Is Adopting Out of Birth Order Really that Big of a Deal? | A Parent’s Perspective

We adopted one chid out of birth order. This is what our experience was like.

Narda Emett July 25, 2016
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We adopted one child out of birth order. We didn’t do it without much thought about how it would affect the dynamics of our family. At the time, we had a 9-year-old daughter, Madison, and 4-year-old twins, Sierra and Savannah, all of whom were adopted at birth. We felt like our family was not yet complete and as we explored our options, we discovered an orphanage in Ghana and began the process of applying for adoption.

Madison with twinsMadison had been an only child for five years before the twins came along. She transitioned beautifully into the proud big sister role. She loved helping me care for the babies and was thrilled there were two of them, allowing her to hold one by herself while I cared for the other.

As we considered the children in the orphanage, there were three we talked and prayed about. We didn’t have much information about any of the children besides names and approximate ages. Two of the three children were older than Madison. As we discussed how this would impact Madison and the newly adopted child, we felt like it would be a big deal to disrupt birth order. Madison was pretty set in her role as the oldest. She liked to be in charge. She liked the younger girls looking to her for an example.

We knew that education at the orphanage was lacking and there would be language challenges as well. As we thought of a newly adopted child trying to find her role in the family as the oldest child, we thought it may be difficult as she would likely be behind in school and hadn’t experienced much by way of a structured family.

Madison and LillyI was also worried about adopting a teen or tween since we had never been parents to one before. It seemed more natural to grow into that role with Madison.

The other child we were considering was a year older than Sierra and Savannah. We didn’t think switching birth order at this age would be a big deal. Sierra and Savannah were the youngest. They would remain the youngest. The child we would adopt wasn’t of school-age yet, so wouldn’t fall far behind.

When it came down to it, we went with what “felt” right to us. We prayed long and hard about it and decided to adopt Lilly. She was 5 years old when she came home and joined our family.

I was a little surprised at how it affected Sierra and Savannah. They saw Lilly as a threat. “Their big sister” Maddie was spending too much time with Lilly. Lilly wanted to sit on Dad’s lap, but that was “their” spot. When Maddie went to school, their “special time with Mom” now included Lilly as well.

They were mean to her at first. They would call her names. They refused to touch her. They would try to push her off Mom’s or Dad’s lap.

I think if we had adopted a child who was younger and smaller than they were, there still would have been jealousy and adjustment, but they would have been gentler and kinder about it.

family tripRealizing we had a lot of work to do to transition our new family into a loving family, my husband took a couple of weeks off from work. During that time, we played games that involved touching, like “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Ring-Around-the-Rosy.” Over the next few months, we felt like it was important to make family memories that included all four children, so Lilly didn’t feel so left out when someone said, “Remember when . . . ” So we spent time in some of our family-favorite places, went to Disneyland, and took a lot of family pictures that included everyone.

It took a few months for it all to come together and for everyone to settle in. Lilly has been in our family now for seven years. Savannah shares a room with Lilly. Sierra and Lilly share a number of friends and play well together. None of us could imagine life without her. It’s hard to remember life before her. It feels like she has always been a part of our family.

So, is adopting out of birth order really that big of a deal? Yes, it can be. Can it be done successfully? Absolutely!

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Narda Emett

Narda Emett is a mother of six, four of whom were adopted. She has been part of the adoption community for over 16 years, serving on local and national boards for Families Supporting Adoption. She has adopted both domestically and internationally and is happy to be part of a transracial adoptive family. In her free time (does a mother of six ever have free time?), she likes to read and make amazing wedding cakes.


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