When most people think of an adoptive family, they usually think of families where all the children are adopted. In fact, however, many families in the US have both adopted and biological kids. I suspect these families are on the rise. Should you combine bio kids and adopted kids in the same family?
The National Survey of Family Growth found that “an equal percentages of women who have and who have not had a birth have adopted children” and that “four times as many men who have fathered children have adopted children compared with women who have given birth.” While the language is a bit convoluted as you would expect from government bureaucracy, suffice it to say, that is a lot of families that have combined bio and adopted kids.
Reasons Families Combine Adopted and Non-Adopted Kids
I’ve seen no research on why families have both adopted and biological kids, but from what we see in our audience and online community, the following reasons are the most common:
- unexplained secondary infertility,
- wanting to have children in a second marriage at an older age, and
- the desire to adopt even though they have not experienced infertility.
- A little-discussed reason, but one that is growing, is families going back into fertility treatment after adopting, and many of them are successful.
Creating a Family Resources on Adoption After Infertility:
Do Parents Favor Their Bio Kids Over Adopted Kids
Scientists have speculated that evolution would logically predict that parents would favor their biologically related children over their adopted kids. This theory, known as the Kin Selection Theory, further predicts that parents should also have less favorable perceptions of the intellect, personality, and other behavioral traits of their adopted kids, compared with their biological children.
Recent research sheds light on this evolution theory of how parents of both adopted and biological kids view their children. Researchers studied 135 virtual twin pairs—similar-aged unrelated siblings raised together. (Check out our resources on Virtual Twins, also known as Artificial Twins.) Of the virtual twin pairs, 41 were adopted/biological pairs, and 94 were adopted/adopted pairs. The average age of the children in this study was 6 years.
The children’s IQ was tested and the parents were asked to fill out an Adjective Checklist and a Child Behavior Checklist for both children in the virtual twin pairs. Biological children scored higher on IQ tests than did adopted children, which is consistent with prior research.
In general, the study found that that parents did not favor their biological children over their adopted children.
“Although parents rated their adoptive children higher in negative traits and behaviors like arrogance and stealing, they scored both adopted and biological children similarly when it came to positive traits like conscientiousness and persistence.”
Keep in mind that the number of adopted/biological virtual twin pairs was small and the children studied were young, but the findings are still interesting.
Creating a Family Resources on Favoritism in Parenting:
- Do You Have a Favorite Child?
- Tales from a Blended Family: Swimming in Mom’s Pee (trust us, it’s not as gross as it sounds!)
Resources to Help Blended Families
Creating a Family, the national adoption & foster care education and support organization, has many additional resources to help families that have both biological and adopted kids. Check out a few of these:
- Blended Families: Combining Kids Through Birth and Adoption (8 min. video)
- Top Ten Tips for Blending Children by Birth and Adoption
- Preparing Children for the Adoption of a Sibling & Integrating Adopted and Biological Kids Post-Adoption (1 hr. radio interview with experts)
Do you have both kids by birth and by adoption? What are your thoughts – do you think you favor your bio or your adopted kids?
Originally published in 2015; Updated in 2019
Image credit: Ron Lach, Gerry Balding
Add Your Comment
I would love to let you all know about the resources at Suddenly Siblings, specifically for the kids already in the home when a family fosters or adopts. http://www.suddenlysibs.com
This is rubbish. I am an adopted child from a married couple who had a biological kid already. They have abused me physically and mentally until more than 25+. I never knew you could sue anyone. And in Peru a little use of physical “correction” to some behaviours are or were accepted. So no one I would tell to help me would actually pay attention to me and would tell me to behave.
My brother was NEVER touched. Meanwhile he close his door to stop listening to my daily cry for help. Till today they make incredible differences giving him the best of all. While if I ask for something I am being lazy. I graduated med school and all I got was “oh we never thought you’d make it, kuddos”. Some people should be banned from this kind of tasks. There are MONUMENTAL differences.
I’m so sorry that happened to you. I cannot imagine the pain and isolation it creates inside of you. I hope you consider taking care of yourself to be of utmost priority — a good counselor can help you work through the pain of their abuse and neglect. You deserve to move past it and heal for your best future.
