Continuing week 2 of Biblical Relationships- Adoptive Families
My interview with Audrey, my eldest daughter. Audrey was twelve years old and the oldest of three when we adopted a sibling group of four. She is now married and is the mother of twin boys and has a baby girl on the way!
1. How did adoption change your life or did it? Explain.
It changed my life a lot– for one thing, I intensely and constantly criticized and critiqued myself before the adoption process, and after adopting siblings, I just didn’t have the time or energy for that. Though it wasn’t instant by any means, it definitely made me less selfish. I’ve said multiple times that adoption, in a way, saved my biological siblings and I as well– despite excellent parenting, we were all headed for very self-absorbed, selfish lives and would have been pretty bratty kids if we’d never been forced to focus on something outside of ourselves.
2. Did the adoption change your relationship with Christ?
I remember my faith being strengthened at the time as I saw so many prayers answered during the legal process, but it’s been further-reaching than that. My perception of myself in relationship to Christ has been greatly altered. It’s harder now to get as upset with siblings or even others when I know what pain I must cause God when He adopted me and I still make the same mistakes over and over. I cannot take my salvation for granted, in a way that my American sense of life and rights might have otherwise led me to do.
3. What is the best/worst thing I (mom) did as far as family relationships were concerned?
Best: You were very determined to craft family experiences for us, even if not all of us wanted to go along for the ride. You chose not to let explosive fits or nasty attitudes “ruin” trips for everyone by letting an individual child or two set the entire mood. You were mostly pretty good about ignoring behavior that intentionally tried to derail family happiness and encouraged the rest of us to do the same. Some of those memories and trips (even just hikes and trips to the library; not everything was a big vacation excursion) are now family favorites, even of the kids who were throwing fits. They usually don’t even remember how terribly they acted.
You also were really good about requiring us to contribute to the family. I think this made us feel important and useful, even if we complained about doing chores. It was teaching a valuable life skill and it was actively making us one family working toward a common goal– it was giving two sets of kids with vastly different previous histories some common ground.
Worst: For me personally, I think I was given too much responsibility too soon. I think that at the time, I enjoyed the authority and position as the oldest sibling but not all of it was a good thing. I think that sometimes when Dad was working, I became the “other parent” emotionally. I think it was confusing to siblings and hindered my relationships with them and while it made me feel more grown-up and adult, it also overburdened me in a way I couldn’t express or wouldn’t admit. Even when I wasn’t directly involved in an incident or some discipline, I was usually given details so it could be discussed. My young-teen self would hate that I’m saying this, and I would have been furious then, but I wish there were more times when I asked, “What’s he in trouble for?” and was told, “That’s between me, him, and your dad,” instead of getting “all the dirt.” I think it also set up a dangerous expectation for the level of authority/respect the next oldest sibling would get when I left the house for college, and when that didn’t happen, she was hurt and confused that her siblings still treated her like just…one of the kids. I think that, even with the babysitting and responsibility that should come with being the oldest, I should have been “one of the kids” emotionally and informationally more often.
4. What advice would you give to adoptive families from your experience as a sibling?
Don’t expect your biological children, especially if they’re older, to “model” proper behavior. They might have had a better start, but they’re still kids, too. They’re going to make dumb mistakes, say stupid and hurtful things, and occasionally resent or be furious with an adopted child– especially if that adopted child is causing lots of trouble, destroying stuff, or requiring lots of attention. Talk through it with them, but don’t shut it out entirely or indulge them completely. Even biological siblings sometimes wish the other bio sibling would just go away; younger kids just lack the ability to phrase this, and “Let’s send him back on the plane!” is a bit easier to come up with.
Also, be aware that this will change your biological children’s lives, and often for the better. Even with all the “crap” I’ve had to put up with from adopted siblings and their destructive behavior, the process of adoption and learning to live with other siblings has made me a better, more compassionate person. Don’t give into the temptation to start thinking that a particularly difficult child has “ruined” your family. You have no guarantee that if you hadn’t adopted, that your biological children wouldn’t be causing you just as much trouble or grief in a different way.
Finally, be honest with them. I might feel now like I didn’t need to know as much as I did, but knowing some of what I was told really did help. Especially when you’re dealing with RAD/FAS, simply explaining to a biological child at an age-appropriate level what is going on with their sibling can turn an enemy into an empathizer and an advocate. It didn’t always make it easier to deal with a sibling’s behavior, but knowing that there was actual brain damage and real hurt causing the behavior sometimes helped put a coping lens on situations that would have otherwise been baffling and infuriating without context.