I enjoy an unusual pastime with my oldest daughter, Kaylin (who’s currently six), in that we love to watch scary films together. We started with Jurassic Park when Kaylin was around two. When that went well, we progressed to King Kong, Dragonslayer, and many more frightening flicks including last year’s chilling adaptation of Stephen King’s It. As we watch, we talk about the life lessons contained in the narrative and the nature of good vs. evil exemplified within each story. We discuss characters’ good and bad decisions and what we might do differently if we were in the movie. Through it all, Kaylin has developed a very strong grasp of fiction vs. nonfiction and has never had movie-related nightmares or woken us up fearful of monsters under her bed or ghosts in her closet. My younger daughter, Julia? Yeah, not so much. She once screamed in terror when we showed her a freshly-hatched baby chick. While I love my two kids equally, they each have their own unique personalities and are vastly different in what they can handle.
When you are matched to adopt, it’s important to take into account your child’s ability to comprehend and cognitively process important subjects. Every child is different and only you know what your son or daughter is capable of grasping. The ups and downs of the journey are difficult enough for a mature adult to cope with, so it’s wise to proceed with caution when telling your children details about their future sibling.
Keep in Mind a Match is Not a Guarantee
The adoption journey that brought Kaylin home was fraught with hardship as my wife, Tara, and I had previously faced two failed matches during a nearly two-year wait. However, we’d barely finished our home study when we were matched with Julia’s birth mother. When we began the process for the second time, we simply told Kaylin we were working on adopting another baby, a child who would eventually become her little sister or brother. When we were officially matched, we thought long and hard about what to share with Kaylin; after all, she was like a little adult when it came to grasping film content above her age range. In the end, we decided to share the great news with her, but we explained that there was a chance it might not work out and that we had to hold the situation loosely in our hearts as we prayed for our desired outcome. Even though Julia’s birth mother was still within her rights to terminate the adoption plan, we felt that with our support and guidance, Kaylin was strong and mature enough to be able to handle even the worst possible outcome. While I believe kids are way more resilient than we often give them credit for, only you, as your child’s parent, can make this judgment call based on your intimate understanding of your son or daughter.
Keep Them Involved, Not Immersed
Just as you might tell your child about your pregnancy at a certain number of weeks, it’s a good idea to involve them in the basics from the get-go. Let them know they’re going to have a little brother or sister when the time is right, and that their help as the older sibling will be very much appreciated. When you are matched, avoid letting them know the specifics of any fears you may be holding onto and share them only with your partner (if you have one), trusted friends and family, or professional counselors. Your insecurities—valid as they may be—are not your current child’s burden to bear.
Promote Respect and Admiration
If you haven’t already done so, take the time to educate your child about proper adoption terminology. Foster a culture of respect and admiration within your home for birth parents and the loving sacrifices they make on behalf of their children. If your current child was adopted, remind them how they grew in another woman’s belly, and that their future sibling will get to do the same. If you gave birth to your current child, discuss the numerous ways in which families are formed and how they’re all beautiful in their own way. More than anything, drive home the point that your children will all be equally loved.
If you are matched to adopt transracially, talk to your child about how people are born in all different sizes and colors, and that no one is better than the other. Sadly, this may also be the appropriate time to talk to your child about racial prejudice. In my own family, Kaylin is white and Julia is black. When Tara and I were matched with Julia’s birth mother, we discussed with Kaylin that her future sister’s skin was a darker color than hers, and that at some point, people may vocally attempt to discredit their sisterhood. I’ll never forget her response: “I don’t care what anyone says or what color we are, she’ll always be my sister.” Maybe it had something to do with all the movies we’ve watched, but she seemed to instinctively understand that some might not approve of transracial siblings, and more importantly, that it doesn’t matter. If your own child gets this, wonderful. If not, start with their own primitive understanding of racial diversity and gradually increase their educational building blocks.
The window of time between being matched and bringing home your new child is extremely short, but the stress can make it feel like a multitude of eternities. While it’s hard enough to protect and care for your own mental health as an adult during this time, it’s crucial that you take the time to do the same for any children you already have.