We traveled to Poland with our three biological children in tow to adopt a sibling group of three (and prayerfully four). It was November. The Guire family moved into the orphanage immediately following our first court date. We took over the two room, one bathroom infirmary and prayed no one needed it during our one month long stay. When entering the adoption world, it is important for siblings, bio and adopted to be together as soon as and as often as possible. Isn’t that the nature of families?
The social workers and staff at the orphanage expected the bio children to be jealous of the new children. We were warned, cajoled and berated about this possibility. There were no jealous displays by the biological children on this trip. They were prepared, excited and inclusive. The adopted children were another story.
So, what should we expect out of sibling relationships among biological and adopted children?
1. Expect sibling rivalry.
It is as normal as the moon at night and the sun in morning. it is as old as Cain and Abel fighting over who had the better sacrifice. When the honeymoon phase was over in our adoption and the newbies came home to the states, the learning curve increased. All of the children had to learn to get along. Each of them had to adapt to a new normal. And there was rivalry. Watch me. Help me. Notice me. Those were the cries of their hearts vying for attention. Totally normal.
2. Expect dissension.
If everyone had their own way all the time, then everyone would be exactly the same and the same age. Always. Children have different chronological and emotional ages. Adopted children (who are older at the time of adoption) usually have a younger emotional and social age then their actual age by half or more. This can be due to past trauma, catching up, regression, neglect or a multitude of other factors. So, you may have an eight year old who acts younger than your four year old. He may need you to help him dress, not make his bed or want to help with chores around the house. This can cause dissension. Our eldest adopted child was tired of parenting his younger siblings in the orphanage and gladly handed over the reigns to me or another older sibling. Trouble is, he didn’t want to do anything to help anyone at anytime. The old pendulum principle. He swung from being totally responsible to not wanting to be responsible at all and wanting everyone to wait on him as if he had served his term. Naturally, this caused dissension. Siblings wanted him to tow the line. Help with chores. Help the youngers put coats on when we were hurrying out the door. And his pendulum did slowly swing back to the middle. I helped him practice saying, “what can I do to help?” If that seems too stiff and bossy to make your kid practicce something out of their comfort zone, then just stay stuck. Parents have to be proactive to move forward. Dissension among siblings is to be expected. Joseph and the coat of many colors ring a bell? How about (as I mentioned) Cain and Abel. How about King David and his brothers? Or all of King David’s children? Adonijah tried to usurp the throne, knowing his brother Solomon was the choice. So, if your kids are fighting over a seat in the car, the last cookie, who is going to sweep the kitchen or do the dishes, count it all normal joy.
3. Expect moments of peace, bliss and connection.
I think we parents expect peace, bliss and connection to be an every moment thing. We get bent out of shape because it is not. Kids fight. They whine. They want. They are disconnected with each other and us. What we should be looking for instead is moments of bliss. Moments of connection. Moments of peace. Because that is all we get. There is no constant outer peace until we get to heaven. When we experience that moment, it is important not to miss it, the older child reading to the younger (without being asked), the puppet show put on when the newbies have to repeat the phrases because they don’t speak enough English and the sibling patient enough to repeat for them, the child who is always breaking the rules who takes his little sister a drink of carrot juice in the playland, the child who gives up a seat on the couch for another (true stories)….Watch…you may miss it, it blips across the screen so quickly. Expect it, but don’t miss it.
4. Expect that when your children mature they will have compassion and understanding for others
I talked to youngest daughter Ania about this one briefly. She knows what it is like to come from a hard place. She knows what rejection feels like. And she understands, empathizes with others when they are going through it. She and her brother have regularly helped their aunt at a soup kitchen. Your bio children will do the same. They had pain. They wrestled with these new siblings barging in, taking over, playing with their toys, calling their momma by the same name. And they wrestled with them physically, eye for eye, tooth for tooth wondering when brother would ever NOT be mad. Wondering if things (and people) would ever be new, whole and not broken. They strive for peace together and come out on the other end with scars. Those scars give them a rare view of life. People hurt. Hurt people hurt others. Then their stories intertwine and bits of healing come forth. A kind word. A cup of coffee. Dishes washed. Then those souls leave the nest full of history to help others. One works at a homeless shelter. One works on as an EMT rescuing. The rescued become the rescuers. It happens. Expect it. Wait for it. It make take years. It may take a lifetime of sorrows and disappointments, of old wounds ripping open, but if you expect, you pray, you wait for Him who makes all things new, it will come. He who binds up and heals the broken hearted can bind up siblings. Heal relationships. Heal wounds.
7 thoughts on “Sibling Relationships in Adoption- What to Expect”
Thank you for these points. It is important to hear how relationships form and settle in, particularly with children who came from hard places.
Great points! I think some people expect it to be sunshine and roses right away, and some people expect it to be a total disaster. We haven’t gone through this ourselves since we adopted first and were placed with a sibling set, but I can only imagine there are moments of both sunshine and roses as well as total disaster 🙂
Yes, Erin, as in every family, joys and sorrows. Ups and downs. I appreciated your post on siblings. It must be difficult to maintain relationships with those siblings across state lines.
yes, thank you. My husband and I are trying to get organized enough to foster adopt or adopt a waiting child, and my biggest concern is how our two children (who have a really strong, loving bond) will adjust.
Hope this helped! Blessings!
So much of this applies to our family, even though it is just Hubby, Buddy and I with no additional siblings. Great pieces of wisdom about how adoptive family relationships evolve and grow over time!
Thank you! Blessings!