We get this question ALL the time. Usually I’m thinking, “Hmmm good question, I don’t have any bio kids so I don’t know how to answer that.” Next, I’ll think, “I should really meet someone who has bio kids and ask them this question.” Then I say to myself, “Better yet, I should find a bio kid who was raised in an adoptive family and then I’ll ask the question.” This weekend my mom and I went to an adoption conference together and I kept introducing her and by saying, “This is my mom, she’s an adoptive mom too!”
That’s when it hit me, I’M a biological child in an adoptive family. *Insert eye roll here* Please give me grace right now, I haven’t slept through the night in almost 16 years. I’m always busy writing and speaking about being an adoptive mom that I forgot that I have another perspective as well. My youngest brother was adopted when I was 16 and he was 8.
My brother needed a lot of support. He had lost his first family, his country, his language and everything he had ever known. He was being raised in an orphanage and was severely malnourished. Once in our house, he would have plenty of food, a mom and dad and three older siblings who were dying to meet him. Unlike the movies, his story wasn’t wrapped with a ribbon and tied with a neat little bow the minute he reached his new life. He had a long way to go before he understood our culture. We had a long way to go before we learned to gain his trust.
In our desire to support our foster and adoptive children sometimes we forget that biological kids need support too. Our children who live securely in our home should be gracious hosts, but they are also still children. When my biological sister was born, I was three. I was so excited to be a big sister, until she arrived. My pre-school brain just couldn’t understand how my parents could pay so much attention to her. My position as only child had been changed without my permission or even consideration for my opinion. (how rude!) When a child is adopted the new siblings must shift and change. Bedrooms, seats at the dinner table, sometimes even birth order. Even if the placement is only for a short time the shift feels big to those who are shifting.
In our desire to support foster and adoptive children sometimes we forget that bio kids need support too.
I’ve lived this as the bio child that gains a younger brother. I’ve lived this as the mom of a forever child who becomes a little sister and a big sister all in one day. Here are some things we have learned about providing support to our children as our family changes.
- Prepare – Parents know it’s important to get educated on trauma. We research the culture our child is coming from and anticipate areas of concern. As parents, we know we need to set flexible expectations for our new child. Our children don’t know that. They only know the environment and experiences they have lived in their short little lives. There is a fine line between telling someone else’s story and sharing needed information. You may say something like, “New Sister didn’t have enough to eat when she was little. In our home, we have plenty. New Sister may need some time to feel like she can trust us to provide enough food.” We don’t usually know exactly what to expect before a child comes home but if we start the conversation ahead of time, bio and forever kids won’t be as shocked when things are different.
- Initiate Conversation – Ask your children specific questions, “How are you feeling about New Sister?” “What is one thing you love about our new life?” “What is one thing that makes you sad?”
- Listen without judgment – LISTEN, I can’t stress this enough. No one wants to be interrupted or minimalized. If you child says, “I hate this! I don’t want to do this anymore.” Or “I miss our time together.” Don’t immediately defend yourself or your new child. Just listen. Chances are, your child will work through his or her emotions more quickly if she just feels heard. In my own personal dialogue, I say one-sided things too. “I hate this traffic, I’m never driving this car again, I want to move back in with my parents, I hate being a grown-up.” My emotions in the moment are real and valid but the conclusion is usually much more well-rounded once I’ve been heard.
- Keep traditions – You will add new traditions as life moves forward but at least for a time, keep your old traditions. Read the Christmas story together on Christmas Eve. Pray together at bedtime. Watch movies and eat popcorn every Friday. Make sure that these traditions stay in place.
- Maintain sacred space – We want our children to share but some things are not for sharing. In our house, we are not allowed to touch another person’s bed even if we share rooms. Closets, dressers and book bags are off limits as well.
- Implement alone time – Create time to be with each child and put it on the schedule. Tuesday coffee at 3pm with my 16-year-old is precious time. It’s not much but the time alone together is priceless.
- Allow Bio kids to help out – I was 16 when my brother was adopted. My mom allowed me to take him to the park and the neighborhood pool. She encouraged me to read him stories or tuck him in at night. It made me feel valued, special and trusted.
- Counseling – Counseling is good for everyone. It just is. Adoption and Foster care are huge life changes for everyone. Encouraging your child to go to counseling even just once a month can create a safe neutral place for your child to share.
Are you raising both biological and adopted kiddos in your home? What would you add to this list? Share in the comment section below this post.
Have you heard about our support and resource site, Oasis Community? It’s an online community that provides tangible resources and real-time support to families on the foster and adoptive journey. Oasis features online chat support and video conferencing with real-life parents (just like you), video interviews with experts in trauma, attachment and bonding, and more, as well as monthly educational content that can be used for hours on a foster care license, or continuing education credit.
Fall Enrollment opens THIS WEDNESDAY, November 8th.
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