When parents of biological children begin to consider the possibility of adoption, one of the heaviest questions is “How will this impact my biological children?” We feel the weight of responsibility for the children who are already in our family, but we also feel a heavy conviction to expand our family through the gift of adoption. We fear making a choice that will result in our children being resentful or, worse yet, being harmed. The struggle is intense.
Somehow, the idea of adding to our family through adoption seemed to carry a different conflict than adding another child biologically would have. People seldom question parents who find themselves expecting a child naturally, yet the decision to adopt sometimes makes parents feel more obligated to justify their choice. After all, this could negatively impact their biological children. In our case, the idea of bringing in a foster child raised even more questions. “What if they leave?” “What if they hurt one of the kids?” “What if this puts your family in harm’s way?” The questions seem endless and the answers—unavailable. There is risk when it comes to foster care. There is risk when it comes to adoption. I think what people tend to forget is that there is risk—in general— with having children. No child comes with a guarantee.
At the time we ventured into foster care, our biological sons were 9, 10, and 12. They were sweet boys with distinctly different personalities, but they were all cooperative and obedient. They shared a room in our relatively small three-bedroom home. When we introduced the idea of foster care, they were open-minded and willing to be used by the Lord, but unsure of what to expect—much like my husband and I were. We worried about how foster care might impact them and what heartache our entire family could endure. Up to that point, our lives were pretty simple and not very difficult.
Foster care stretched each of us and challenged our patience, our courage, and our grit. When the time came to adopt our youngest two kids, we were beyond grateful for the opportunity to make them an official part of our family. Much of the hard work of adoption took place during our time of fostering. That’s when we faced the ups and downs of adding to our family and felt the growing pains and stressors of disrupting our norms. For our boys, the challenges they faced included things like adjusting to life with crying children, stinky diapers, a crowded vehicle with car seats and no more legroom for them, the loss of attention from us, and a big increase in the number of people in and out of our home. Even so, from the first day they held their younger siblings in their arms, we stood amazed. They were enamored, as were we, and they doted on and helped these sweet little ones in every way possible. As we watched them adjust to the addition of a baby brother and a two-year-old sister, we noticed several outcomes.
Adoption taught them to see beyond themselves and serve.
For the first several days, the only disagreements that happened with our older boys were arguments about who was going to help baby girl with her shoes or who was going to feed baby boy his bottle. Suddenly, there was a heightened awareness in our home of the need to pitch in and help. Momma and Daddy had always had full-time jobs and meals to fix, laundry to tend to, dishes to do, but now it was all being done with another very huge task of parenting babies placed on top of it. The boys recognized this and learned to jump in to help without being asked. They asked questions, observed, and learned how to care for the littles very well. They offered to help with household tasks and showed great patience and understanding for their sleep-deprived momma. They also learned to see and respond to the needs of their youngest siblings without a second thought. Finally, they grew more aware of the plight of foster children and more able to be sensitive to young people with special needs and life struggles. What they didn’t realize is that in the process of doing all this, they were also serving the biological families of our children who were able to watch the littles thrive with older siblings.
It gave them a glimpse of the past.
Since they were all basically babies at the same time, our boys had little memory of what it was like to have a baby in the house. The presence of a two-month-old resulted in much storytelling about what each of them was like as an infant. The silly language of a two-year-old led us to discuss the funny things they used to say or do when they were little. They got to relive pieces of childhood and share things that they enjoyed as kids. More recently, we got out some of their old toys and stuffed animals, including the pair of tigers that were given to our eighteen-year-old when he was born. When his first little brother was born, this child had shared a tiger with his brother and they each slept with their tiger throughout their preschool days. Now, the tigers have become favorites of our little ones and each of them has claimed a tiger as their own—even attempting to rename the tiger to match their preferences.
It made them sparkle.
Prior to bringing home our little girl, I was the only female in the house. Even the dog was a male. The boys were accustomed to a boy-centered house complete with trains, cars, and sports balls. They were a rough-housing, stink-making, underwear-only-wearing trio. They were low-maintenance, low-drama, and high-energy. They were basically a dream team. With the addition of one bossy baby girl, our world was turned upside down. “Sit!” she instructed them on day one in our home, and because she was so stinkin’ cute, they sat. She quickly wrapped them around her little finger and snuggled into their strong big brother arms. I hope I never forget the day we sat in church and I looked over at my oldest son and my husband to see that each of them had specks of glitter on their faces. Baby girl’s sparkly clothes had transferred onto them as they held her, and the impact remained. It was a visible sign of what was happening in our hearts as her smile captivated each of us and then lingered, making each day brighter. Now, the days of big brothers obeying her commands are long gone, but she still makes them sparkle.
