Adoption has such a special place in my heart and is a huge part of my life. I cheer for families in the process of adoption and love when we have friends who decide to adopt. I have two biological sisters, but what changed my life forever are my four adopted siblings. I was 16 when we first adopted a brother and sister from Russia when they were 8 and 6. Then when I was out of college, my family took over guardianship of another brother/sister set who were 16 and 13. While technically they aren’t legally adopted, they are part of my family and I consider them my brother and sister. We also have two cousins that are adopted and an aunt who was as well.
So adoption in some ways runs in my blood. My husband and I also have plans to adopt one day. So while I don’t have any kids that I have adopted (yet!), being so much older than my siblings, I have learned a couple things about having adopted children and what you as a mom, family member or friend can remember and do to help make the process easier. I’ve talked to my own mom and dad about this many times, and their advice is also something that I think is so valuable. Most of these pieces of advice are for families that are adopting kids that aren’t babies, but some can apply to any type of adoptive family.
1. Talk to your biological kids throughout the adoption process.
Explain why you are wanting to adopt and how this will change the family and what things will stay the same. For example, your love for them will not change but at some times your attention might be diverted. Encourage your biological kids to take ownership of the new family members. They will be just as important as you, in forming and making your adopted child feel loved. Will everything always go smoothly? No, but that’s okay! Our parents explained to us how our adopted siblings were living before they were adopted and what they went through. That was pretty much all we needed. We know we were blessed with parents, food and love and wanted to share that. There were still hard times, sometimes especially for my youngest sister at the time. She was no longer going to be the baby and had become an older sibling, but in the end we all love our adopted siblings.
2. Your biological kids can be your greatest asset.
There have been times when my parents couldn’t get through to one of the adopted kids about certain things. But since my sisters and I have been close to the kids, they came to us. My sisters and I have gotten multiple texts from our dad along the lines of “So and so thinks this is a good idea, can you talk to them?” or “So and so won’t do this. They will listen to you, can you help?” More often than not we can get through to them because we have a different relationship with the kids than my parents do.
3. If you are adopting older kids (aka – not babies) try to keep the birth order.
In other words, try to have your biological kids still be the oldest and the adopted kids as the youngest. This worked really well for our family. There was little competition between us and our adopted siblings because we were older and we were able to help more with the kids. As I mentioned earlier, the hardest transition was for my youngest sister who was the baby and then became an older sibling, but it was still doable. Where we’ve seen struggles is where you have, say, a 10 year old and take in a 14 year old adopted child. It’s definitely not a deal breaker but can be a little more challenging.
4. Have realistic expectations.
There will be some things that come up that just aren’t realistic for your adopted child. It could be a variety of things: playing a certain sport, getting all A’s, going to college, etc. While I am by no means saying not to have high standards, some things just might not be possible for them to achieve (this could really apply to every child). So try to avoid comparing them to your biological children or making them achieve the same goals. Encourage them to do the best they can whatever that may be. All A’s and college might be totally doable for them, or a trade school might be a better option. Whatever it may be, set realistic expectations.
5. You can’t avoid punishing your adopted child or setting good boundaries just because you feel sorry for the child and what they went through before they were adopted.
This piece of advice is something my mom has said. It can be really hard for parents because you love your adopted child and can’t imagine some of the things that they have witnessed or what has happened to them. But Mom says that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t enforce boundaries, rules or punishments. You will definitely regret that later. I remember the first time my sister from Russia got in trouble, my other sisters and I cried and cried. “How could our dad punish her? She just came out of an orphanage!” But he said to us, “Parents enforce consequences and rules because we love you. If we didn’t do the same to her, we wouldn’t be loving parents. Plus she needs to learn what is acceptable and what is not.” We never cried when she got in trouble again after that.
6. It’s never your “adopted child” messing up, it’s just your child messing up.
Someone told this to my dad before they adopted the kids from Russia, and it has stuck with me. This means every kid will mess up or do something you don’t like at some point. Don’t take it personally. When a teenager screws up, they are doing what teenagers do – messing up. Sometimes it just happens. Don’t label them as your adopted child or adopted teenager messing up. You parent the same. This was really helpful to my parents that they had three biological kids already make it through the other side of the teenage years. My dad would say to the younger kids, “There is nothing you can say or do that your older sisters haven’t already done.” I think it gave my parents a lot of wisdom in dealing with situations that happened and definitely more patience. Are my parents perfect? By no means, and they would say the same, but they, like anyone, they have learned a few things by living it and that’s beneficial.
7. Be patient with cultural differences.
This is especially true if you are adopting kids internationally but can even but true with domestic adoptions. I think it took my brother three years to learn most of our English vocabulary, but he was considered fluent within 6 months. Just be patient; they will do things that are normal for them that seem completely foreign to you and that’s OK. They will like food that you think is crazy (for our family, it is borscht) and won’t like food that is commonplace to you. That’s OK too. Kids learn things surprisingly fast and will eventually catch on.
8. Celebrate their heritage.
Every person wants to know where they came from. They want to know the history of that country or culture. Most kids will attach on their birth country and celebrate it because that’s their heritage. That’s fine! It doesn’t mean they are less proud to be part of your family, it just means that they understand what makes them unique. They will probably want to know about their birth families too. We think it’s important to tell them as much as possible at age-appropriate times. It might not be possible to have a relationship with their biological families, but even names and stories about the parents or grandparents help. It gives them a sense of belonging. This might not be something you share right away to make sure they bond with your family. But eventually the kids will want to know especially when they are teenagers. My brother and sister recently found their family in Russia. It was great to give them some closure to the situation and know that their family did love them even if they couldn’t take care of them.
9. Seek counseling or medical advice sooner rather than later.
I think this is probably the most important thing. Counseling especially is wonderful. It lets your adopted child talk to someone about how they feel or about experiences they’ve had in a safe, healthy environment and helps them eventually work through those issues. You are probably not the most equipped person to do this, and that’s fine! There are counselors in OKC that specialize in adoption counseling, and they are wonderful. Many times the adopted child wants to talk about certain things but they don’t want to hurt their parents’ feelings. Allowing a place to discuss and work through issues can be beneficial to the entire family. This can even be great for you or your biological children too. Don’t wait on this. If things seem to be struggling, seek out some counseling immediately. The same can be said for medical advice. If something is off, talk to your child’s doctor often. They can be a great advocate in getting you the help you need.
I truly love adoption and love hearing adoption stories. Are there any other pieces of advice you have heard that you want to share? If you have questions, please feel free to ask!