I have been following this discussion with great interest and compassion for everyone who has suffered when blending bio, foster, and adopted kids doesn’t come easy. I know this struggle well, as an adoptive mom and bio mom. If it is allowed here, I’d like to offer my organization Suddenly Siblings (suddenlysibs.com) as a resource for these kinds of delicate situations. We have child workbooks and a parent book, a Facebook Page (Suddenly Siblings) and a soon-to-be FB group just for this issue. We hope to also create a FB group for the siblings, too! I am here if anyone wants to learn more. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Gail. Yes, it’s a great resource and we’re thankful for the work you do!
I have one bio child and would love to foster-adopt an older child between the ages of 7-14 once my son becomes about those same ages. He is currently only two years old and I am a long way off from adopting a child.
I am the fourth of five children myself and grew up in an abusive home so I know what it is like to come from a rough childhood. I also had a traumatic birth with my son, and I do not biologically want any more children. I have sought counseling and help and coped with my childhood, I want to help someone else escape and have open arms to all kinds of kids from ADHD, learning disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ kids.
I want my son to know that he is mine to love while at the same time when I do adopt that child to also know they are mine to love. I want to be a good mom to both. This would be a single parent adoption if that is important.
So my questions are:
1. Does anyone have any advice as an adopted child or a bio child for me?
2. Do you think I shouldn’t adopt and keep my son as an only child or do you think it would be wise to foster-adopt?
3. Applying to both above, what do you wish your parents did differently?
Thank you all for your answers.
Thanks for reading and posting your questions. I’ll leave it up for folks to answer should they see it. But you will get a much wider, and faster, set of responses if you pose the same questions in our online community group, found at this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/creatingafamily
We’d love to have you join us over there!
I am adopted from another country. I was around 2 years old. When i was 5 my “parents” finally had the biological child they had tried for so long to have before they settled for me. Not only was that their biological child , it was a boy.of the same ethnicity as them. And so i was downgraded from beloved child to house guest and burden. I absoutley panicked. Everytime i had to watch my parents interact with him the way they never did with me was like a kick in the stomach and the heart. Tried several times to find out about my biological mother but was refused any information. Nobody deserves to grow up like that. Not belonging, not feeling the love of their parents. Im still trying to heal and find peace. Cildren are not toys to be collected. Dont adopt if you are going to have biological children
G – I’m am so sorry for the painful childhood you experienced, feeling unwanted and second choice. NO child deserves that.
Creating a Family is committed to educating parents about issues like this so that they can be prepared and ready for their kids. The concerns and needs of both biological and adopted children in one family require attention, persistence, and intentionality.
I am the middle of three kids. I was ten when our family adopted a little boy from Russia. Because it was a 4-year-long process to adopt and had consumed much of my mom’s attention, I’d spent lots of time fantasizing about the ways I’d give my new brother the perfect life and be the best big sister to him!
Once he actually came, I had to cope with having a brother with a severe attachment disorder, who stole from us, was violent and extremely manipulative. I’d never encountered manipulative behavior before that; it was confounding to me. Over the course of a year, my family became totally fractured, each of us becoming increasingly withdrawn and hostile toward one another. My parents were entirely consumed with trying to help but also put out the daily fires caused by my new brother. My 13-year-old sister basically detached from the family, my little brother began acting out (even drinking glue at one point in a desperate attempt to get attention), and I spent the year alternating between anger, confusion, guilt, and unrealistic hope that I could forge a normal sibiling bond with my new brother.
My parents ended up giving this little boy to a different family after a year. That came with its own world of sorrow, confusion, and guilt, at least for me. And yet it probably saved our family. The point is: that adoption brought so much chaos and trauma to my family. I’m 31, and I can definitely say it had lasting effects on both me and my siblings. My parents later told me that the psychiatrist they’d sent my adopted brother to at one point basically told them they had to choose between maintaining health and happiness in the home for their biological kids or having this child in the home. A tragic situation all around.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m sorry that there was so much pain associated with both the adoption and the dissolution of your brother’s adoption. It is indeed tragic. I hope you all have been able to find a measure of healing.
All to say, I do not believe people should bear children with their bodies if they have already adopted. I think “mixed” families of adoptees and non-adoptees do not work. The bond of “blood”, even IF parents treat you all the same (which my parents really worked hard to do, and convinced me they loved me the same) stuck “tighter” for my two siblings who were blood relations to my parents and to one another.
