When Your Child’s Birth Parent Is Parenting His Siblings

How do you help your child understand?

Rachel Galbraith September 20, 2016
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My son is now almost four years old. Over the course of the past six months, I have watched as the idea of what adoption is has started to form a bit more in his mind. We have talked about his adoption from day one. He has known his birth mother’s name from the time he could talk, and even before that, if I asked where her picture was, he would toddle over and pick it up off the shelf in his room. He knows he grew in her “tummy” and I have reinforced over and over how much she loves him.

During the first years of his life, I have been laying the ground work for the questions that are sure to come as he gets older and starts to really understand what adoption means. For now, he knows the basics, but as he has grows, I have begun to throw in a new detail here and there to help develop his full story.

He has a book featuring pictures and names of some of his biological family members. While his birth mother was pregnant, she sent me a few pictures of herself and her family. I saved them, printed them out, and made a little scrapbook of sorts. A few days ago, we were looking at that book and we got to the page where the pictures of his biological siblings reside. Pointing at those pictures I said, “Here is M. This is D, and this is J.” Then I added, “They are your brothers and sisters.”

He looked perplexed.

At our house, he is the youngest of five. He has two older sisters and two older brothers, and when I pointed at these other children and said they were his siblings, he didn’t understand what I meant by that. I searched for the words to explain further, but they didn’t come. He’s only three. He can’t understand the What’s, How’s, and Why’s of the circumstances. Once again, I’m just laying the ground work for the hard stuff that will come a little later. But, just as he has always known that T is his birth mother, he will always know that he has biological siblings. My hope is that he won’t ever be surprised by any element of his adoption story—it’s not something we shy away from discussing.

However, the confused look on his face when I mentioned his other brothers and sister got me thinking: One day, he’s going to wonder why his birth mother chose to parent those children . . . and chose to place him.

And it’s going to hurt.

There is just no way around it. That part of his story is a painful one. No matter how much love he feels from us as his parents, or from his brothers and sisters—that hurt is something he’s going to have to work through. We can’t really avoid it and I can’t solve it for him. We can’t go around it, so together, he and I will go through it.

But how?

How do I help him through it?

As an adult, it seems easy to talk about it logically. It was an issue of a lack of support and a lack of finances. For most adults, this seems reasonable. We understand the way the world works: how expensive it is to raise children, how difficult it is to be a single parent, and how relationships and circumstances can be unhealthy and frightening. But children don’t comprehend those things. Life is a lot more black and white. The grays don’t exist.

How do I help him get past the grays?

Hopefully these ideas will help.

  • When he asks, I will answer him with honest, age-appropriate answers.
  • I will NEVER downplay or minimize his feelings of confusion, sadness, or anger.
  • I will acknowledge that this is hard, unfair stuff and provide a safe place for him to talk (or cry, or yell—whatever he needs to do in the moment.)
  • I will recognize that my son will have to go through this process multiple times throughout the years as he matures and new questions arise.
  • Professional counseling is an option.
  • If it is appropriate, and comfortable for his birth mother, I will give him opportunities to ask his questions directly to her. She can answer questions in a way that I can’t.
  • I will continue to foster a relationship between my son, his birth mother, and his biological siblings.

In the end, it is simply going to take time. Have patience with your child and be prepared to face the waves and ride them out. Don’t shy away from your child’s adoption story. Lay the groundwork from the start. Be honest. Don’t shy away from the big feelings that will come, and simply love them through it.

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Rachel Galbraith

Rachel Galbraith is a busy mother of five children, one of whom was adopted at birth. She has a Bachelors Degree in social work, and has worked as a medical social worker, specializing in the field of women and children. She was privileged to play a small role in the adoptions that often took place on her hospital unit. Writing has become her own personal form of therapy, and she is excited to combine it with her love of adoption. In her free time, she has a love-hate relationship with distance running. She readily admits to doing it only so she can eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.


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