What is it Like to Adopt Siblings?

Two families open up about their experiences with adopting sibling groups.

Kathleen Kelly Halverson February 11, 2018
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Fagan Family, Adoption Day at the Baltimore City Court House, 2011 (L to R: Trevor, Darel, John Lloyd, Angelica, Lauren, Judge Vicki Ballou-Watts)

In this personal interview, we reached out to two Maryland families who adopted sibling groups. Both families adopted internationally—one from South Korea, the other from the Philippines. We thank the Argo/Fitton family and the Fagan family for sharing their adoption stories with us.

Meet the Argo/Fitton Family

Mary Joy and Peter Fitton are the parents of Nicholas (age 11) and Jonathan (age 9). Mary Joy and Peter started their adoption journey with Nick in January 2006 and brought him home in August 2006. They started their adoption journey with Jonathan in January 2008 and brought him home in October 2008. The family lives in the Baltimore suburbs.

Argo/Fitton Family, Summer 2015 at a baseball game in Seoul, South Korea (from L to R, clockwise: Jonathan, Mary Joy, Peter, and Nick).

Argo/Fitton Family, Summer 2015 at a baseball game in Seoul, South Korea (from L to R, clockwise: Jonathan, Mary Joy, Peter, and Nick).

Tell me about your children.

“Nicholas (Nick) Ji-hun is 11, and Jonathan Tae-hyeong is 9. Nick was born in Gwangyang, South Korea, and Jonathan in Gwangju, South Korea.”

What things do you like to do together as a family?

“We enjoy watching movies together, playing board games, and dining out.”

Give us a quick snapshot of what your boys are like: Use two or three words to describe each one of your children—just the first couple of words that come to mind.

“Nick is creative, entrepreneurial, and has a great sense of humor. Jonathan loves math, is mechanically inclined, and is the lone extrovert in a family of introverts.”

You had a somewhat unique experience when you adopted your boys, who are biological brothers. Tell me about the day that you found out your oldest son had another sibling in South Korea—and, when given an incredible opportunity, what you decided to do about it.

“We had always planned on adopting a second time and while we didn’t really have a strong gender preference, since we had the option of requesting a girl the second time around, and since we already had a boy, we thought, “Why not try for a girl?” At that time, the wait for a referral for a girl was about 1 year—and, since our son was not yet 2, we were comfortable with the wait. About 2 weeks after our adoption paperwork got sent to Korea, we got a call in the evening from our social worker. Because it had only been 2 weeks, I wasn’t expecting her to be calling about a referral; instead, I thought there might be a problem with our paperwork. She asked us if we were sitting down; that made me feel worse! Then she said that our agency had learned that our son’s birth mother had had a healthy baby boy 3 days earlier, she was unable to parent the child, and wanted him placed with his brother, if possible. The whole time our social worker was talking, my husband and I kept looking at each other and smiling and nodding. So, when she asked us if we wanted to take some time to think about accepting this referral, since we had originally requested a girl, we didn’t need to think about it.  We said yes on the spot.”

What convinced you to be “okay” with your second child being a boy and not a girl? Is it surreal to look back and wonder what would have happened had that birth mom not insisted that the agency reach out to you first? (In international adoption, this situation does not happen very much if at all.)

“Since we didn’t have a strong preference as to gender, it was easy for us to change tracks and proceed with adopting another boy. We knew how rare this type of situation was and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have it happen to us. We were also incredibly grateful to their birthmother for giving our sons the opportunity to grow up with a biological connection to each other (and to her). It makes me sad to imagine our family not having been given this opportunity—what would it be like to find out years later that Nick had a younger brother who had been adopted, likely by someone in the US, but not by us?”

What‘s it like being the parents of siblings whom you adopted from another country?

“We feel lucky that we were able to adopt siblings! Our boys have someone else in their family to whom they have a genetic connection and with whom they have a shared history that doesn’t involve us—not many adopted kids get to have that experience. Some adult adoptees never find their birth family, but our boys have some birth family right here.”

What advice do you have (a) for couples who are specifically looking to adopt sibling groups and/or (b) for couples who may not have thought about adopting sibling groups but perhaps might be convinced to consider it?

