“The Brady Bunch” was a hilarious sitcom in the 1970s that depicted TV’s first “blended” family! This was sort of a “his, mine, and ours” family. Mike Brady, who had three sons, married Carol, who had three daughters. Nine people in all, if you count the maid Alice! Phrases like, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” and “Pork chops and apple sauce,” became popularized in the years thereafter. The phrase “The Brady Bunch” became synonymous with large families. But, most of all, “The Brady Bunch” showed that one should not be afraid of a large family.
Contrary to some, large families can be a blessing! If you are seeking to add to your family, you may be seeking a good thing. Children are not just “another mouth to feed” nor are they a “ball and chain,” they can be a blessing! And if you seek to add to your family by way of adoption, you probably won’t go wrong! Large families offer a different perspective rather than those raised as only children. Go for it!
That being said, there are some practical considerations to beware of. Let’s be honest, a lot more planning goes into the adoption of a child than the natural planning of a biological child. There are many things that need to be considered when planning adoption. Things that had not been considered prior, especially when you already have your own children. You may need additional consultation.
First, you will need to consult your own family. Adoption ought to be a family decision. Is your spouse prepared for the additional time and effort it takes for the long haul that is adoption—not to mention the toll it takes on your mind, body, and spirit? Are your children prepared to share a bedroom, share toys, share time, and most of all, share Mom and Dad? This is not to be underestimated. Your family’s input is vital. Second, consult your support network. This can be anyone including friends, co-workers, clergy, or anyone who has made the same decision to adopt with children. They may be able to give you a different perspective and give honest feedback. Lastly, (and I do emphasize, last) consult extended family. They should not be the final authority on your decision to adopt but floating a “trial balloon” could give you a good idea on how supportive they will be.
Practically speaking, you do need to look before you leap. These are some everyday situations that do need to be considered when adding an adopted child to your family.
– Sleeping arrangements. The first thing to consider when you decide to care for a newly adopted child is, “Where will she sleep?” If it’s an infant, a crib or a bassinet in your own room may be appropriate. A young child can sleep in a twin bed or an older child may be able to sleep in a bunk bed. But the main questions are: Will your biological child be ready, willing, and able to share a bedroom with an adopted child? Do you have the space to add a child? If not, do you have the resources to add another room to your home? Is moving to a bigger home a realistic solution? This is a discussion that needs to be had in the real world prior to adding a new child.
– Transportation. How will your new child get from Point A to Point B? In the 1970s, the car of choice was the station wagon. In the ’80s and ’90s, it was the minivan. Nowadays, the SUV seems to be the vehicle of choice for a large family. Transportation is no small decision. Car seats, seat belts, and other safety features are things that need to be explored thoroughly. If you have multiple small children requiring booster seats that might be a concern. If you have two small cars then you may need to use two vehicles when traveling as an entire family. Or you could trade two vehicles in for one large vehicle. Of course, the cost of fuel of a larger vehicle needs to be taken into consideration. The bottom line is that children need to go places: school, doctor/dental appointments, extracurricular activities, etc. It is the adoptive parents’ responsibility to do so safely and responsibly.
– Alternate Supervision. Who will care for your child when you are at work, after school, or when you simply want to go on a date with your significant other? Grandmas and Grandpas are always excellent choices. Or your neighbors or friends, of course. But if you have limited choices then finding an appropriate babysitter may be a long, arduous process. If you are a stay-at-home parent then that helps, but you really don’t plan to stay with your newly adopted child 24/7, do you? If your newly adopted child is close in age to your biological child that helps. But take great care in searching for an appropriate babysitter, daycare center, or nanny. A good one can make all the difference. A bad one can make a difference in a bad way.
– Financial concerns. Do you have the financial resources to care for another child? Food, clothing, transportation, and extracurricular activities all add up! Especially if you adopt an older child or teen, you could have multiple trips to Sam’s Club per month! Even if you adopt an infant, then diapers, formula, and car seats can be expensive. Of course, if you adopt a special needs child, you may be eligible for an adoption subsidy as well as an adoption tax credit from the IRS. The bottom line is that children are a blessing and are worth every penny in the long run!
– School concerns. Where will your adopted child attend school? Of course, if your adopted child is close in age to your biological child, then they can attend school together. However, if your adopted child has special needs, he may have to attend another school. In any case, if your child has special needs, they could be placed on an Individualized Education Plan for academics. If they have behavioral special needs, they could be placed on a behavioral IEP.
