“Is _______’s other mommy sad?”
This was the question from my son, then age six, just days after we arrived home with our daughter—his sister. My son was overjoyed and oh-so-proud of his baby sister. Prior to her arrival home (and still to this day) he learned vast amounts of information and embraced her birth culture and history, claiming it in addition to his. We had shared why the adoption of his sister could happen; however we did not speak about loss…
I was in the homestretch of my day. The table was set. Dinner was cooked and ready to be served. My infant daughter’s meal was cut and torn into safe-non-choking-sized finger food and ready to be placed on the tray of her highchair. She sat on the floor of the kitchen busily banging away with plastic cups. All we were waiting for was the appearance of my husband (Daddy).
I realized that this question begged for more than a “yes” or “no.” This was a profound question, one that required an immediate and honest answer that would be framed from facts I knew about my daughter’s history as well as weighted from my perspective as a mother. In that moment I made the decision to move dinner back and talk with my son right there.
Sometimes in the journey of adoption, parents fall short in preparing siblings for the arrival of a new child. Parents are busy preparing, shifting into a nesting and adjustment mode. The joy and excitement of welcoming a child home can override other topics that should be addressed, especially with adoption. Parents should:
- Be open and available. Doing so encourages discussion. If children feel their parents are approachable, they are more likely to share thoughts and feelings.
- Include their child(ren) in preparations. Adoption is a family affair. Talk about what to expect as the family adjusts to the additional family member(s).
- Take time to make special time for their child(ren). As families grow children have less time with their parents. They need to know they matter.
- Take time to discuss adoption—what it means and how it can affect the child who has been adopted and their birth family.
- Reassure their child(ren). Fears may surface that they will be placed for adoption; help them understand the adoption plan that was made by the birth mother or birth parents or what the circumstances were that led to adoption. Fears may also surface about their new sibling being taken away; talk about permanence and the future.
- Respond with honesty and admit if they don’t know the answers.
- Respond with and model empathy and compassion. Adoption is an emotional and complex topic, especially as children become older and understand more. There are a lot of “why’s” and “what if’s.” Judgment is not the answer.
- Caution child(ren) that this information is their sibling’s story, not to be shared and stays “in–house.” Their story is intensely personal.
- Arm their child(ren) with answers. Similar to their parents, children will be approached and questioned about their adopted sibling(s), especially if they don’t “match.” Parents should role-play answers with their child(ren).
Parents: What other ideas have you used to help your children understand adoption, welcome a new sibling home, and help with those peer and “playground” questions?