You know that early morning rush, bags are packed, hair done, notes written to teachers, last-minute dashes back to the car for the homework satchel or hat forgotten on the backseat. As a Mum it’s so easy to be caught up in that rush, organising children, discussing afternoon pick up, afterschool extracurricular activities.
These moments are the moments that my foster daughter loves taking advantage to do what my hubby and I call ‘Mummy Shop’, look around for a better Mum, friendlier looking Mum, maybe one that packs a better lunch box or gives more lollies. Who knows what she looks like but it’s in this crowded rush that my gorgeous little girl with piggy tails runs up to another group of Mums, boldly approaches while they are chatting and says,
‘Hello’ they all reply, ‘don’t you look pretty with your hair in pigtails!’ effortlessly my foster daughter slides her hand into one of the Mum’s hand and leans into her waist cuddles into the stranger.
‘Oh! Isn’t she precious!’ Some of the ladies exclaim! Reaching out to touch her hair, stroke her cheek or pat her back.
By this point I’ve noticed the missing child, I am cross because our stranger safety rules are not to talk, touch or cuddle strangers and she is currently breaking all these rules. I rush over, interrupt, apologise and attempt to remove the angelic looking child from the smitten group of women.
‘Oh, she’s no bother!’ The lady cuddling my child smiles up to me, ‘really, what a lovely young girl to be so affectionate’.
Removing my foster daughter from these situations is always tricky, as she then proceeds to ask the ladies for food, phones, money. I’m now running late, and I leave with a very sullen child who thinks I’ve just taken her away from her new best friends.
No matter what your official title is, foster carer, kinship carer, adoptive parent, biological parent of a child with trauma if you are one of those you have most likely had this experience. And usually, you look like an awkward Mum, shrug it off and try again to reinforce stranger safety to your child. But we all know actions speak louder than words.
The truth is all kids with attachment disorders often seek out the attachment in inappropriate ways. The reason that these children climb on strangers’ laps, kiss strangers and even ask to go home with the strangers is that these precious children have deep wounds understanding their worth. They are starving for the reassurance that they are wanted and loved. These children, however, seek out strangers to meet these needs, not their caregivers.
To the friendly stranger at the shops, sports fields or school, we are glad you won’t harm our child, but as a stranger, you are reinforcing the belief to my child that all strangers are safe to talk to, touch and cuddle. Strangers and safety is not the truth, the next stranger that my child runs to, may not have the best intention for them and this makes my child an easy target for abuse.
The best thing you can do when you see an overtly affectionate child, offers a hi-5 or shake their hand and then redirect them to their caregiver. Phrases like, ‘cuddles are special and just for Mum’ ‘remember it’s not safe to cuddle strangers, cuddles are just for family.’ By redirecting the child to their caregiver, you are reaffirming them of their place of belonging, offering them security and encouraging them. When a child is reaffirmed in their place of belonging, this helps them to heal long term, not a short term attention fix but a deep anchoring of their self-identity. And I know that this is what we all want.