Helen Keller said, “All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” I think this quote is so sweet for foster/adopted families because it’s incredibly accurate. Whether a child is in your home for a short amount of time or forever, he or she is always a part of you because of your love for that child. It’s such a beautiful reminder during the ups and downs.
One of the many things that hold potential foster/adopted parents back from getting involved is wondering how their biological children are going to be able to adjust to having new members in their home. They may ask questions such as “How are they going to react to shared attention?” “Are they going to be involved or feel like hiding?” “What impact may foster care and adoption have on my biological child?” “Are the kids going to clash or get along?” “How do I make my foster/adopted child(ren) feel like part of the family without ignoring the needs of my biological child?”
I’m going to help you answer these questions from the perspective of a biological child whose parents did foster care and adoption. I will talk about the ups and downs, the good, bad, and the ugly, but also sprinkle some comic relief in there as well. Hopefully, this will help any doubts or worries that you may have about your biological children when it comes to doing foster care and adoption.
THE BEGINNING (A VERY GOOD PLACE TO START)
I had only one biological sibling before my parents decided to do foster care and adoption, and unfortunately, he passed away from leukemia at age 3. A couple of years after he passed, my parents and I were watching Christmas Child, which is a movie about a man who is trying to find out about his past and his biological family. At the end of the movie, there is a call to action via a music video by Steven Curtis Chapman called “When Love Takes You In.” It’s a beautiful song about the first daughter that he and his wife adopted, and it triggered something in my parents. They were completely all in and wanted to start the process to becoming foster and adopted parents. After being an only child again for a couple of years, I was very excited to be getting new siblings. I was feeling very lonely at a young age, and I wanted to help my parents open up our home to kids that were in need of one.
Shortly after my 11th birthday, my parents got a call and left the house to pick up our first baby. Our first foster child (and the first one we ended up adopting) was only 11 months old when he came into our home. It was honestly love at first sight. I thoroughly enjoyed helping getting him fed, changed, dressed, bathed, you name it! It felt wonderful to be a big sister again. I was hoping that he would become my forever sibling, and it finally happened!
Throughout the next couple of years, we had about 20 more kids come into our home. Even though I bonded really well with our first baby, I found myself not wanting to do it anymore. After suffering the loss of my biological brother, I was needing and yearning the attention of my parents. We were only fostering up to age 6 or so, and when an older child came in the picture, I started resenting them because I no longer had the attention of my parents anymore. Strangely, if we fostered a child or a toddler, I was all in and wanted to help. Now that I look back on it, I feel awful about these feelings and how selfish I was. There were definitely things I could have done differently. About halfway through our foster care journey, I actually snapped out of it and became the big sister that these kids needed. I just wish it happened a lot sooner.
Right before I turned 13, we got my second adopted brother from foster care. After feeling burned out by the state, my parents decided to take a break from foster care permanently. At that time, I was blessed with another baby brother who had autism, so it was kind of a relief. My parents were looking into adoption without having to go through foster care, but the kids would be older. The old feelings from a few years back started creeping up again, and during an interview with the adoption agency, I didn’t really have anything positive to say. Sometime after that, I wrote a letter saying that what I said was completely selfish and to not take it out on my parents. Eventually, we adopted a sibling group of 3 from Texas. To say we had a full house was an understatement, but our hearts were even fuller.
It was nice to have a sibling only a few years younger than me that I could play with and talk to. I was so used to having babies to take care of that I was grateful to have siblings that I could relate to a little bit better. However, it wasn’t always puppies and kittens. We wouldn’t get along for periods of time. The 2 we adopted before and the 2 other siblings were considered special needs, and I was usually the go-to for babysitting since I was 15 and responsible.
After reading the above paragraph, you might think, “Huh… that sounds just like ‘regular’ siblings!” and you’re absolutely right! Even though I haven’t always been in my siblings’ lives since they were born, it’s almost hard to remember a time where they weren’t there. There were a lot of hard times due to the trauma that the 3 older ones went through, but we held their hands through it and brought them back to the light. There was a lot of growing for myself as well. As you can see, I was able to blossom into the big sister that I was made to be.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR BIOLOGICAL KIDS?
Now, I can’t speak about your biological kids since everyone is different, but here are some tips on how to help your kids transition with getting their new siblings.
-Let Your Kids Be Open with You
One of the biggest things that you can do with your kids is to have them express themselves without judgment. This is going to be a big transition for them, so they may have mixed feelings and emotions (like I did). There are going to be ups and downs and they need to be reminded that their feelings are valid. However, when it comes to negative emotions of selfishness and resentment, it’s a good idea to gently talk about how you as a unit are helping children in their time of need. Depending on the age group, it could be as simple as “We’re helping them while they need a home” or it can go even deeper like “These kids need us because of what they went through.” I needed to be reminded of this often, but it needs to be in a gentle demeanor.
-Make Sure to Give Them Your Time
I get it. It can be overwhelming when you have extra members in your family that are in need of love and attention. In fact, there were times that I felt like I would be a big burden if I went to my parents with something I was going through. I realize now that that wasn’t the case, but it would have been a breath of fresh air to be reassured of it. Don’t forget to make time for your biological kids. It could be something simple like going out for ice cream and checking in on them or have them help you make dinner. Even though I was a teenager when my 3 siblings came from Texas, there were times that I really just needed my parents. They were there for me; I just didn’t realize it at that moment.
-Encourage Positive Feelings and Actions
Honestly, when I was in the feelings of jealousy and resentment, I wanted nothing more than to shut my door and be a recluse. I’m not saying “me time” was a bad thing (especially with a house full of kids!) but I wanted to do it ALL THE TIME. Even though there was a big age difference between some of the kids, my parents encouraged me to do things that we would both enjoy. For my brothers, it would be playing the Wii, and for my sisters, it would be doing each other’s makeup and nails. It was a great way to bond with each other while doing something that we liked doing. It actually made me feel less resentful and helped me to get into the new normal.
ON A POSITIVE NOTE
Okay, I know that I basically just threw a bunch of information and advice out there about negative emotions. Like I said before, every kid is different, so it might be not as hard for them to adjust. Even though there were a lot of lows and growing up to do, I wouldn’t trade my siblings for anything. After losing my biological brother to cancer, it was lonely without another sibling in the house. I’m so grateful to my parents for adopting 5 kids into our home. It has molded me into the woman and big sister that I am today.
Just remember when helping your biological child transition to having foster/adopted siblings, be understanding, gentle, and make them feel included. Doing those three things will help the transition go much smoother and will blossom them into the sibling that the kids that go to your home need.
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