.
When we meet people who don’t know that we are an adoptive family and they tell my son that he looks like his Dad it always makes me smile. And he does. He has the same mannerisms now, the same way of expressing things.
Yet in his darker moments or when he feels anxious doubt can creep in. Only this week he asked me, “Can you de-son me, Mummy?” In other words, ‘do we really belong together forever?’ It’s a state of belonging that is often taken for granted within a birth family, but the fragility of that attachment surfaces sometimes in a sad and frightening way.
I’m glad he was able to bring his question to me though. It gave me the opportunity to hopefully give him the reassurance he was seeking and the necessary reminder that our being a family, our belonging to one another is an on-going process that always needs to be worked at.