With the new reality of open adoption, more adoptive parents than ever are trying to nurture relationships not just with their child’s birth parents, but with other members of the birth family, especially their child’s biological siblings. Many adoptees have multiple full or half siblings who their adoptive parents are not parenting. They are either parented by birth family or possibly adopted by another family or in foster care. Developing a relationship with their biological siblings can be incredibly helpful for adoptees in helping them have a more secure sense of their identity.
As adoptive parents, navigating relationships with any members of our child’s birth family is often a delicate balancing act. We want to make sure we maintain contact and nurture a connection with birth parents for our children’s sake while still maintaining healthy boundaries and giving each member of the adoptive triad a place of equal standing and respect. This also comes into play when trying to establish or maintain a connection with our child’s biological siblings. Particularly when our children are young, the onus is on us to make our child’s biological siblings feel that we care for and honor them.
Creating or nurturing relationships with biological siblings, as with most other aspects of adoption, is a very individual process unique to each adoption. Every adoption has varying degrees of openness, and each adoptive family has varying degrees and frequency of communication with their child’s birth family. When considering the relationship between your child and their birth siblings, it is important to consider the history of the relationship with their birth family, their birth family’s wishes in terms of degree of openness, frequency of contact, and any other aspect of your communication. Often these specifics are spelled out in an open adoption “agreement” or “contract,” but even in adoptions where such documents exist, there can be changes over time in terms of how, when, and by which methods the birth family wishes to be contacted.
If your adoption is semi-open, where you send pictures and letters through an agency or other conduit, it can seem difficult to establish a relationship with your child’s siblings. However, something as simple as a card on a child’s birthday or a small gift on the holidays can help your child’s biological siblings feel connected to your child. Extravagant gifts are not necessary and can often make the birth family feel uncomfortable. What is ideal is a small gift, letter, or card that somehow incorporates your child’s siblings interests and personality. If you don’t know that much about them, you can at least ensure the gifts are age appropriate and meaningful in some way. A book, a personalized photo album, or some other keepsake personalized for that child is far more meaningful long-term than just getting them the latest “hot” toy. Get them something they can keep that will keep them connected to your child as they grow.
If you have an adoption that is truly open, including multiple forms of frequent contact or even visits, it can seem that it would be easier to include your child’s biological siblings. However, it is still important that you communicate clearly with the child’s birth family about your desires to incorporate siblings in your contact and visits. Just as you would like to be the gatekeeper of who spends time with your child, particularly when they are young, you should allow your child’s birth parents that privilege as well when it comes to your child’s biological siblings. If the siblings are very young or perhaps not fully aware of your child truly being their sibling, defer to your child’s birth family in how and when you include them. Give the birth family time to explain to their children what adoption is and how they are related to your child, just as you took the time to explain to your own child who their birth family was and how their adoption story played out.
In closed adoptions, if you have truly zero information about their child’s birth family, it can seem impossible to even find out if your child has biological siblings. This is often the case in international adoptions. However, with today’s adoption agencies keeping records electronically and with the incredible reach of the Internet, it can be possible to find information you may have never thought was possible to find. Contact your adoption agency if you are curious about learning more about your child’s birth family. Even in international adoption, sometimes detailed records can be accessed. However, it is still important that you respect the wishes of your child’s birth family. If your agency reaches out to them and they wish to maintain a closed adoption and not divulge any information, you have to respect that. Hearts and minds change over time though, and it is possible in a few years the birth family might wish to establish contact. Let your agency know that you are open to contact and check in with them periodically to see if they have maintained contact with your child’s birth family.
If your children are teenagers or young adults, at some point the bulk of the responsibility in terms of communication with birth family should be shifted from you, the parents, being the ones who take the initiative, to the child being the one who maintains their own relationship with their birth family, including any biological siblings. Encourage your child to develop a relationship with their biological siblings that exists outside of you. Social media, email, and texting are all ways young adults can easily maintain contact with birth family. Allow them the freedom to communicate with them without policing or monitoring their interactions so that a true bond can develop organically.
While it can seem scary to some adoptive parents to allow their children to develop these relationships outside of our influence, know that your role as their parent is secure. You have provided them with love and devoted time to helping them be the best version of themselves, but their birth family also loves them and deserves to be able to know them. Know that these relationships with birth family, especially biological siblings, will not take away from your connection with your child. They will simply add more love, more meaning, and self-understanding in your child’s life.