It used to be so simple: changing the birth order through adoption was strongly discouraged. Cut and dried; short and sweet—don’t do it. Families wanting to adopt out of birth order were usually turned down. Things began to change first in adoptions from foster care and now in international adoption mostly because there are so many older kids in need of families and not enough families. Also, the thinking of psychologists, therapists, and social workers began to shift from “it’s complicated and risky; therefore, don’t do it” to “it’s complicated and risky; therefore, let us help you be successful”. It’s still not the best choice for every family, for every child, or for anyone who isn’t willing to go in with their eyes open, but most of the adoption mental health professionals I’ve spoken with, including Dr. David Brodzinsky, the preeminent adoption psychologist, researcher, and author who I interviewed on yesterday’s Creating a Family show on Adopting Out of Birth Order, agree that it can be successful for all involved. (Do yourself a favor and listen to this show–a real treat!)
Preparing the Children for the Adoption of a Sibling
We spend a great deal of time preparing parents for an adoption, but often do precious little to prepare siblings. But as Dr. Brodzinsky said, much of the success or failure of an older child adoption, especially an adoption out of birth order, depends on the preparation and expectation of the children. Obviously, if you are adopting a baby and won’t be changing your families order of birth, you can use the many thousands of resources that fill the shelves of your local library, book store, and baby store on preparing any child for becoming a big brother or sister. Unfortunately, the shelves aren’t bulging with resources to help when adopting an older child, but here’s a good start.
Tips for Preparing Children for a New Adopted Sibling
- Get as much information as possible on your new child’s life experiences before the adoption.
- Help your existing children set realistic expectations before the adoption about adopting an older child. Pay particular attention to preparing for less mature behavior than would be anticipated by actual age.
- If possible, help your new adopted child set realistic expectations about what being adopted means and what life in your family will be like. If adopting from foster care, enlist the help of your child’s caseworker in setting realistic expectations and encouraging transition visits with your family. This is harder when adopting an older child internationally, but you can ask what preparation your child has received.
- Read children’s books on families that have adopted—especially those who adopted older kids. (Creating a Family has a Book List to Help you Prepare Your Children for the Adoption of a Sibling)
- Join an in-person or online adoption support group, and freely ask the advice of parents who’ve been down this road before. (One of the best is the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group)
- Role-play with your children specific situations that may cause problems. If disrupting birth order, focus on situation where age or birth order has bequeathed privilege, such as oldest child has always got to pick out the movie first or oldest child gets to help dad mow the lawn. If adopting an older child who will be the youngest inyour family, focus on problematic situations such as wanting to tag along, getting into things, interrupting conversations, etc.
- Enlist your existing children to be your helper in smoothing the transition for the new child. Have them brain storm things they can do to help the new child adapt to life in your family.
- Schedule one on one time with each child. This may not be easy, but do your best to have this time once a week with each child.
- Especially in the first few months post adoption when sibling rivalry has reached a crescendo, make a point of trying to catch your children cooperating or having fun each day. Make a note of it in your mind because it is easy to miss these moments in the midst of all the chaos.
- Be aware of the natural tendency to “side with” the children who are already in the family and who you already love. Make a point to try to see disputes from the viewpoint of the new child as well.
- If a child has been sexually abused and has acted out sexually in the past, be extremely cautious about adopting into a family with younger children.
- Talk with all your children about good touch/bad touch before the adoption and after the adoption.
- Take care of yourself! All parents need a break from parenting and parents who are in the early transition of adopting an older child especially need a break!
- If after about 6 months life has not begun to settle down for all the kids or if you are feeling depressed or anxious, get professional help. Ask your adoption agency for support or seek out a therapist who specializes in adoption or in family therapy.
Have you disrupted your family birth order by adopting? How did it work out? What did you do to make it easier for all your children? Please share any tips you have!
Image credit: Crowned Photography