Lessons Big Siblings Learn From Caring for and Bonding With an Adopted Child

Adoption can be a great experience for every member of the family.

Denalee Chapman July 29, 2016
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Adoptive families don’t always adopt because of infertility. That’s a common misperception.  But adoptive families usually adopt because they feel “called” to do so. Infertility can lead to that feeling, but not always. There are plenty of families with biological and adopted children who were created that way because the parents “just knew” that was the right thing for them. In families where biological children begin the growth of the family, followed by an adopted child, what effect does adoption have on the older children? There is not just one answer. In fact, there are probably as many answers as there are older children with younger adopted siblings.  But following are some things that my older children learned from the caring for and bonding with their adopted younger brother:

Familial love is not restricted to biological ties. It sounds obvious to adults who read this. But ask a child without adopted siblings how they think they would feel if someone from another family became his/her sibling and see how they react. Most often they would say that they will love the person and help that child,  but that their relationship with the adopted child would always be a little different than that with their biological siblings. It’s what our minds tell us before we get that experience.

All it takes, though, is doing it. Although it might not be articulated in so many words, older siblings feel exactly the same type of love for their adopted brothers or sisters as for their biological ones. In fact, it’s amazing how often adoption is completely forgotten. When friends asked about their brother (who is significantly darker in skin color than they are), they would be taken aback for a few moments. It just didn’t register that there was anything different about him until they consciously thought about it.

Diversity is real and should be acknowledged, but not be a means of exclusion. So, he’d rather be building a model than singing with the family . . . that’s okay! It doesn’t mean he goes off on his own to his room to build. It means he’s invited to build in the family room while we sing. Or he naturally expresses his feelings more cryptically than openly. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel like we do—it means we listen more attentively and search for his feelings rather than ignoring him. Or instead of the big hugs and physical affection that the rest of us are comfortable with, he fills each moment with acts of service for those he loves. Instead of feeling rejected when he gives a half-hearted hug, we feel his love in every little thing he does for us.

Sibling love, rivalry, protection and relationships are not determined by DNA. The kids all argued, played, supported and laughed with each other. All of them. No one gave our adopted son an “out” from the arguments, and no one felt less inclined to sneak away and get into trouble with him than with their non-adopted siblings. They say, these days, that being “color blind” in a transracial family is not appropriate—that we need to acknowledge the differences and be intentional about making those difference a part of our everyday lives. But the truth is, many older siblings really are color blind when it comes to their adopted brothers or sisters.  Not only color blind, but blind to all other differences when it comes to playing together, working together, or participating in usual siblings “fighting.” Kids are kids in a combined biological and adopted family. All are on equal footing and all are expected to join in.

I wish I’d have kept a better journal when my children were young regarding their feelings about their adopted brother. But honestly, it was all a non-issue. So much so that it never occurred to me that it was something worth recording. However, if I were to live that time of my life over again, I would be more intentional about preserving those moments when they did share how they felt. It might have come in handy during the times when our adopted son was feeling out of place. I could have opened the journal and shared with him so he would know that he’s always been “one of the kids” . . . not just to his parents, but to his siblings, too!

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Denalee Chapman

Denalee is an adoptive mother, a motivational speaker, a writer, and a lover of life. She and her husband have adventured through the hills and valleys of life to find that the highest highs and the lowest lows are equally fulfilling. Book Denalee to speak to your group, or find Denalee's writings, including her books on her website at DenaleeChapman.com.

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