Adopting Siblings

There are some things you should know when it comes to adopting siblings.

Jamie Giesbrecht March 30, 2019
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In the name of full disclosure, I want to say up front that I have not adopted siblings. I have three adopted children, all of whom have half siblings that were adopted into other homes before our children were born or other such situations. Tyler and I have talked about this extensively, and one thing is for sure: if any of our adopted children have another sibling born, we would say a resounding “yes” right away to adopting siblings.

There is a fantastic, short, dramatic video clip you can search on the Internet called Removed. In fact, it is so well done that I could almost end this article now on the recommendation that you watch the clip–it says it all! But, there are so, so many variables. And I know that adopting siblings, whether all at the same time or separately over a few years, is not a simple thing. There are many factors to consider.

Birth order is one such significant factor. I remember at the very beginning of our adoption journey, our social worker said that she did not recommend adopting out of birth order. This means that you would adopt a child younger than your youngest currently in the home. The idea is that disrupting the natural age order in your home can create a lot of havoc. I have experienced such havoc when long-term fostering out of birth order. An oldest child displaced from this position can have a really hard time adjusting–putting a child in a home the same age as another can create virtual twinning. Or, conversely, a child coming from a background of trauma and abuse may have a developmental age far below his or her actual age, again creating virtual twinning. Different social workers have different views on this. I know a family with 17 adopted children, and they have adopted out of birth order almost every single time and have combined many sibling groups into their existing home. They have made this work, over and over again, and have had many virtual twinning experiences. I know families who have adopted siblings who were all older than their biological child, thrusting him out of the role of the oldest child quite soundly. It has worked well for them, and they managed it with grace. See this link and several forums on birth order, here, and here.

The point is, there is no hard and fast rule and no “right” way to do this one. If you are thinking about adopting siblings, you will have to work with your social worker to see what is right for your family. You should do your own research and read about success stories and stories that went sideways. Ideally, it would be great to talk to a family who has done it. Bottom-line from my perspective, even though adopting siblings is undoubtedly more work, do not let birth order alone prevent you from going for it.

Okay, on to workload. This cannot be ignored when it comes to adopting siblings. There is absolutely no question that children require parents to self-sacrifice: time, money, personal interests, and hobbies (also known as you will have very little time for yourself!). And this is a good thing. It is a natural thing, and we were created to create. Bringing forth children is just a part of the life cycle, and it is exactly that, a cycle. To everything there is a season and all of that. For some people this season is much longer or much shorter, depending on the number of children that you have. I can say, though, that children of adoption quite often require more of our time and talents. This is not a negative, and it is not a criticism; it is a fact.

The very nature of adoption is that it starts with a loss, a severing of the original and most natural tie of parent to child. Whether this happened at birth or slowly over years of neglect and abuse, this “primal wounding” can and often does create some degree of trauma. Attachment issues can create a lot of havoc within the home and require plenty of parental involvement and time to promote healing. Issues with fetal alcohol or ADHD and the like can play a role. Many parents of adopted children are dealing with factors that are big and require lots of support. If you are considering adopting siblings, you definitely need to consider your workload. Do you have the time required to not only add more than one child but potentially more than one child with a past that may require additional time and resources? Is your schedule already so tight that you have trouble finishing things or getting downtime? If so, that does not have to be the end of the dream to adopt siblings but perhaps a life review is in order.

There are many fantastic books out there about managing a gaggle of kids. One of my personal favorites is Large Family Logistics by Kim Brenneman. And of course, we can all rise to challenges we never dreamed of, especially when things are meant to be. This is an inspiring story. While we may not all adopt 40 children, this might bolster our endurance for handling the workload when adopting siblings.

The closest aspect to my heart is when you have adopted a child, and he or she has a sibling that comes along later. None of our three adopted children are siblings. Tyler and I have spent many long nights discussing what we would do if a sibling did come along (and birth parents have brought this up with us, too!). Every single time, we have come to the conclusion that we would make it work. That is no light matter, when at this time we have five children in the home, we homeschool, and we have a farm. The thought process is that if a sibling came along as an infant, birth order would not be disrupted, and we would not be dealing with trying to overcome a lot of trauma and abuse (most likely), although we also recognize that heredity mental health issues can exist, or even attachment issues that can come out of infants placed in an adoptive home early, plus factors such as prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol. This, for us, feels like it would just flow, and we would make it work. Every single family has their own path to walk, though. Some parents may already feel at their max, and that is okay. Here are some great reads on both sides of the issue:

