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Common Post-Adoption Issues: Bonding

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

The final step in the adoption process occurs after the child has been placed with his or her adoptive parents and after the adoption has been finalized by all necessary courts. This final step involves the new parents and the new child bonding with one another, the development of family routine, and deep and lasting family relationships. It can also involve dealing with numerous issues that can occur after adoption.

Bonding

The first issue a new adoptive family faces is how well it will come together to become a family. It is vital to the integrity of any family that its members bond with one another, recognizing one another as members of the family group and developing caring, committed relationships.

Bonding tends to occur rather quickly and spontaneously in the case of young adopted infants who generally accept and attach to new parents. Parents of infant adoptees also tend to quickly bond to their new child through the process of providing the regular care he or she needs, by playing and communicating with the child, and by showing it affection.

The bonding process may take a bit longer to occur for older adopted children, or children adopted from another country. Older children must not only adapt to a new family, but must also deal with the loss of earlier living situation(s). Internationally adopted children may be old enough to have memories of birth parents, past foster parents, or other caregivers in his or her birth country. In this situation, the adoptive parents may also find that bonding takes longer, as they learn to deal with a child who is already partially grown and with their own feelings that they "missed out" on critical parts of their child's life.

Adoptive parents who are concerned about the bonding process are advised not to force themselves on their child, and instead adopt a positive and patient understanding that bonding will occur in time. The slow introduction of dependable and regular schedules and routines will eventually help the child feel more comfortable in the home and able to know what to expect and when. Parents should watch their child closely during the introduction of new family routines and back off temporarily should the child become overwhelmed. Initially, the immediate family may want to spend a lot of quiet time together without extended family and friends present so that they have time to get to know each other and begin their family relationship.