For couples who are about to adopta baby, there are a lot of unknowns. If you’re in this position, you’re probably constantly fantasizing about that moment when you hold your baby or child in your arms for the first time. Like a biological mother, you know that this moment will be emotional for you and your child.

No matter where you need to travel to meet your child for the first time, you assume that you’ll feel a bond. Unfortunately, many adoptive parents are surprised to find that they don’t have that immediate bond they’d always dreamed of when they meet their child for the first time. Before you meet your child, you need to understand how a bond is really formed, and that there is a difference between bonding and attachment.

Many of us assume that young babies can’t possibly have any attachment issues since they haven’t had a chance to really build any true relationships. We also assume that older children could have issues with bonding for the opposite reason. In reality, an adopted child or baby of any age might have attachment issues because they have not yet learned what the meaning of a bond actually is. A baby might not realize the true role of a caregiver because they aren’t used to attention, and a young child might not know the meaning of love and attachment. It is your role as an adoptive parent to get beyond the initial shock of your child’s ambivalence and start to build a bond. A bond will be formed when you meet your child’s every need and prove that you can be relied on, whereas attachment is a relationship that grows over time.

Before you meet the child you’re adopting, assume that he or she will be ambivalent. It will take time for you both to grow accustomed to each other, but the best thing you can do is meet your child’s every need and eventually a bond based on trust and love will form. Don’t be discouraged if your child does not jump into your arms. No matter how excited you are about your new role as a mother, it will take time for your child to accept you into that role. Knowing how bonds and attachment are formed will help the whole family ease into the sometimes difficult transition.

Source: John C Loehlin et al: Parent-Child Closeness Studied in Adoptive Families. Personality and Individual Differences Volume 48 Issue 2 pp. 149-154 January 2010