I also felt left out when my mother adored how my brother was the spitting image of her father, and my sister was like our grandmother on Dad’s side. (Although she was stubborn like her, so it wasn’t a good similarity, haha!) If a family is “mixed”, I believe the parents should NEVER, NEVER tell the genetically-related kids how their traits mirror those of others in the family. You can already see it in the genetic siblings’ faces, bodies, and talents. And personalities. You don’t need to HEAR about it, too, as if it’s this amazing thing.
Because you know you cannot offer the same special mirroring to your parents and your family. It makes you feel the connection is less organic, even if they otherwise treat you the same.
Parents can be stupid and clueless this way. Do adoption agencies ever tell them not to discuss “genetic mirroring” if they go on to birth children? I think they never tell them. There is so much they never tell them. The loss of genetic mirroring is one of the big losses a child suffers in adoption. But it’s amplified exponentially when the adoptive parents bring forth (even unexpectedly, as happened with my parents) their own biological children and make exclamations about it for the biological children. There is little education about this at all, or my parents wouldn’t have indulged in it. I know they wouldn’t. They tried to follow carefully everything the agency taught them. They adored me and would never have hurt me knowingly.
People who adopt should definitely have their tubes tied and have vasectomies even if they believe themselves to be infertile. At that point, they have CHOSEN to become an adoptive family. That is a very special and unique mission and they have to be trauma-informed and devote themselves to parenting those adoptees in a special way. They CANNOT, CANNOT bring forth biological children into that mission. It changes the mission and mixes it. Messes it up. They are then parenting children with trauma and children with no trauma at the same time. It is a different way of parenting to parent a child with no trauma.
(This comment goes with the earlier one I just wrote, even if it ends up appearing above it when published.)
I’m so sorry for all you went through.
Just wanted to let you know – this can happen even with other adopted kids in the home who’ve been there from the start when an older child is adopted.
What you described took place in our family, as well. I was the first child (adopted as an infant). They birthed two after that. Then my brother was adopted and had been to five foster homes prior, had been abused and neglected. Same behaviors. Trauma responses. Self-protectiveness because they learned from the time they were little that no one else was looking out for them. We call them the “formative years” for a reason. They shape the child.
The same thing happened in our family, except that my parents kept him despite having had thoughts of returning him to foster care. In the end, they didn’t believe a child was disposable and didn’t believe in returning one. Our family was very fractured. The two birth-siblings bonded together and didn’t let my brother OR me in at that point.
Today I’m 59. Mom and Dad died in the past few years. Our adopted brother told my mother on her deathbed that adopting him was the best thing that ever happened in his life. Today he is a very nice man, well-regarded at work and in his community. Heads up the paint department at a hardware store. Great work ethic. Nice to everyone. Nice to us when we call or visit when in the area. Never, EVER picks up the phone to talk to us. His ilve-in girlfriend of 12 years left him because she can’t get him to open up to her, despite that she loves him very much.
The other two have shut met out and are very close to each other. I keep fighting for a relationship with all my siblings, but the adoption of the brother ruined my chances to be let in with the other two. All my life I am fighting. Many times I want to give up, but my husband keeps urging me to maintain what connection we have because he thinks I should treasure my siblings. Aaarrgghhh!
I wonder if it’s harder for adopted children when parents have a biological child after adoption than it is for adopted children who are adopted after the parents already had a biological child?
One would think that an adopted child might feel more displaced if a biological child came later.
Also, do people who were adopted as children experience parenting adopted children differently from their partner who wasn’t adopted?
These are both excellent questions for our online community to field! In that group, we have a wide variety of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents who likely have had experience with the issues represented in your questions.
I will post your first question, about adopted children coming to a family first, before biological children, in the group from “anonymous” this week. You can find the group and follow along here: http://ow.ly/kkCL50wdxUi
Thanks so much for asking and giving us something to think about!
I was wondering, what do the adopted/ biological child think of eachother? Is it possible to have them get along perfectly well even with the knowledge on is directly related and the other one isn’t? Also, what are some hints to ensure they grow up to get along and love eachother the same way me as a parent would love both of them?
