How We Cocooned without Cocooning…

Posted by on Aug 24, 2012 | 4 comments

Like most adoptive parents, we attended adoption training seminars, and read many great books with well respected theories on how to prepare for and raise your adopted child.

“Cocooning” is one of the most popular  methods for helping  your adopted child learn who mom and dad are, and become acclimated to their new world and family.

In simple terms, cocooning is basically wiping your calendar clean and focusing on staying home/laying low with your adopted child. You don’t go to church, play dates, birthday parties, out to dinner, a friend’s house or even entertain at your own home for a long while (“they” recommend 6-12 weeks of cocooning, our goal was 6).  You try to stay put as much as possible, avoiding over stimulation and instead focusing on meeting you new child’s needs, and simultaneously teaching them the concept of Families/Parents and who their Mom and Dad are.

Makes sense to me! We were sold…

With Sarah, cocooning was pretty easy because we spent our first 3 weeks together  in Ethiopia, pretty much isolated from the world. The beginning of our new life together was simple… we did not run errands nor have  frequent visitors, and our “calendar” was pretty much empty because heck, we were in a foreign country;) This season of cocooning was really great and did not cause any sense of isolation, mainly because I was blessed to be staying at the same guest house as 3 other families, who are great friends of ours.  It was a really great season of bonding for Sarah and I.

Once home, Jason and I focused more on “cocooning in our arms” by  being the only ones to feed her, change her and hold her, and less on actually cocooning in our home.  After all, we felt we already had 3 weeks of bonding under our belts.

Now lets compare that  to Mark’s adoption.

Wow, what a whirlwind. When we got our travel dates to pick him up, we joked that we were literally breaking every “cocooning” rule possible.

I arrived home with Mark on July 4th, and 8 days later we left for a 10 day vacation with 2 other large, adoptive families (a total of 14 kids and 6 adults).

The Gang on Vacation (minus Mark and Sarah who were sleeping)

For those first 8 days home (between arriving home from Ethiopia and prior to leaving for vacation) Jason took a few days off, but since we were preparing for another big vacation, he couldn’t miss too much work. I also had errand running,  shopping and things to catch up on before we left for another vacation. Thus, we didn’t really try to enforce cocooning at this point yet.

Our vacation was busy, loud, and FUN! Mark really seemed to do GREAT and it was during this time that he finally started to bond with Jason. We would often joke that we were sure that our family vacation was listed in the appendix of Karyn Purvis’s book “The Connected Child” for what NOT to do immediately after bringing home your adopted child (like going to the Ra*n Fore*st Cafe, um ya, just slightly overstimulating!).

Now we weren’t totally irresponsible in terms of bonding.  Although we were busy and surrounded by tons of people, Jason and I made sure to be the only ones to meet Mark’s needs and hold and change him. After all, we were still attempting to teach him who Mom and Dad were.

We told ourselves that we would hunker down and begin cocooning once we got home for good.

Once home, things turned out much different than I had expected.

I successfully cocooned  for about 9 days, and then I nearly had a mental breakdown. I felt SO isolated. SO alone. SO exhausted. SO TRAPPED! I couldn’t meet girlfriends for coffee (hard to hold a conversation with 4 kids clamoring for your attention). I hadn’t worked out for 8 weeks (working out is therapy for me, and I do it 4x’s/week usually). I found myself in tears nearly everyday. I even told Jason that if these feelings didn’t pass soon, I needed to go see a doctor and get on some type of medication.

Jason and I would jokingly refer to the house as “Alcatraz”. Yes, it was my prison!

I began to dream of going back to work, IMMEDIATELY. Anything that would help me get a break from my kids, but not make me look like a jerk, or some loser mom.

One day I was changing Mark’s diaper and he was having a fit. The house was a mess and the big kids were cranky and irritating each other. I mean heck, it was the middle of summer and we hadn’t left the house to do anything fun in over a week!!!!

I looked down at this precious boy in my lap, screaming his brains out, and thought “If this were my job, if I were a Nanny, I would quit!”.

