Introducing new siblings can be both an exciting and anxious experience. It is important that you help your adopted child to bond with her new sibling(s)—and vice versa. While it may not be as easy as pulling out your trusty bottle of Gorilla Glue and dabbing as needed, by taking a few steps, you can help her or him to feel safe and secure in the role within his or her new family, while reassuring your existing children that they haven’t lost theirs.
Just as you need to educate yourself about what to expect, you should also prepare your children for their soon-to-be sibling. Read books, watch adoption-themed movies, and talk about it. While you don’t have to and shouldn’t share every detail of the adoption process, you should make sure the lines of communication are buzzing. Let them know you are there to listen and answer questions as best as you can. Expect some push back. As excited as your children may be, it’s normal for them to also feel nervous and wonder what having a new brother or sister will mean. If you have siblings, consider sharing stories of your own childhood —both the good and the not-so-good so that they’ll understand that you understand. If you are adopting an infant or younger child, recruit them to help decorate and prepare the house—making them part of the experience. Talk about ways they may be able to help care for their new baby brother or sister. If you’re adopted child is older or coming from foster care or an institutional setting, be prepared to share some basic information. Reach out to your adoption facilitator or social worker if you’re not sure just what to say or do. By making your children feel comfortable about what to expect, you will be helping them to then extend the same feeling toward their new sibling when he or she arrives.
And Then There Were ________
Congratulations! Your family just grew and life as you knew it just changed. There will be a new face in your family photos, an extra chair at the table, a little less room in the car, a little more noise around the house, and another hand reaching for popcorn during family movie night. Just know that this will be an adjustment for all parties and remember to be patient and allow your new family to settle in at a comfortable pace. While your role as a parent and your existing children’s roles were something you most likely took for granted, the newest member of your family will need time to figure out where he or she belongs and what it means to be a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a grandson or granddaughter, and nephew or niece. While it’ll be easy enough to buy a bigger picture frame, pull up another chair, squeeze a little closer, buy a pair of earplugs, and pop some extra popcorn, there’s no easy way to determine when your adopted child will bond with his or her new family and/or your existing children will feel comfortable with the newest member of your clan. You can’t force bonding, and trust comes with time. Be patient and convey the need for patience among your family.
Getting to Know You
Although you want to make her or his first day home special and you want to celebrate what is quite possibly a long awaited moment in all of your lives, most adoption professionals advise that you don’t plan a big welcome home party no matter if your child is an infant or a teen. Take time and allow your family a quiet meet and greet—which will be pretty difficult to do if there is a constant stream of well-wishers making their way through your home. If at all possible, take time off from work and spend as much of it with your children as possible. Try not to leave your child alone at first–even though you’ve got a waiting list of excited babysitters. Your child needs you right now–and so do your other children.
Keep things simple. Take this time to promote interaction–be it exploring your child’s new room or the house together, taking quiet walks, reading together, doing artwork or crafts, or any other activity that promotes communication and contact between family members. And remember to take it slow. You’re excited to introduce her to the family favorites—food, music, trips to the mall, the zoo—you name it. But, before you dive head first into your norm and show you child your world, give her or him time to feel comfortable with what’s most important—you!
Chart Your Course
With a shift in the household day-to-day, now may be a good time to post a house rules chart. For an older child, especially, clearly communicating the usual flow of things in a fun and welcoming way will allow him or her to become familiar with what to expect without having to guess, and your other children will take comfort in knowing that while a lot of things are changing, some things are going to remain the same. By maintaining some sense of familiarity in the household and being consistent, your children will know what’s expected of them and there will be less confusion and arguing about other unavoidable changes.
Lead and Be Led
As much as you may want to control everything that goes on between your children, it’s going to be a push-pull and you’re going to have to step aside. Let your child lead where she or he feels comfortable and let siblings lead where they feel comfortable. Yes, there will be some butting of heads, but that’s typical, normal, sibling behavior and how the best of friendships are born—slow and steady and with plenty of ups and downs in between. Sometimes, mom and dad, you’re going to have to let your children take the wheel and direct their relationship as it suits them, bumps and all. Consider holding family meetings to check in with everyone—and allow everyone a voice.
New and Different Beginnings
Your adopted child will be making a lot of adjustments and your child’s world as she or he knows it will be changing. But that doesn’t mean your child should have to give up everything she or he knows and is comfortable with. Be sure to incorporate familiar things into your child’s new home and into your family’s culture—encouraging sharing the things your child holds dear and important with new siblings. Bring in artwork, music, books, shows that your child enjoys and work them into your usual family routines. Look into community groups, local cultural celebrations, and adoption support groups that may offer ideas and suggestions for ways to ensure you’re recognizing your adopted child’s background and culture, while recognizing that you’ve adopted a part of your child’s past as well—something your child can share with his or her new family as you begin to share your lives together. It may just be the beginning of some great new family adventures.