Certainly, every family is so unique and different that it’s hard to give answers that would “ensure” anything. And if they are behaving like “related” siblings, then you can be sure they WON’T get along perfectly well. Not always getting along perfectly is kind of the hallmark of “real” siblings, right? But in all seriousness, we do have some excellent resources for blending bio and adopted/foster children in a family that might help you find some practical ways to parent them realistically: http://bit.ly/BlendingFamily
Additionally, our online support group is full of parents who are doing the everyday hard work of parenting kids by birth, adoption and/or foster care. They are a wealth of experience! Come check us out: http://ow.ly/4U3650v8gHH
I am adopted. I was an only child. My adoptive parents did not understand who I was until I was an adult. My adoptive family beyond mom and dad felt I should have disappeared when I graduated college. I met my birth mother. I have 5 half brothers and 2 half sisters, only one of those I can truly call my sister. We had to work at really hard at the relationship. I am the godmother to one of her son’s. She and her husband are the godparents to my son and daughter.
I married later in life. Fertility was a big “F”. We adopted my wonderful, intelligent son. We stayed in contact with his biological family. I am thankful we did. 6 weeks after my son was in our custody, I was pregnant with my daughter. My kids are 13 months apart. Each is different. My son has engineering qualities like my father and my daughter should have been born so she could have been apart of Woodstock. We would have adopted a second child if I did not have my daughter. It sucks being an only child.
Both my parents and husbands parents are deceased. My son’s biological great grandmother (60’s) is the only grandparent we have. She is like an older sister to me.
I LOVE BOTH CHILDREN EQUALLY AND TREAT EACH ONE ACCORDING TO WHO THEY ARE. I nurture those traits that make them who they are. This is what most adoptive parents and families fail at. They want the adopted child to be what they want. They forget the child has a different gene pool other than their own. This is why adopted children like me feel the way we do.
The other issue that exists is the bigotry of people who feel adoptees are losers and unloved. My sister-in-law didn’t want my husband to marry me because I was adopted. A coworker and I were speaking of infertility and adoption. Her words to me “You don’t know where that child has been.” She soon found out I was adopted. AWKWARD FOR HER! Here is the realty adoptees are human beings, we did not come from the pound, we have feelings just like everyone else. Unlike a human born to natural parents, adoptees struggle because we are treated differently because of bigotry and unrecognized genetics.
I grew up in an era where my records are still sealed. I had to beg the agency for “Identifying Information” MY HERITAGE, ETHNIC BACKGROUND. I was not allowed to have any family medical history. It just so happened that my birth mother and biological grandmother had breast cancer.
So when doing studies on adoptees. Please be very careful how you represent us. We are not lab rats and are all ready fighting bigotry for really stupid reasons.
Karen, thanks for sharing your story. We wholeheartedly agree – both adoptees and adoptive parents should be treated for the individuals that they are, unique and special in their own rights. Just as it is vital for parenting your children – by birth or by adoption – according to their wiring and their needs, it’s important not to brush a wide-sweeping brushstroke about “most adoptive parents” failings.
That is where WE as an org come in – we believe knowledge is power and by talking openly about these issues, we bring education and resources to adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents to have many tools available to them to meet the needs of the children they are raising. We face the “myths” about adoption and adoptees and offer practical tools and support to help parents raise their kids with healthy, strong self-identity. We are so glad you are here learning along with us!
I am the oldest biological child. My mom adopted 4 small children and does not have any time to spend with my children, her grandchildren. I see her for a few hours every 2-3 months. She basically created another new family for herself and now talks to me like I’m her friend, comparing kids, instead of her daughter. It’s hard. I hate it. Any help on how to manage besides “it is what it is”? I use that all the time.
Anon1, I’m sorry. That sounds very painful. And personally, I’m taking it as a cautionary tale for my own family as our dynamic could easily be quite similar.
As to advice on how to manage it, I think I would try to have a sit-down, face-to-face. Maybe invite your mom out for coffee, tea or ice cream? I’d likely start out the conversation by empathizing with how hard it is/must be to parent small children and feel spread so thin. Establish some similarities and connect with her over that. Then share that while you are very empathetic (after all you are doing it as well), you still find yourself needing your mom as an adult and you would like to work on that together. Maybe mention that you’d like to see your children develop a grandparent relationship with her for all the benefits that grandmothers (vs. aunts or parents or friends) bring to a child’s life. If you have/had a good relationship with your own grandmother, point to that as an example.