This adoption journey hasn’t been all easy. Our youngest biological son admits there has been good and bad, “I liked holding [little brother] as a baby, and I didn’t really mind both of them until they were toddlers (and a lot of times now) because they’re annoying and never listen to anything I say. I do sometimes get jealous of the attention they get . . . The best part is playing like a kid with them, and sometimes I just like to hear them laugh.”
The second time we asked our biological children to embrace the idea of adoption was under much different circumstances. They were 12, 13, and 15 and we were entertaining the idea of bringing home a teenage girl who was seeking an adoptive placement after five years in foster care. She was 16. I remember them all agreeing that it was no big deal that she would be older than them, but they weren’t sure how to function with a teenage girl in the house. (From what they tell me now; apparently, they did not think it would work well to add an older sibling). Either way, they were skeptical but willing to follow our lead. This time, the overcrowding of our still-small home was a legitimate concern. Eight people sharing a bath and a half (and only one shower) would surely be challenging. Driving two minivans until we could obtain a larger vehicle would also be an obstacle. The potential for complications and conflict was even greater. In my second son’s words,
“Everything is just weird. You have this system—this is how life works. There are three of us, and that’s just how it is. Obviously you guys weren’t going to have any more kids. And then all of the sudden, guess what?! There are these two babies here. So, okay . . . we’ll take care of them until their parents get better and they’ll go back to their own home. Then that didn’t happen. So, now there are five of us, but there are still three older ones, so that’s just how it works. This is life now. We go on and settle into that. This is the way things are, and then guess what . . . Okay—there’s another? Oh— she’s older than us? Okay—that’s weird. It just changes the way everything works. We get settled into a system and then it’s turned upside down. It never ends.”
I would love to say that the impact of adopting a teen was just as positive for our biological children as adopting little ones was. The reality, though, is that it was and continues to be much harder for a number of reasons. For our oldest son, disrupting birth order proved to create conflict. He says if he was ever to adopt, he would definitely keep birth order and only bring in kids younger than the youngest. He says, “With littles, it’s easy because they’re so young and it’s just like adding a new (biological) family member because they’ll still grow up with you. Definitely adopting an older kid is not the same. It doesn’t feel the same, and it’s a lot harder.”
The other two teen sons agree, and even though our daughter (20 years old) has moved out on her own now, son number two notes that the tension can still be felt when she comes home to visit,
“I feel like relationships with [teenage daughter] in general are tense . . . just waiting for something to happen and then acting surprised when it does. Maybe it’s like that because she remembers all of her troubles and came from a different background, and she knows how to handle herself, so unlike the littles where we can just tell them what to do, and they’ll most likely do it, she can just refuse. Even when she’s around now, I notice I just feel more angry for some reason.”
From the beginning, our teenage daughter has struggled to feel at home no matter how much we try to show her our love. She is inclined to be oppositional and argumentative, and though she longs to give and receive love, her tendencies to assume the worst of others hinder deep relationships. Our biological children are not helpful and accommodating in this situation. They started the experience off with a limited tolerance for poor behavior and a predetermined measure of grace. When she burned through that, they struggled and have not wanted to keep trying. We also have failed on multiple occasions to maintain the peaceful attitudes we desire and to patiently work through the trauma that has been placed upon our girl. Instead, we have grown frustrated and impatient.
The road has been very difficult. It’s tempting to list these difficulties as a negative impact of adoption on our biological children, but as our second son noted, “I don’t really know if they can be considered pros or cons. [Adoption] is a good thing because, in our case, adopted kids end up with a better family than they would have had in their biological homes; so for them, that’s a plus.” Regarding the challenges, he said, “It’s not a con. It’s just hard for a family adopting. Babies scream and make noise and have regular baby challenges. With [teenage daughter], there’s a whole different set of challenges. It was harder. It’s just the challenge of doing the right thing. I don’t know if it counts as a con. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just the worst part of a good thing because there’s no way around it.”
It’s just the worst part of a good thing because there’s no way around it.
His words bring me hope as I sit with the heavy reality that adoption has not been all sunshine and roses for our biological children. They have been hurt, frustrated, isolated, and, as one of them honestly (and reluctantly) expressed, they’ve even felt like they’re not at home in our own home. They do not share the intense love for one another that I wish they would have as siblings. They do not have the compassion for their sister that her circumstances necessitate. They do not want to keep working to make someone else feel at home while losing that very feeling for themselves. They are weary and worn.
Galatians 6:9 reminds us, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” We long for our family to be happy and whole. We long to see complete redemption of these broken circumstances that have led to adoption, and we are grateful we can trust the ultimate Adoptive Father who gives beauty for ashes.