“Not sure we’re able to fully answer this question, since we didn’t set out trying to adopt a sibling group and since we didn’t adopt our boys “as a group,” but rather, separately. So aside from the fact that they are birth brothers, we had two separate adoption experiences. Nevertheless, here are some observations:

  • It makes birth country travel easier to visit only one birth city, or in our case, two birth cities near to each other, and one city where they were both in foster care before going to Seoul. [Editor’s note: The Argo/Fitton family traveled to South Korea on a homeland tour in Summer 2015.]
  • From what I understand, adopting a sibling group is less expensive and time consuming than adopting the same number of siblings separately.
  • Even in our case, we were able to get Jonathan earlier and younger than we likely would have if he were not Nick’s birth brother.”
Argo/Fitton family, April 2017 (clockwise, from L to R: Nick, Peter, Mary Joy, and Jonathan).

Argo/Fitton family, April 2017 (clockwise, from L to R: Nick, Peter, Mary Joy, and Jonathan).

What are some “words of wisdom” or “lessons learned” about any aspect of parenting a sibling group? What do you want people to know—not just about adoption but specifically about the adoption of sibling groups?

“Just because your kids are biologically related doesn’t mean they will necessarily look alike, or have the same personality or similar skill sets. This seems obvious, and I knew this intellectually, before our second son arrived, but I have often found myself relying on something that worked for one kid but ended up not working at all for the other. As a result, it’s sometimes more helpful/useful for me to “forget” about the biological connection and focus on our kids as unique individuals.”

Your boys are getting older; one is a tween, right? Do they argue and get under each other’s skin, or do they get along pretty well? Do you think adoption played a role in how bonded they are to one another?

“Nick is almost 12 and yes, we are definitely getting into some tween behaviors with him! Our boys fight a lot—they always have, but I think it has gotten worse as they get older and develop more of a sense of self. Each one feels like the other has it “easier” when it comes to rules and privileges. On the other hand, they prefer doing activities together. I think one of the reasons they fight so hard and get hurt feelings so easily is that, deep down, they do care about each other a lot. I’m not sure how much their being biologically related affected or strengthened their bonding. I do think it’s something they will appreciate as they mature.”

What do you think all of this says about their birth mom—how she specifically sought you out?

“I can’t put into words how grateful I am to their birth mother, and I think about her every day. I hope it gives her some peace to know that both of the boys are together.”

Meet the Fagan Family

Lauren and Trevor Fagan are the parents of three children: Angelica (age 13), Darel (age 12), and John Lloyd (age 10). Lauren and Trevor started their adoption journey in April 2007 and brought their children home in May 2011. The Fagans live in Parkville, Maryland.

Fagan Family, 2017 (L to R, clockwise: Darel, Trevor, Lauren, Angelica, John Lloyd)

Fagan Family, 2017 (L to R, clockwise: Darel, Trevor, Lauren, Angelica, John Lloyd)

Tell me about your children.

“We have three beautiful children—ages 13, 12 and 10—that were born in the Philippines. Our oldest is a girl, and our two youngest are boys.”

What things do you like to do together as a family?

“We are renovating a small cottage next to our home. The children enjoy helping their dad with the construction. In our down time, we enjoy watching movies together, singing, and listening to music.”

Give us a quick snapshot of what your kids are like: Use two or three words to describe each one of your children—just the first couple of words that come to mind.

Angelica—focused, studious, fun

Darel—introspective, athletic, enjoys history

John Lloyd—chatty, social, kind

What‘s it like, being the parents of siblings whom you adopted from another country?

“After answering the other questions, coming back to this one has led us to mention that expanding our involvement within the Philippine community has helped us to grow as individuals in addition to helping our children remain close to their culture. We have made great friends amongst this community and through fellow adoptive families. Each summer, our family attends Philippine culture camp (Camp Mabuhay). Also, we are members of Mabuhay Inc., and we attend their sponsored events as well.”

What advice do you have (a) for couples who are specifically looking to adopt sibling groups and/or (b) for couples who may not have thought about adopting sibling groups but perhaps might be convinced to consider it?

“We made the decision to adopt siblings because we knew that we wanted more than one child but were not sure we’d go through the process a second time. There is an advantage to having children make the transition from their home country to their new family together. That said, I can see how bonding with individual children could be more difficult since they have each other. We did not experience that issue, but I can see how it could happen.”

