The moment my husband and I found out that our daughter had a sibling who was eligible for adoption, I recall gripping the backyard stairway railing, making quick eye contact with the as-of-yet unaware spouse, and looking out across the driveway at our then just-turned-2-year-old while my brain attempted to process and digest the information. Due to recently set in place Hague restrictions, we weren’t initially allowed to know many details, including gender or name, but in doing the math, we calculated that the little one was 11 months old.
The reality of the situation hit fast. Somehow, in the span of just a couple of years, we had gone from having been married with no children to having (nearly) Irish twins—our daughters were born 13 months apart.
In semi-shock (because we were nowhere near prepared to start the adoption process again), I dialed up one of my own siblings who somehow (like siblings tend to do) guessed my news before I’d even had a chance to sputter out a complete or coherent sentence. While I felt nervous and unsure, mainly because, logistically and financially, adoption was not really a journey we were in a great place to jump back into. As it was, we were still finishing post-adoption visits from the first journey. I was working part-time. We had cut back on spending and I’d become a pro at Craigslist and eBay. Not to mention, we were already maneuvering life with a little one in tow, which was plenty enough to keep us busy.
The husband and I sat down later that night to talk through the pros and cons of a second adoption. In a perfect world with tons of support, great jobs with loads of time off, and enough money in the bank not just to fund an international adoption, but the forever family responsibility after part, the decision would’ve been an easier one. But, the Debbie Downer side of us (aka Practical Patty) needed to weigh in to figure out what was best for our family, including our potential family member to be.
Love is grand, but it doesn’t pay the bills.
I guess you could say that we kicked both Debbie and Patty to the curb because, ultimately, our answer was yes. I mean, truly, the moment I heard the word sibling while watching my little one running wobbly around the backyard I technically knew it was a no-brainer pop quiz. This little child out there was already part of our family whether she knew it or not.
Seven months of crazy horrible mixed up, missing, backlogged paperwork and Murphy’s law ridden arrangements later, we finally were able to make the trek to meet said sibling and hold her for the very first time.
Nine years later, I can honestly say that in hindsight, it was the best “surprise” news I’ve ever received and a wonderfully, crazy, zig-zag, hold-on-for-dear-life decision that my husband and I don’t regret for a second. Adopting siblings is an adventure whether it’s done simultaneously, a year or several years apart. There are many amazing benefits of adopting siblings; however, there are things to consider that will be out of your and your children’s control that should be understood and considered pre- and post-placement (for those who are up for saying yes, too)!
An Instant Best-ish Friend
Whereas some children get to know siblings from birth, in our case, the newest member of our family was walking and babbling and grabbing and made her presence known immediately in our brand new family of four. Because our adoption was international, all three of us were required to travel to our daughter’s birth country to work through the process (which would take two months). While it was a difficult time for a 2-year-old who missed her home, familiar faces, toys, foods, and recognizable language, she handled herself as well as could be expected. Of course, looking back, there are a million things we’d do differently.
There was instant sibling drama—see below for more on that—but there was also an unexplainable instant connection. Well, I guess not so unexplainable for anyone who has a sibling and just knows that this is a human you’re both going to love and care for as well as tease and torment (sometimes all at once).
The two studied each other so carefully and although we’d learn as we went that they had very different personalities, they would often mirror one another and were eager playmates willing to partake in whatever the other was up to.
It’s nice for your child to have a live-in playmate when they’re getting along. It’s been nothing less than amazing watching the two navigate their relationship. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but I’ve witnessed the two band together when the going gets tough, have each other’s backs, get upset and emotional when the other is in trouble or not feeling well, and beg to have sleepovers in each other’s bedrooms, and share clothes and secrets.
Check out Adoption.com’s “5 Things You Should Know About Adopting Sibling Groups.”