https://adoption.com/forums/thread/206963/birthmother-pregnant-again-adopting-another/

https://adoption.com/forums/thread/193397/birthmom-pregnant-again/

There is one situation in which I never really expected to be in, and this was the hardest for me. We found out recently that one of our adopted children has a much older sibling in care in another province. Because the birth father of this child did not come forward until much, much later in her life, this information was simply not known before. We were asked point blank if we would be interested in adopting this child. This child is having intense issues, and every part of me knew we could not do it. It breaks my heart. I would love for these siblings to be together and experience togetherness, but I know this one is outside of my abilities. That is a hard thing because I believe every child deserves a forever home. We know that as children become older, statistically it becomes less likely that they will be adopted. This is a time to be honest about our skills, our abilities, as well as our weaknesses. Safety of others in the home MUST be paramount as well. In situations like this, any resource or support people would also likely advise that an adoption of a sibling is not a good idea and is unlikely to work. We still tell our children about their siblings, still pray for the sibling, and talk about them meeting one day.

Now, on to the next part: if you do wind up adopting siblings, how do you move them to your home and how do you introduce them to the other children in your home if there are others? As always, most moves should be done as slowly as attainable. Nothing too abrupt. Several visits in their current home, several visits in your home, if possible. When locations are far apart, that can be an issue. Phone calls, Skype sessions, anything to help everyone get used to each other is good. Some prospective adoptive families make a photo album of their home, people that live in it, pets, extended family, EVERYTHING that they can give to the child or children before the move. This way, they get a real feel for how everything and everyone looks. This can help reduce stress. Pictures of faces with names of extended family, some written paragraphs on family traditions, these are great ways to get kids synced in with your family. I heard a long time ago that it can also be very helpful to tell children any funny sayings you have or long-standing family jokes. This helps kids to be included, but also can help prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings. No one likes to feel like they are on the outside of an inside joke. Of course, this can still happen, but the idea is to welcome these kids with open arms and to go above and beyond to make them feel welcome.

If you think on it, what would make you feel welcome? Perhaps a note with some lines from each member of your new family? Open dialogue with plenty of downtime so you can think about things? Remember that relationship building takes time. The children won’t be completely open and comfortable until after the honeymoon period. Behavioral issues, anger, and hurt may arise. It is okay, and it will be okay. Put things in perspective and remember that this too shall pass. It won’t always feel awkward, and things will normalize and settle down. Think of how it would feel to be uprooted, especially for older children that may have lived in another foster home (or homes) for a long time. Think of how intimidating or downright scary it would feel to move as a child to a new home in a new neighborhood–different sounds at night, different routines and different expectations. Try to be so clear about house rules. Make expectations so clear. Write them in a visible place and use grace as your guide in those early days. If you are going to be parenting a sibling or siblings with something such as an attachment disorder or serious mental health condition, take the time to learn about their medications, their cooldown methods, their comfort items. Some foster homes send an unwashed pillowcase with the kids so they have a familiar smell to go to sleep with. A recording of a favorite song sung by a birth parent or foster parent might be crucial for a child in transition. Sometimes these things can threaten or frustrate an adoptive parent, but we have to let this go. It is not about us! This is about a precious, precious child. Think of the child as a flower. If it withers in nature, do we blame the flower? Or do we look for natural sources such as a lack of water, sun, or good soil? Look for root growth and don’t stop until you see some! Here are some ideas from Adoption.com:

https://adoption.com/helping-your-child-bond-with-siblings

https://adoption.com/sibling-adoptions-outlook-struggles-past-future .

So often, things in life turn out so different than we expect. Sometimes things are easier than we thought they would be, and sometimes they are much harder. Adopting siblings is no different. Be encouraged: you have the God-given talents needed to do this! You were created for a purpose, and you are not alone. This just might be the most beautiful thing you have done yet!

 Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.

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Jamie Giesbrecht

Jamie Giesbrecht is a stay at home mama to 3 adopted and 2 biological children. When she is not homeschooling the kids, she can be found seeking adventures with her family in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, hunting, fishing, camping, or trail riding the horses to town for some snacks. Her hobbies include cross stitching, sewing jingle dresses for powwow, reading, and horseback riding as often as she can. Jamie married her high school sweetheart and best friend, Tyler, and together they enjoy watching the kids hatch ducklings and chicks, shear sheep, race around the yard on their horses, and raise pigs on their small farm in rural Northeastern British Columbia, Canada. Jamie is passionate about adoption and has been a foster parent on and off and in between adoptions since 2011.


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