I found myself quickly slipping into a black  hole. I found myself entering a new low. I didn’t even want to get together with friends because I didn’t want to have to fake like I was happy. I just wanted to lock myself in my room and cry. But of course, I couldn’t because I had 4 little people who needed a mommy.

I tried so hard to be strong. To act like everything was okay and I could do this. But it wasn’t. Jason began to notice something was really wrong too. The dazed look in my eyes and the tears that would roll at the simple question “how are you honey?”  were sure signs that his wife was about to lose it.

Finally, 9 days after we officially began “cocooning”, I had to attend a Missions Committee meeting at church. Honestly, Jason and I usually try to talk the other one into going, because it is not the highlight of our month. But this time, I felt like a school child waving my hand in the air, “pick me, pick me! I will go!”

Ahhh, what a night! I went to the super market… ALONE! Then the meeting… ALONE (and with a room full of adults!), and I even hit Tar*get on  my home… ALONE! I felt like a new woman!

Jason then surprised me a couple days later with a massage appointment at a fancy spa. I even got to have a “Mommy/Ivy date” of back to school shopping and lunch after my relaxing massage.

I was beginning to feel like I was escaping the strong pull of the black hole that had been trying so hard to suck me in. I was starting to win the fight.

So, at the start of the following week, only 2 weeks after we began our cocooning, I said “To heck with it!” (well, I didn’t really say “heck”, after all, I was about to totally rebel against all the leading researchers on attaching with your adopted child).

I vowed to wake up by 6 every morning in order to get some “alone” time… clean the kitchen, start some laundry, get a work out in, and even take a shower! All before the kids would wake. I knew that having some productive alone time in the morning would help me feel more prepared for my kids. And it did!

I also decided to attempt some outings.  I started out slow by meeting a friend and her kids  for a walk. Guess what?  Mark did great, and I felt somewhat normal!

So, I began to mix it up with meeting friends at the park, the beach, the roller skating rink, and even our local themepark/water park.  I even met some friends for dinner one night!

I was on a roll, and feeling great. I found myself not even thinking about crying or hiding or screaming (ok, well maybe screaming occasionally). My kids were all getting along better too.

It has been almost a month since I threw cocooning out the window. I try to get out of the house and do something fun, at least 4 days/week. I am sure the adoption “experts” out there would be shaking their heads. But you  know what, my kids have a happier mom. My husband has a happier wife. I have more patience for my kids, and I am emotionally better all around. Not that it is about me. Its not. But I know this for myself, when I am misserable and feel like I am suffocating… being sucked into a world of depression… I can’t be the wife and mom that my family needs.

And you know what? Mark is doing GREAT too! He loves getting out of the house!  Heck, when we are trapped at home for a day, he is constantly getting himself in trouble by pulling down fragile items, climbing, playing in the dog’s water bowl, stealing toys from his sister, or doing a number of other things that cause him to be told “no” and get in trouble. So why wouldn’t he rather be at a park or a beach, where he can play with his siblings and mama in peace?

This whole experience has really opened my eyes to how hard it is on so many stay at home moms. I can’t imagine what I would be like if I didn’t have a great group of friends willing to meet me and my 4 crazy kids, or listen to me cry and vent about how I am going to lose my mind and just want to hide from my kids… all without being judged.

I began to research online this phenomenon that I was facing, and I came across chat room after chat room where moms would express this deep sense of isolation and depression.

And I gained a heightened awareness to the way my friends answer the question “how are you?” Before this season, I didn’t really understand what it was like to feel trapped, alone, or like you were going to lose your mind. Not every mom is trying to intentionally cocoon their newly adopted child, but lets face it, motherhood can be very isolating none the less. But now, now I get it. Now I can be a better friend.

I have also started to question how much the act of cocooning may actually encourage  ”Post Adoption Depression”, which is now all the rage to talk about in the adoptive community. Not that I am some expert, but I am a pretty good case study.

We would NEVER tell a new biological mom to hold up in  her house and refrain from  having visitors or attempting outings for at least 6 weeks! Anyone could assume that would cause the poor gal to lose her mind!