Someone Who Understands
We adopted our oldest at just a few months old and we’ve always been very open about her adoption. Although she knows there is nothing we won’t discuss and we are here to support her, we are still living two very different parts of our shared adoption—she being the adoptee and my husband and I being the adopters.
I know the girls have had conversations about their adoptions, about their birth family, about their birth country, and about their place in our adoptive family. And while it’s never been an issue, to assume that neither ever has feelings or questions or concerns that maybe they don’t feel comfortable opening up to us about would be naive. It’s comforting to know they have each other and serve as a support system for one another.
Sharing Is Caring
We all have roots. I remember my mom and dad talking about our family’s early years, previous homes, relatives, and silly stories. My daughters’ stories did not begin when they came home with us. Nope, although we have built many wonderful shared family memories together since we have been together—the two share a unique beginning together—at least so far as having traveled a similar road that led them to us that my husband and I were not part of. Although we don’t have all the details, we share as much as we know and encourage them to explore on their own as they see fit, including spending time with other adoptees from their home country.
They say “blood is thicker than water.” I know this particular saying can be offensive to some in the adoption community and blended family situations. According to Google, blood literally is a tad bit thicker than water. But blood does not a family make. Not really anyway.
Blood is blood, but from what I’ve witnessed so far, it certainly doesn’t seem to hold a family together anymore so than non-blood-related families. Yes, there are definitely hurdles with adoption that “traditional” families will not face, but wait long enough in life, and you will find that many traditional families don’t stick together due to genetics anymore than any other type of family.
Still, there is one great big advantage of having a blood sibling and that involves health and well-being. No, I’m not suggesting one sibling offer up her kidney to the other; however, we have noticed genetic similarities and traits that can’t be denied and there is some comfort in having even a tiny bit more of the puzzle piece on an otherwise blank medical family history form. There is also the case that should either daughter choose to search for birth family at some point in their future, and for whatever reason, the search not go as planned or hoped, they will still have each other.
Best Friends Fight (But Siblings Share a Bedroom)
Okay, well, fortunately, our daughters have always had the option of having their own rooms to cool off in, but since they’re smack dab next to each other, there are days where I wondered if the house would withstand their bickering and arguments. While I can honestly say that there are more good times than bad, our daughters argue and fight like any other siblings so close in age. They also have perfected the art of knowing exactly what bothers the other the most—these days we refer to these as triggers—and we have our share of conversations about learning to “just ignore her and she’ll stop.”
On a more serious note, though, our daughters definitely went through a transition together that felt overwhelming at times. Our oldest adjusting to this new little person who was mobile and vocal, while trying to make sense of how this new person fit into our family or why she ran to be the first one into my lap each morning those first few months. Our youngest trying to figure out our family dynamic and how she fits into it.
My lap became a daily battleground with one on one knee and the other on the other knee, vying for my attention very loudly and with arms flailing. In time, both girls learned that there was enough of me (and their dad, too) to go around.
We needed to learn to communicate as a family of four, and they needed to learn to communicate as instant toddler siblings. It was no easy feat and took a while for things to feel natural.
Rivalry Is a Real Thing
Adopted or not, I think most siblings experience rivalry to some degree. Who can forget Jan Brady famously lamenting, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” (If that reference is too old, go ahead and YouTube it). Siblings haven’t changed since The Brady Bunch years. Our girls certainly have had their share of rivalry, no matter how often we remind them that they are both unique and that we try our best to treat each fairly.
Probably the only real danger with sibling rivalry (at least that I’ve come across to date) is vying for parental attention in unhealthy ways. For instance, a few years back, one of my daughters, who shall remain nameless, was struggling a bit with math. She received a lot of my husband’s attention as a result of working through homework together and preparing for tests. Suddenly and without warning, our other daughter who, up until that point, had no issues with math brought home a lower than average grade complete with a sulky look. You get the drift—she wanted the same attention her sister was getting no matter the reason. It was a habit we quickly broke.
