Blending children into your family by adoption, foster, or kinship care when biological children are already present can create unique challenges. How can parents prepare their families to blend resident kids with kids by adoption, foster, or kinship care?
General Tips for Blending Kids by Birth and Adoption/Foster/Kinship Care
When you are blending kids by birth and adoption or foster/kinship care, there are a few things that you can do to set the tone for your home and changes that are coming. These are general preparations you can do, regardless of the ages of the kids in the house or the kids you are bringing home.
Gather background information
Get as much information from the child’s background files as you can. Ask your social worker or caseworker about the environments from which the child is coming. Inquire about how that child has interacted with other kids, how the child behaves during high stress, and what the child’s needs are.
Be a lifelong learner.
The issues surrounding adoption, foster, and kinship care are lifelong – for the adoptees, foster kids, and their families. Prepare yourself for the ongoing nature of these topics as you grow together. Your preparations should involve self-examination about your “why,” general expectations, and the pre-conceived notions you hold about being an adoptive/foster/kinship family.
Start with realistic expectations.
Recognize that it is not, nor will it be necessary or even possible, to treat all the children equally. That’s too much emotional weight to bear and way too much mental “record-keeping” for any busy household. Instead, set the expectation that you will parent each of your children according to their individual needs.
Set yourself up for success.
As soon as you can, line up extra help around the house. Whether it’s laundry, grocery shopping, or yard work, think about those in your life who can lighten that load for a while. Inquire about elderly folks, college students, or even local high school kids in your circles who could serve your family during the transition of adding a new child.
Nix the “shoulds.”
The transition season of settling a new child into your home is a perfect time to pull back on the extras that usually keep you running out of breath all day long. Your new child will need as much of your time and attention as possible, especially the first six months they are home. Streamline your calendar and permit yourself to say “no.”
Expect growing pains.
Sibling rivalry, even among kids who have always been part of the family, is typical. There will be some shifting and straining of the kids’ relationships. It will lighten your mental and emotional load tremendously if you can decide in advance how to handle them and how to respond. The key will be to not over-react. Instead, recognize that your kids need some level of conflict to learn how to navigate relationships. As long as everyone is safe, it’s also a chance to learn how to repair relationships.
Preparations When You Already Have Kids By Birth
Consider birth order.
While every child has a unique temperament and responds differently, there are common challenges to disrupting birth order. Educate yourself on the issues and engage in honest introspection about your expectations and abilities. Think about your resident children’s temperament. Balance it against the known struggles of the child you are adopting. Do you have the capacity to provide what both kids will need in the transition and for the long haul?
Many ages in one body.
You likely already understand your resident child’s age and stage developmental abilities. Consider that an adopted, foster, or kinship child could be one chronological age. But if he has a trauma history, he might act significantly younger, especially in the early stages of being in your family.
Recognize the time constraints.
Even before you receive a placement by adoption or foster/kinship care, consider how your time constraints will change. Prepare your resident kids by explaining you need to streamline the family calendar and why. Begin ongoing conversations about the temporary nature of meeting the new sibling’s needs. Assure them that they can ask for your time and attention, and you will do your best to support them. Be sure to check in with them frequently leading up to and during the transition time.
Define the terms.
It’s will be helpful to start with general conversations about what adoption and foster care are versus what they are not. With young children in the home, books are an excellent way to introduce adoption or foster/kinship care topics. When your kids are older, they will benefit from exploring the “why” of adoption, foster, and kinship care. Equipping them with your intentions for adoption will help them process their part in the transition of adding to the family.
Involve the kids.
In age-appropriate ways, make a family project of getting ready for the child you are planning to adopt or foster. Employ their help to clean the kitchen before the home study visit. Ask for their input on new bedding or assistance in painting the new child’s room.
Engage in “what ifs.”
Sometimes families need to think and talk about scenarios of everyday life that are common to families built by adoption, foster, or kinship care. These conversations can include topics like:
Again, children’s books are an excellent tool to engage your child’s curiosity about the transition process or examine the family’s new dynamics. Try making a game of it by role-playing scenarios to help prepare your kids to explain adoption or foster/kinship care to their friends.
Privacy is a priority.
While you are exploring the “what ifs” of being an adoptive or foster family, try to explain to your resident children why kids need adoptive or foster families. As they grasp those concepts, take the general discussion and personalize it to the specific child you adopt or foster.
When creating answers to questions about your family, help your children understand that the story of their new brother or sister belongs to that child. This new sibling deserves the right to keep his story private. Your resident children will be curious, and so will their friends – it’s the nature of childhood. Help them create answers while still respecting their new sibling’s privacy.
Additional Tips for Older Child Adoption
• Invite the kids to participate in visits with the new child before the adoption.
• Normalize conversations about “life before adoption or foster/kinship care.” Don’t make it taboo to talk about your life before the adopted child joining your family or the adopted child’s life before joining your family.
• Teach your kids about the potential behaviors that a newly adopted child might exhibit. Help them understand why they might see their new sibling clinging, having tantrums, or crying. Talk about food insecurity, struggles to share, and other common behaviors. Again, children’s books are helpful conversation starters.
• Slowly transition your new child into the family if possible. If not possible, spend as much time as a family with your new child before bringing her home.
Tips for Adopting or Fostering Transracially
• Talk with your children about the attention from others that your family may receive.
• Incorporate books featuring diverse characters into your child’s library.
• Read and act on the suggestions in CreatingaFamily.org’s guide to raising anti-racist kids. (Actually, please do this even if you aren’t adopting a child of a different race!)
Preparations if You Are Considering a Child by Birth AFTER Adoption or Fostering
Suppose you are considering adding a child by birth to your family after you’ve brought adopted, foster, or kinship kids home. In that case, there are some specific conversations you should have. We believe honest self-assessment and preparation are vital to helping you and your children thrive. Indeed, families get pregnant after adoption without planning to do so. They thrive without talking about some of these issues.
However, if you have the opportunity to decide – or not – to add another child by birth, please ask yourselves these questions before the changes happen:
• How will this decision impact your adopted child? Many adopted children already struggle with “where they fit” in their family, so this bears careful examination.
• Why do you want a biological child? How do you (or would you) frame that to the adopted kids you are already raising?
• Are you afraid that you might love a biological child more? Is your adopted/foster child fearful about that? Are they afraid of being relegated to second-best status?
• How will you intentionally carve out time alone with your adopted child to buffer and build continued attachment? Do you share hobbies or interests? Can you develop some along the way to prioritize time together?
Preparing Your Family Creates A Culture of Intention
Blending kids by birth and adoption, foster, or kinship care is not impossible. Nor is it dooming your family to a lifetime of worry and self-examination. When you prepare well and commit to continue learning together, it can become second nature to nurture and exercise this culture of openness, empathy, and thoughtfulness among you all.
Image Credits: StarsApart; Nenad Stojkovik; guilherme jofili; Glenn Beltz