At the time we adopted our youngest son, we had four biological children ranging from five to eleven years old. They were very excited to add a sibling to our family and had been involved in the adoption process. They prayed daily that the right situation would find us. The first time we were matched with an expectant mother, we were really open with the kids. We were also naïve to the possibility that things wouldn’t work out, and unfortunately, they didn’t that time around. We were very blessed to be chosen again a few months later and that time around, we were able to bring our precious son home. But that experience taught us about how we should have better prepared our children. Here are some things we learned.
Keep things quiet.
The first time we were matched we shouted it to the world! Everyone knew that we had been chosen by an expectant mother as the family for her child. Everywhere we went it was the topic of conversation. In hindsight, we should have kept things quieter. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have told our children, but it is to say, we should have kept it more private. When things fell through that first time, it was devastating for all of us. We cried together for a long time. But it was difficult on our children because everyone knew and we had to continually rehash what had happened. If I could go back, I would still tell my children, because there are lots of important conversations that need to happen before their sibling comes home, but I wouldn’t have told the rest of the world. We would have told a select few of our friends and family and left it at that. Our second match was much more low key: no Facebook announcements, no public blog posts, just quiet moments at home together.
Let the kids know that it isn’t a for sure thing.
When talking to our children about adoption the second time around, we rephrased things. Instead of saying, “We’re getting a baby!” we said, “An expectant mother is thinking about placing her child into our family. It’s a really, really hard decision. She has looked at us, spoken to us, and likes us, but she won’t know for sure until the baby is born. At that time, she will decide how she feels about things.” This approach worked much better. The kids were still able to be excited about the possibility, but understood how difficult it was for the baby’s mother to make this decision. It was a way to honor her and her experience as well as protect our children from getting their hopes too high.
Talk about the ways adoption will change your family.
Your family may not look alike any more – especially in the case of transracial adoption. When you go out, strangers may stop you and ask questions or say strange things to you. Brainstorm ways your family can respond to these instances. Explain that the new child’s story is personal and isn’t something that is shared with strangers in line at the grocery store or with friends on the playground. Together you can come up with things to say when people ask questions. Don’t let these things come as a surprise to your children. Prepare them for it.
Don’t be afraid to talk about racism.
If you plan on adopting transracially, racism needs to be addressed. It is something your new child will experience at some point in his or her life, and it will most likely start sooner than you imagined. Your children need to know what racism is and what it looks like. They need to know that no matter what, they have the responsibility to stand up against it, and stand up for their sibling. It’s an uncomfortable topic for people who haven’t experienced it, but it isn’t something that can be ignored. Make sure your family is prepared to take this on.
Talk about birth mothers.
Explain the reasons an expectant mother may choose adoption for her child, and let your children know how much love and respect this woman deserves from your family. Talk about her feelings. Talk about her love for her child. Let them know that you aren’t just bringing a baby home, but that you are expanding your family and your hearts to include her. Make it a point to never speak negatively about her or her situation. Teach your children to love her.
There are more things you could do, and each situation is different. But please, take the time to have an open dialogue with your children as they prepare to add a sibling through adoption. It can bring about big changes, lots of questions, and strong emotions. You are doing things to prepare yourself, your children deserve to be educated and prepared as well.
What are some things you have done to prepare your children for a new sibling?