– Birth Order. The first thing many established families are concerned about is: What age should the child we adopt be? Should we adopt a child older than our children or younger? Some families want to keep the birth order intact and adopt a child younger than their own. Some are bold and adopt kids older than theirs. The fear for some is that an older adopted child might hurt their own kids or teach them bad things. But as many an experienced social worker will tell you, even a 2-year-old can teach you bad things.
So, what are the pros and cons of adopting a child when you already have other children? Lots. Let’s look at some of them from your biological child’s point of view, if you want them to buy into it.
– Opportunity to serve someone else. First of all, you need to convey to your children that adopting another child is an opportunity to help another person. View it as one big service project lasting a lifetime. Explain that it was not the child’s fault for needing another family. Explain that it’s not that their family didn’t want them but that they were unable to care for them. In the case of an orphan, explain what an orphan is and that a family setting is much better than orphanage life overseas.
– Siblings. Sometimes a younger sibling is born to a child you already adopted. If this is the case, you may have a chance to adopt the younger sibling. Keeping siblings together is important. Ask your biological child about this scenario: What if you were suddenly separated from your childhood siblings with no warning? What if you had siblings you never knew about or weren’t allowed to interact with? Wouldn’t things be significantly different? Brothers and sisters need to stay together. They share the same mommy; they shared the same home; they shared similar experiences; they need to share the same new home with their adoptive family. Siblings who share the same adoptive families fare better than those who grow up in different homes.
– Teens. Adolescence is a rocky time of change in every young person’s life. Physical, emotional, spiritual, and social change is the norm. Add to that the need for an adoptive home and that’s more than many teens can handle. Feelings of unwantedness and self-doubt creep in. Why adopt a teen? First of all, in most states, a person can be adopted until their 22nd birthday. Second, adoption gives a sense of permanence to a person that had not previously had that. Lastly, if a teen “ages out” of the system at age 18 without a permanent family then they are more at risk from homelessness, incarceration, joblessness, and unexpected pregnancy. Having some guidance during those transition years is vital. Many families fear taking in teens because of the influence they may have on their younger children. However, if you do careful research into the youth’s history and lay down specific boundaries and expectations while building a relationship, then the chance for success will greatly increase. Rather than seeing the youth as a project, see him as a unique individual who needs to be connected to a family. He or she may resist at first and test the limits of your sanity. But if you remain calm, stick to your guns, and do not reject your young person, then trust may develop over time.
There may be some negatives in adding another child to your home. Some of which are mentioned above, but here are some things to be aware of.
– Behaviors. Adding a traumatized child to your home can be a challenge. They may present some behaviors that you were not previously prepared to handle. Self-harm, sexual acting out behaviors, food hoarding, stealing, and lying are all part and parcel for a child who has experienced trauma. Just keep this in mind: a traumatized child speaks more through their actions than through words. It is an adoptive parent’s job to interpret those behaviors and to meet that child’s needs.
– Safety. Some families fear for their younger children’s safety when adopting an older child. Your adoption agency should be upfront with you and be able to screen children that are not appropriate for your family. But if you adopt a child younger than your youngest that may be the wisest thing to do.
At its base, families are mini-communities. In other words, families are a microcosm of society and civilization. In a family, a child learns how to share, how to communicate, how to play together, how to work together, how to cooperate, how to negotiate, how to forgive and how to love. Girls learn how to care for their younger siblings, which may prepare them to care for children when they are older, should they choose to do so. Boys learn how to be gentle with their younger siblings. Both boys and girls in a family learn how to respect their parents, how to take direction, how to learn, and how to receive correction. From their parents, children receive their core values and principles. From their parents, children learn that there is something bigger than themselves and that sometimes, it is more important to put others first.
Sadly, many children who are abused, neglected, or who grow up in orphanages overseas don’t know the joys of growing up in a peaceful, stable, functional, loving family. That’s why adopted children need your family! You can give them what they never had before: stability, love, and consistency. You can model what a functional family looks like! If you ever doubt whether it is the right time to add another child to your home then just ask yourself if it is the right time for a child who is practically an orphan. He or she may need a family just like yours!
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have eight children, six of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are his passions and callings for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.