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Your Family's Reaction to Adoption

Your Children Already in the Family

If you already have children, this new child (or children) you will adopt will become their sibling(s). They may have some powerful positive and negative feelings about this:

  • They may fear that you'll favor the new child over them.
  • Whether you think it's an issue or not, it's a good idea to reassure the children already in your family—even your adult children who have already left home—that they still are very important to you and always will be. No one can replace them. You want to adopt another child (or children), but the new child will have a different relationship with you.

    Also, be sure to tell them that love isn't like a pie that must be divided up into smaller pieces when there are more people. You can love the family that you have now, and you can love a child whom you adopt, without diminishing the love for the ones who “came first.”

  • They may worry that you'll spend less time with them.
  • Let's be realistic about one aspect that probably will change—your time. Especially if you are adopting an infant, your time will be more in demand than it was in the past. You'll need to be sure that after you do adopt and are over the initial adjustment stage, your other children—and your spouse—still receive loving attention.

    Your family and children may especially worry if the child you plan to adopt is disabled. Won't this take too much time and energy out of you—and them? How long will it take to figure out exactly what the child needs and how to provide it? Will the disabled child become the center of attention because of the disability? As you can see, you need to think about many things here!

  • They may worry that the household workload will increase.
  • Guess what? They're right! At least in the early days and until you get settled, you may find yourself calling on your children to help you with the new child. However, they should not be expected to sacrifice all their time and energy to the child whom you chose to adopt.

    If you think you will really need extra help, you should consider your options even before you receive a referral for a child. Should you find a baby-sitting cooperative in your neighborhood or start one yourself? Should you check out day-care programs? (If you work, you definitely should decide ahead of time whether you will continue to work, how long you'll take off after you adopt your child, and other work-related issues.)

    Real Life Snapshot

    After my husband and I were approved to adopt, we began thinking about names for the baby that would come someday. We involved the two children already in our family, then ages six and seven.

    We all pored over name books, looking at the meanings of different names, and also seeing if the name sounded right with our last name. We finally selected a boy name and a girl name, since we didn't know if our new baby would be male or female. Of course, my husband and I had veto power over some of the silly names the kids chose!

    This task took many hours and also helped the children feel that they were important to the future adoption. And they were!

    Be sure to keep in mind the possible reactions of the newly adopted child to whatever plans you make. A two-year-old adopted from another country, who speaks another language, may not adapt very well at first to a day-care center, to your children, or to you. She probably needs at least a few weeks with you before she can be placed in another new and strange environment. It's a mistake to hold off on thinking about these issues until after you adopt.

  • Children already in the family may consciously or unconsciously wonder about their place in the family—for example, no longer being “the baby” or “the big kid.” Again, reassure them of your love. When the child comes, make sure you still have “alone time” with them so they continue to feel special.
  • They may wonder what their friends will think. Others have strange ideas about adoption sometimes, based on TV shows, movies, or things they've heard. Yet most people don't believe in talking animals that they see on TV shows. Tell them that just as talking animals are mythical, the idea that all adopted children and adults are disturbed is also a myth. Just because you see it on TV doesn't make it real.
  • If adopted themselves, your children might have new questions about their birthparents. If nonadopted, they may have questions about their births. Answer the “old” adopted child's questions honestly and openly and reassure him of your continuing love. Talk to nonadopted kids about their births and how important they are and always will be to you.

Of course, your children may exhibit many positive and excited feelings about the new child. They may be eager to hug the new baby or show the new older child the ropes. Children can be very affectionate and helpful—but don't expect that kind of behavior 100 percent of the time, or you will be disappointed. You'll also see jealousy, boredom, and other common reactions to a new person—and a rival—in the family. This is normal.

Your Adult Siblings and Other Family Members

Now that you've thought about your parents' reaction to adoption, as well as how your children (if you have any) may feel, it's time to consider how other family members will react to your plan to adopt. In most cases, they will greet the news in a positive and excited way.

As with your parents, if siblings or other family members express dismay about you adopting, you could remind them of past decisions you made that they were skeptical of but that worked out. Or better yet, remind them of decisions they made that everyone questioned but ultimately proved positive. Then tell them that this is a decision you are making and that you believe will work out for your family. If you're committed to adopting a child, be firm with your doubting family members. Let them know your decision is final and you hope and expect them to welcome your child into the family.



More on: Adoption

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption © 2004 by Christine Adamec. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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