What Does Adoption Mean to Siblings?

Some children want a sibling. They want a playmate or their friends all have siblings. If old enough, a child may be aware that their parent has been unable to have a biological child or may be aware of the decision to adopt. They may need to be educated on adoption. Some may have heard about children waiting for a family and want to help. Even if your child wants a sibling, the family dynamic shifts with the addition of a new child. You and your current child need to be prepared.

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If adopted themselves, this is a great opportunity to discuss adoption in general with your child and to add details of the child’s history and how they joined the family. It is also a time to explain how each child’s history belongs to them. They, and their sibling, should hear details from you and decide with whom and what they share with others.

Birth order and adoption may also have an impact on the sibling and family relationships. How a parent explains their family building options and helps each child settle into the family makes a difference. Adopting a child and then having a birth child may need to include additional discussion—that your desire to parent at that time was most important to you, and that there is no difference in the love you have for an adopted or birth child. Giving birth and then adopting needs to include an explanation of the choice or medical reasons (secondary infertility, age, etc.) to adopt. Of course, all explanations must be age appropriate.

If all siblings are adopted, they may have varying amounts of information or contact with their birth family. This is not a competition, although for siblings sometimes it feels that way. An older sibling may be exposed to adoption information and even meet the prospective birth parents during their sibling’s adoption process. They need to know that this information is private and not to be shared with others. It is also important to keep track of what each child knows, imagines or wants to know, so you can add important information and correct any misconceptions.

Siblings will hear questions and comments from others. They may be asked “Is that your real sister?” “Where is his real mother?” “Why don’t you look alike?” It is important to discuss how and if to answer questions, as well as when and how to alert a parent of what is being said or asked.

Sibling rivalry is a given. Add adoption to the mix and the conversation takes a new turn: “You’re not their real kid. I am.” “Mom and dad are stuck with you. They chose me.” “They only adopted you because I said to.” “If they could have gotten pregnant, they never would have had you.” These comments are hurtful and typically said in a moment of anger and jealousy, usually when they feel a parent is choosing one sibling over the other. When heard or made aware, a parent needs to address this quickly.

Each sibling has a personal history, as well as a shared history in the current family. Parents need to be cognizant of each child’s needs and how to meet those needs, including reassurance of their place in the family.

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