About a month after the group began meeting, one mother called me concerned that her child had suddenly become “clingy” and cried every time mom left the room. This was a distinct change from the stoic behavior of the sixteen-month-old child up to this time. Mom was upset because parenting had been easier with the stoic baby, and now the fussy screaming child was harder to manage.
I thought this new behavior was a developmental improvement. The crying and clinging indicated the child had become “attached” enough to mom to care that she left.
The behavior mom described is typical of a nine-month old family-raised infant. Although the chronological age was not typical, developmentally the child was “getting back on a normal developmental track.”
At the next meeting mom described the behavior, and to my surprise nearly every other family reported the same behavior in their child! What could have caused every child to suddenly become more attached? I couldn’t get the nine-month-old link to this behavior out of my mind.
“How long have you all been home with your children?” I asked.
“We’ve all been home nine-months, since we traveled together.”
Although their children ranged in age from six months to three years old, they each had 9 months of “family age”. The child from Russia was beginning to show some similar signs, although she had been home only about six months.
In that meeting I discussed the difference between “family age” and “chronological age”. The examples were crawling around the floor among us. Then I pointed out the developmental age was based on a combination of family and chronological age. Again, the examples were right in front of us. A child who couldn’t sit up at 6 months when she was adopted, was reaching 4-7 month old milestones such as sitting unassisted after reaching 9 months-family age/15 months chronological age. The child adopted at two years who couldn’t walk was, at 9 months family age/nearly 3 years chronological age, not only walking but running and climbing.
Over the next decade each First Year Home Group ran provided me an opportunity to do observational research on children’s development after disruptions such as institutionalization and international adoption. When it came time to share this research, I had to decide whether to write for professional journals or for parents. I decided that therapists and educators would read a parenting book but parents would not pick up a clinical text. Parents were the ones who most needed this book and that’s why I wrote Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child.
I wrote Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child so you, the reader, would feel we were sitting down over a cup of tea, or meeting together on the floor of my playroom with your child playing at our feet.