Keep in mind, she might be unaware of your desire for a more mother/daughter relationship. She might have a different experience with what that looks like. Bringing it to light and expressing your desire for more than you are both getting right now will take work and patience and gentleness.
It undoubtedly can be sticky and potentially prickly. It might take a few tries and some time for both of you to think and process. But it sounds as if you really do care and want to be part of effecting change for your dynamic. “It is what it is” is a good coping-in-the-moment tool but it doesn’t bring about change that would meet BOTH of your needs and can lead to resentment or division in your relationship if you don’t address it.
Yes please keep it in mind. It’s been really hard. Everytime I talk to her or see her I get upset because I want her to be more present in our lives. And now I really just feel like pushing her away instead of working things out.
She is now staying at home with those kids when she would not keep our children to save us daycare cost and spend time with them. Taking them on vacation when she has not offered to take us on vacation. For Christmas she didn’t have gifts for my children and gave them older kids gifts instead because they were crying and didn’t have gifts to open. While the adopted children had tons of unwrapped gifts in her room. She is not making us feel important. And like I said before we never see her.
Thank you for the advice. She has always told me that she had her own life and not to expect her to do things for us. I think the problem is we have different ideas of what our relationship should look like. Her mother was not very present in her life either. Thankfully I have a wonderful mother in law that my children are very close to.
I’d love it if you’d consider joining our online support group – http://ow.ly/aTFw50uBx2C – and talk with other adoptive parents there. You might get the support and encouragement you need from those who’ve got some similar dynamics in their own families. Best to you, regardless!
This is to reach out to Anon who posted above. Although it was 4 years ago, I hope you see this comment. I feel exactly how you feel. ((Hugs)) It is an awful feeling. I too have had therapy and it helped for a while. My therapist said “it is what it is” and it helped for a while to repeat this. I have been begging God to change my heart towards my adopted child.
I also jump back and forth between wishing I had only all adopted children or all bio children so I would have never known the difference I now know feel between them.
Thank you so much, anon2, for reaching out this way and sharing your experience and encouragement. Even if the original Anon never sees this, I’m certain your kind words and hope extended will resonate with someone reading now. It’s always helpful to know you aren’t alone in this journey!
Good day! I am a student and i am planning to do a research/thesis about HOW PARENTS TREAT THEIR BIOLOGICAL AND ADOPTED CHILD. This includes the communication strategies that parents do in order to reach out to their biological child especially to their adopted child. Do you have any suggestions WHY do i have to do a research paper about this topic? I hope you can help me. Thank you and God bless!
jeiel, we have lots of resources on this topic at Adoption A-Z Resource Guide (https://creatingafamily.org/adoption/resources/ ) (under combining kids). Hope this helps.
I am the youngest biological child. My two older siblings were adopted. I was totally neglected due to overcompensation of their of adoption. I have deep anger and resentment from this. When I try to talk about it with my parents they remind of how they were abandoned. I have no relationship with my siblings due to this.
I’m so sorry, Kathy. That sounds very painful and damaging. But it’s good to hear a perspective like this one, even if it’s hard to hear. As a parent to both bio and adopted kids, I find myself walking a line of awareness in my attentions and my care that I never noticed before. It’s important to me that I parent each kid as they need me to do, and not get caught in overcompensating or trying to “make up” the past. I try to be mindful of them nurturing relationship with each other as well, as that is so important to our family culture.
I can totally relate. I found your post specifically looking to see if there are others out there in this position. In my family, the two oldest, which I am one of, are the bio children, and the two youngest are adopted. Neglect is an understatement. If myself and my bio sibling ceased to exist tomorrow, I doubt our parents would even notice, or care. I share your anger, resentment, and pain. It’s a horrible situation.
I’m sorry, Kelly, that you feel so invisible. I agree, it’s horrible. I hope you find a path to peace and freedom from that anger and pain. Thank you for sharing your experience.
