Like snowflakes, no two adoption stories are the same–similar on many levels, but look closely and you’ll spot a world of differences. Adoption is not a factory production line. There is no power on/off switch. There is no crossing guard to make sure everything runs safely, smoothly, or on time. Adoption, rather, is fluid as are the important players who make up the process.

Like many families, we often take walks down memory lane to revisit how we became a family of four. It’s amazing that although just a year and a month apart, our girls’ earliest experiences were so different as was how we became us through them. I think they enjoy having their own identities as siblings and as adoptees–rather than being a lump sum–like any other siblings looking for what makes them special pieces in their family’s puzzle.

Our girls know each other’s adoption stories by heart.

Because we’ve always been so open, by now, our girls know each other’s adoption stories by heart, minus a few personal details. Sometimes they’ll fill in the blanks with little factoids of each other’s stories when we’re rehashing a memory around the dinner table. And they discuss their stories when we’re (mom and dad) not around, too. Sharing and comparing thoughts and feelings. I know this because oftentimes one or the other will come to me later to tell me what her sister said or thought about something. I also know they feel differently about their birth country, birth family, and first caregivers.

And recently, my youngest daughter felt moved to share some parts of her adoption story with her classmates while talking about overcoming trying times. When one of her schoolmates asked about her sister, she said she quickly moved along keeping the focus on herself because “I didn’t feel comfortable talking about something that might be private to my sister.” I was proud of her for respecting and understanding that while some things are fine for public knowledge, others should remain off limits unless she or her sister are comfortable sharing them–on their terms.

As is often recommended, I don’t push talking adoption with our girls, but I do take opportunities when they present themselves to remind them the door is open, especially as they grow and their lives become more complicated. My husband and I have always been honest and answer any questions our girls may have as is age appropriate. They are well aware of the fact that for us–they are a true blessing in our lives. They are also well aware of the fact that we value and respect them as individuals and understand they are allowed to feel however they want to and to question whatever they’d like. More than talking about their adoptions, I try to make it understood that we’re here to listen to what they have to say.

Our girls understand that adoption is both a happy and sad journey…

We’ve made it clear that they each came to us at different times under different circumstances. We don’t tiptoe around the fact that perhaps one feels like the other had an easier go of things or that the other may feel shortchanged in that her story isn’t quite as involved as her sister’s–sibling rivalry knows no bounds–even in adoption.

Our girls understand that adoption is both a happy and sad journey and that their beginnings brought different experiences for each of them that have shaped them to this point in their lives. It’s clear that they’ve each had loss in their lives, even if they don’t quite understand the who or the how or the why. They also recognize that they’ve had joy and love.

But it’s not for my husband and I to tell them how to feel about any of the above or to compare their experiences in any way. And why would we? Having both been brought up with siblings ourselves, we know from experience that our own lives are different based on our family trees, parents, birth order, etc. Each one of us walks this world in a unique pair of shoes. They know that despite the differences in their adoption stories and how they each choose to handle that, we are family and family is there for each other no matter what.