But for some reason we assume that adoptive mamas are superheros and can totally isolate themselves with a child that they barely know, and it will all be okay?

I personally don’t think so.

So… sorry Purvis and all the other PHD’s out there with years of research under their belts. For this family, cocooning almost sucked us into a terrible, dark world, with an unhappy mama, guilt ridden/helpless feeling husband, and cranky/stir crazy/bored kids.

As I conclude my little dissertation on “How to Cocoon, Without Cocooning”, I want to reiterate that this is only our family’s experience, and I am sure that Purvis and all the other experts out there know what they are talking about.

But…. if you find yourself in the midst of cocooning and losing your mind, being sucked into Post Adoption Depression, or simply feeling like you want to hide from your kids most days, you may want to loosen up on yourself a little and get out with a girlfriend, its good for the soul, and its good for mama!

**** As a follow up to this post….

I have had several friends call or email and ask “So.. how are you doing now?”  I am happy to proclaim that I am doing so, so good!

Not that my life is easy peasy, and my kids don’t drive me bonkers sometimes. But I am at a place where I feel balanced and healthy and I have found a routine that works for our family.

Seriously, the Lord blessed me with the foresight to see where I was headed emotionally. I could feel myself drowning in isolation and hopelessness, and I was daily on my knees literally begging God to rescue me from where I was at. For those 9 days of cocooning, I literally started most of my days off in tears, begging the Lord to stay near to me and to be the strength that I needed to get through the day.

The Lord granted me with the wisdom and courage to reach out to my close friends for help and to be transparent with where I was at. We now regularly get out and do fun things, and pretty much live life like we did before Mark joined us. And all of us are doing so much better! This “cocooning in our arms” thing is proving to work out much better for us than the complete isolation form of “cocooning”.

Thank you dear friends for your concerns, prayers and support.



  1. I stumbled on your blog by googling “cocooning” – this was an interesting read! I agree that it is impossible to bond with your child if you are completely miserable and unhappy. We are 2 weeks, 2 days, 23 hours into cocooning with our newly home Haitian princess – But who’s counting? I am going stir crazy! Now, to put this into perspective, I am a stay at home mom and I homeschool my older son. I’m used to being home a lot – but we haven’t even allowed any visitors into our home so I am feeling very lonely and every day seems to DRAG on. I even wrote the number of days left (hoping to cocoon for 6 weeks) on my calendar, but they aren’t going by fast enough! lol Our daughter is doing SO well though, that I know we need to continue this for a few more weeks. She is thriving in this environment and is feeling more secure every day. We will have to cut it a bit short as all the extra curricular things start up for our other kids at the 5 week mark – but I feel confident that she will do fine with being out of the house more by then. And we will continue that no one holds/feeds/comforts her except immediate family members for a very long time. I am glad to hear that your family is doing well despite not following the “rules” :) Blessings on you as you continue to bond with your newest member.

  2. Thank God! I thought I was the only one.

  3. Just found out today we were cleared by Embassy and I was dreading the cocooning part because I don’t like to be trapped in my house at all. Thank you for being honest and giving us a different side of cocooning by showing what works for the parent/family and the child. I’ll take it day by day and see how it goes and adjust accordingly.

  4. We adopted our did from China just shy of her third birthday. We were bombarded with family the first two days home and were absolutely dazed from the jet lag. She was so overstimulated the poor thing seemed she was in the throes of an adrenaline rush all day and night. Once we put our feet down and said no visitors please, focused on overcoming the jet lag and getting a workable routine in place, we could focus on getting to know each other and start learning how to be good parents to our bio daughter and adopted daughter together. However, short outings to the park, to Grandma’s for berry picking, the pool etc were so important for all of us. Daily walks and time in the yard are essential. Three rainy days in a row we all thought we might lose our minds. We learned what was best for her and made the cocooning process ours. Two visitors at a time for an hour worked fine. Gatherings outside or on neutral turf like the playground were wonderful. Big stores, not so much… Cocooning is important but it is not one size fits all… God places each child in just the.right family. If our families are customized the cocooning should be too.

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