What are some “words of wisdom” or “lessons learned” about any aspect of parenting a sibling group? What do you want people to know, not just about adoption but specifically about the adoption of sibling groups?

“It has been especially interesting to watch our children grow and to see the similarities and differences between these biological siblings. Each of their personalities is so very different from the others. The challenges with each are different, but so are the rewards. For example, one of our children is not a “hugger” while another of our children still loves to be hugged and loved.”

Why was it so important for you to adopt a sibling group versus one child? What attracted you about the idea of adopting siblings?

“We knew that we wanted more than one child, yet we did not think we would go through the process a second time. The process is long, intense, and costly. Therefore, when we heard that we could request a sibling group through the Philippines, we were thrilled. Also, we strongly believed that the process would be easier on the children if they were not going through the adoption process alone. Finally, having multiple children enables them to play together and to keep each other entertained.”

You waited a long time to bring your children home—even longer than the “usual wait time” for fellow families adopting from the Philippines. How long was the wait from beginning to end? What “kept you going” while you waited? At the end of the day, what makes the wait so “worth it” now that you are a family of five?

“From the first call to Catholic Charities to the time we traveled to the Philippines to pick up our children was just over 4 years. Because we thought this wait time would be less than 2 years when we started, we took three trips abroad during the first couple of years since we thought that type of travel would be limited after our children came home. We attended every Catholic Charities parenting session that we could. However, once we were on our third year of the parenting classes, seeing prospective parents receiving their adoption referrals and us still waiting, became really difficult. We stopped attending the classes. As a critical part of our paperwork was ready to expire—meaning we’d have to refile and repay—we began having serious discussions about moving to a different adoption program. Just as this was happening, the miracle happened—we received our referral from the Philippines.”

When your children joined your family, they were older (as in, beyond toddlers, right?). So, there’s no doubt that the 3 of them were already bonded to one another. What was it like for you, as parents, to become bonded with them? Were there any attachment issues? Was the bonding process smooth or difficult? How long did it take for the 5 of you to kind of “settle in” as a family and see/feel yourselves as a forever family? What was the key “settling in strategy” that worked the best for you?

“When we brought our children home, they were 6, 5, and 3 years old. Our oldest two children were bonded, as they were so close in age. Our youngest was in a different part of the house in the orphanage because of his age, so it’s unclear how much time he spent with his older siblings. Our older two spoke broken English when we brought them home, but our youngest spoke no English. Lauren was home with the children for the first 3 months, which really helped in the bonding process. While we may not be able to pinpoint a specific timeframe for when we were settled in, we find that we continue to deepen our relationships with each stage of our children’s development.”

How was the process of adopting a sibling group similar to the process of adopting one child? How was it different? How did fee structures differ, if at all?

Generally, the process was the same; however, we have to submit each stack of paperwork times three. The cost was not three times that of adopting one child, as some of the costs were one-time and others were per-child. [Editor’s note: For more information on adoption costs for sibling groups, see this article.]

Your oldest children are approaching the tween/teen years. Do they argue and get under each other’s skin? Or do they get along pretty well? Do you think that your adoption of them brought them closer and made them more bonded to one another? Or do you think it really didn’t play a role (i.e., their relationship with one another would have been this way regardless of whether they were adopted or not)?

We have a teenage girl and a tween boy, and our 10-year-old son that is quickly approaching the same. They are very typical American kids in how they relate to one another—both good and bad.

What was the biggest challenge in adopting siblings? What was (or is) the greatest joy?

Our greatest challenge is in not really knowing what these children had gone through in their early lives. Somehow, it seems that if we knew more, we could help them more deeply as they work through their struggles. The greatest joy for us is in watching these children grow up together, discovering their strengths and talents. They really enjoy laughing and singing together, which brings pure joy to us as adoptive parents. They play a significant role within our extended family as well, and it is beautiful to see them happily interacting with all of their older cousins.

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Kathleen Kelly Halverson

Kathleen Kelly Halverson lives in Olney, Maryland, with her husband Jeff, son Matthew Seong-jin (whom they adopted from South Korea in 2010), and two dogs. She works in scholarly publishing for a nonprofit association and has maintained an adoption blog since 2008: http://kathjeffadoption.blogspot.com.


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