I once met with a couple who were adamant about their adoption experience. They had to (and I mean had to) adopt their children in age order. It was a must! It was the law, as far as they were concerned. As I looked them both in the eye, and listened to the high pitches in their tone as they shared their vision, I knew they were serious. They had signed up to be foster parents, not necessarily intending to adopt every child they fostered, but were open to it.
As we sipped our coffee, in a warm coffee shop on the northside of the city, on a crisp January morning, while snow swirled around just outside of the window, and professionals scurried in and out like squirrels moving through trees, I remember thinking, “Well…good luck!” They had brought me there to discuss their “fail-proof” plan for how they would build their family. I think they may have even written it down on a few sheets of paper. I was impressed. We never came close to anything like this, with the exception of filling out paperwork for the agency, and checking checkboxes. These two were legit-ready for this to begin!
There was only one problem: the adoption and foster experience rarely works out the way you plan it to in the beginning. You have to kind of, plan for the unplannable, so to speak!
The adoption and foster experience rarely works out the way you plan it to in the beginning.
I don’t want to sound callused here. Not my intention at all. I know I probably do, though. It’s certainly possible that you could adopt in age order, and I have actually known some people who have done this. It’s just not something you can really plan to do, especially if you’re open to the adventure (twists, turns, and all) of the adoption and foster journey. And most of that adventure is receiving a phone call and responding with, “Umm, sure, we can do that,” in the middle of the night.
So when you do adopt or foster out of age order, what do you need to be prepared for? More importantly, what do you need to be sure happens within your home, as you build this beautiful family? Over the past 15 years, our children have jockied positions as far as birth order, several times. Each time, we’ve learned a thing or two. Here are what I consider to be, “Must-dos:”
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. As you bring children into your home, communication is key. It must lead out. It must be the centerpiece of everything you do as your family grows. If you are already raising a sibling group of 3- an eight-year-old, an eleven-year-old, and a fifteen-year-old, for example, it’s crucial that you discuss openly the possibility of bringing more children into your home. If your 15-year old is used to being the oldest (and there are certain ideals and perspectives that oldest children have) you MUST spend as much time as possible (even if it’s a few hours the night before) discussing the fact that a 16-year old may be joining the home. That changes things. There may be emotions. Talk about all of that.
- Give permission to express. As you talk about a potential jockeying of birth order position, give your permanent children, or biological children, permission to express their views and opinions about this. While the final decision is certainly yours, you have to give your other children (who own a share in the home) the floor to share. But, if at all possible, give a lot of space and time to discuss this possibility. This is not the topic of conversation to bring up casually over dinner, and expect to wrap it up by the time dessert is served. You’ll have a lot of eyerolls, cussing, and slamming doors if you try this.
- Answer as many questions as possible from your permanent children. As you give that unbridled permission, expect questions. Lots and lots of questions. But don’t just expect, welcome them. Allow them to spend as much time as possible asking as many questions as they want to. They will want to know if they are losing their bedroom, if they will lose time on the XBox, if they have to share their clothes, and on and on. But your older children will have more serious questions such as, does this mean you won’t be able to go on your special weekly coffee date like you had been doing, or what happens when this new kid starts driving? Will they have to share the car with them?
- Commit yourself to a healthy balance as a parent. If you’re adding a lot more children to your home (or even if it’s just 2 more) your time and energy may become more stretched and thinned out than it is currently. Be aware of this. Make sure you keep yourself healthy, and maintain a healthy balance with all of your children in terms of time, conversation, focus, and time together.
- Remember your permanent children. While the birth order may jockey and your family will grow, remember the children who are permanently part of your family. Now, if you are adopting again, then these children will be permanently part of your family, but if you have permanent children and you also foster, it’s easy for those children to get lost in the shuffle and busyness of life. Be intentional about spending time with all of your children, but especially those who are always going to be a part of your family.
In 2002 we welcomed our first child home through private adoption. For the next 2 and a half years, she was our only child. We took her everywhere we went, dressed her up in cute outfits, and (as much as we don’t like to admit it) basically spoiled her. But we knew that our family would grow eventually. We just didn’t know exactly how it would grow or how quickly. In May of 2004 we rushed to get our foster license when the mutual friend of a friend at our church was suddenly in a tough situation with her kids. Only weeks after we began fostering a sibling group of 2. One of the siblings was younger than our daughter, but the other (also a girl) was older. As we reflect back on this time in our family’s life, we realize that our firstborn daughter was never supposed to be the oldest sibling in our home. But we also recognize some things we should have been more prepared on. The steps I just listed above help with preparation tremendously. While you’ll never fully be prepared, following these steps will help tremendously.