Finding one-on-one time for two children in a busy household can be challenging. Admittedly, this is something we still struggle with. While we cherish our adventures with our family of four, we also love the rare occasion when one child is at an event, leaving us to spend time with the other. It’s amazing how children’s personalities change when they have both parents’ full attention.
Having one-on-one time with children at any age is important, really, for many reasons, and in the case of adoption, even more so. This is a great opportunity to build bonds and trust with your child away from distraction. You are able to more clearly identify issues and have a better opportunity to learn the little things that make your individual children individuals.
In our case, our younger daughter, who had spent a longer period of time in an institutional setting, had delayed speech. Unfortunately, that first year together was a blur between the adoption, a move, loss of several family members, return to work, and just the daily caregiving of two very precocious toddlers. Finding a moment of peace to spend preparing one for preschool while trying to communicate with the other—was a tall order. It’s difficult to balance the needs of two small humans who both truly need your time and attention at very important milestones in their lives and for different reasons.
In hindsight, I wish I’d reached out more for help from professionals and family and friends. We did request speech therapy as early as possible, which started us on a much better course after much time and hard work, but looking back, I know my oldest daughter suffered due to my inability to spend as much time working with her as I would’ve liked. Mom guilt is real, people.
Thankfully, both are hard workers and have excelled in many areas of their lives—but it’s an ongoing process, right? And for anyone who thinks the infant/toddler years were difficult to juggle just wait for the tween years to kick in with a whole new set of challenges to overcome and rules to learn.
Earlier, I mentioned how sharing is caring and having a shared past can be a good thing. Except when it’s not. Truthfully, just because your children may have been born into the same birth family, share genes, or have had similar experiences does not mean they share views.
In our girls’ case, the two have very different feelings about their adoption experiences and birth family. In a way, I think it’s a good thing—as it provides a great opportunity for discussion and a chance to see things from another’s perspective. While they have been extremely respectful of each other’s feelings, don’t assume that you’re dealing with the same child when you’re speaking to both (those one-on-ones are so important).
As adoptive parents, we have no control over the series of events that led up to our children’s births—or what happened directly afterward. These details will be different per child and in some cases, difficult to discuss. And you should not assume that because they share a similar past that what they may learn will be even remotely the same.
This is something definitely worthy of a conversation. What one child may discover or experience in their future (especially if it may involve a birth family search) may result in different outcomes.
Things You Can Do
Adopting siblings can be a wonderful and rewarding experience that can also have its share of negatives. Be prepared for both the good and the bad. Check out Adoption.com’s “What Is it Like to Adopt Siblings?“ for a look into the lives of two families who adopted sibling groups.
– If you don’t have a lot of time for one-on-ones, make what time you do have quality time (but do make time).
– If you have the opportunity to prepare your child for a sibling who may become a part of your family, do so. There are books, articles, movies about siblings. Although not too many adoption-specific titles, there are some. You should begin to talk about a sibling as becoming part of your family as soon as you know it’s a “go.” Honesty and openness go a long way. See Adoption.com’s “How to Prepare Your Child for an Adopted Sibling,” for more information.
– Siblings are going to fuss and argue. While you obviously will want to do your job as a parent and police your children, you’re also going to need to allow them to learn to work things out on their own and on their own terms. Bonding and trust can’t be forced by mom or dad—it needs to be earned one disagreement and apology at a time.
– Have a support system in place. Raising one child is tough enough. Raising two or more, it will benefit your entire family to do your research with educational professionals, your pediatrician, support groups, and your family and friends to recognize that you’re not just dealing with siblings, but with the added factor of adoption.
– Be honest with your children (age-appropriately, of course) and talk about adoption if and when the time is right or they bring it up. They are going to want to know more about their connection and possibly details of other birth family members.
– Celebrate their sibling bond, but also celebrate their individuality. There is no greater gift than to know that you don’t walk this world alone—siblings may argue and fight, but they also are typically your first best friend and confidant.
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.
Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.