I was adopted at birth. had a great childhood – until my parents had their own child – something they had been told they could never do. I was immediately relegated to the role of second class child. My parents loved me – but not the way they LOVED my sister. The differences were pronounced – the more so when I had a child. My parents loved their grandchild – until my sister had a child. They have loved and doted on my sister’s children whilst virtually ignoring mine. The problem is mostly with my Mom, but Dad does nothing to change things. At 50 years old I am bitter and have had self-esteem issues for 40+ years.
Thank you for reading and sharing your story. I’m so sorry that was your experience – it sounds so unfair and painful. I’m a mom to both adopted and bio kids and I find myself angry and hurt on your behalf. No child deserves that.
Have you considered seeking help from an adoption-informed therapist? We have tools to find one that can walk with you through the hard self-esteem issues. Maybe something here would be of help to you: http://ow.ly/pdKx50vwpT5 Click on the + sign next to “How To Find An Adoption Therapist” for some things to support your search.
Again, thanks for reading here and sharing your story. Best wishes!
We have one of each. I feel the same about both – they are both our children. If anything, I think that adopting allowed us to experience parenting in a fresh and exciting new light. Whereas, I hear parents having their second biological kind of shrugging it off as old business.
I am a mom of 4 kids by birth and adoption, and I have always felt very lucky to have experienced both birth and adoption.
I have two bio and two adopted. Our reason for adopting is simply that we felt passionately called to adopt. I love all four dearly, they are each my favorites at times, and I want to put each of them back on the shelf at times. Our adopted son with FASD is by far the hardest to love and sadly the what if thought does cross my mind at times but then I remember how blessed we are to be chosen to raise and provide for these beautiful human beings. Life is not meant to be easy and certainly raising kids, whether adopted or biological, is by no means easy. They are my kids just the same. When faced with challenging behavior I do think it would be easier if we only had two or three. I consider being a mother an honor (as well as my cross to bare). Love, frustration, immense pride, anger, exaustion….they are all part of the process of parenting whether adopted or biological.
Oh Hanna, I was smiling and applauding with appreciation as I read your comment. As the mom of 4 by birth and adoption, I wholeheartedly agree with the following: [ I love all four dearly, they are each my favorites at times, and I want to put each of them back on the shelf at times. ]
We adopted our first two as newborns and later became pregnant with our third. I have learned, from my experience, that true love really has nothing to do with DNA. I’d give my life in a heartbeat for any of them. Can’t love them more than that!
Were the adopted children international, from foster care or domestic. It can make a huge difference in both behaviors and their perception.
Sara, how do you think the type of adoption might affect the parent’s behavior or perception?
Not the parent’s behaviors so much as the kids. Are they coming from understaffed orphanages where they were competing for limited attention and resources? Are they coming out of the foster system, witnessing abuse and/or being neglected in their family of origin then having been bounced from family to family and feeling rejected at every turn? And then there’s the training the parents receive ‘Your child has been traumatized’, ‘your child can (implied to mean *will*) have difficult, maladapted behavior as response to their environment’. It’s like the parents are set up to *expect* adopted children to be different (more difficult) then bio children. Even domestic infant adoption can be potentially fraught if the primal wound theory is subscribed to. Tell a parent their child is likely to be damaged and they will tend towards interpreting any behavior as maladaptive.
Done both. No difference. Period.
I do favor my bio child over adoptive, and the research you cited does show some divergence in how parents perceive their adoptive children. My adoptive child is simply harder to parent. If I had to do it again, I’m not sure I’d adopt.
anon, that’s a hard place to be. If you haven’t sought family therapy, please give it a try.
I’ve sought therapy on several occasions, but the hard truth is that my bio kid is my favorite, and I don’t know what amount of therapy will change what my heart feels. I often wonder if the contrast with how I feel about my kids wouldn’t be so stark if I gave birth to or adopted them both. Thanks for posting this article, I think it’s a very important topic, although I think I’m not in much company based on the Facebook comments.
anon, I agree that it’s an important topic. I sincerely hope, however, that you are not correct that there is nothing you can to go change how you feel. We humans can and do change. Have you reached out to your adoption agency to seek help?
Thank you for your honesty. I wish my adoptive parents had not adopted me – or at least not had a natural child later.
I could have written your words but was fearful. While your post is 6 years old, I wanted to thank you as I don’t feel so alone.