One of our friends who had adopted internationally shared an opportunity with us: the University of Delaware was looking for families to participate in a research study involving families who had participated in international adoption. We signed up to participate because we would add to the research they were conducting (help other families), possibly learn some things about Mea, and be compensated (which sounded great since I was still not working).
We had to answer a ton of questions, be observed and videotaped interacting with one another, and take saliva samples to measure stress levels. We are actually still involved with the research, but only once a year.
I’m not sure if I was supposed to find out, but of the two strands of their study: speech and attachment, we wound up on the attachment side. This was such a blessing.
At some point, one of the researchers gave us a little feedback: Mea was so happy-go-lucky and content to be with anyone. For instance, at church, if someone put out their hand out to her, she would take it and go with them. The researcher explained that she was attaching equally with everyone. This was probably due to all of the caretakers she interacted with in Ethiopia.
The researcher told us to not let her go off with others, for a few months and to teacher her “stranger danger.” When someone approached our family, I was to pick her up immediately, so that she sensed my protection of her and a bit of “fear” of this “not in our family” person.
We didn’t realize we had been doing things wrong. We were excited (and proud) that she was so easy-going and friendly. Everyone complimented her: “She’s such a sweet little girl. How friendly!” We learned that we were encouraging her to not see us as her people.
The strategy worked! Within a few short weeks, she started to look to us for approval when anyone outside of our family circle approached and started to interact with her. Once I saw her do that, I realized that this behavior was what I had seen in my own children. Mea was learning that not everyone was in her family. We were special people to her – we were hers and she was ours, and ours alone.