Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Still Breakin' the Rules - Adoption and Birth Order (the Less Obvious)

In this post, I talked a little bit about the traditional concerns over adopting out of birth order.  For many in the adoption community, this is a huge issue that can be a deal-breaker if you don’t adopt younger than your youngest.  However, I think there is another side of this issue that gets very little attention – the birth order of your adopted child.

Let’s look at my kids as an example – when we began our first adoption, Grace was 5 and Al was about 6 months old.  The typical push would have been to wait until Al was a bit older and than pursue an infant.  Obviously we didn’t do that. Originally, we searched for a little boy, around 2-4 years old.

We found sweet Abi! At homecoming he was just under 4 – smack dab between the 2 girls.  Thrown into the middle child role.  He had previously been an only child.  Now he has to deal with not only a big sister, but adjust to being a big brother – a big brother to a little sister that’s not exactly a piece of cake to deal with. ;o)  He didn’t have the chance to gradually adjust to that. In a “typical” situation, he would have been 2 when Ally was born, gotten used to being “gentle” with the little baby and gradually had to deal with her growing older, getting into his stuff, etc.  But in our situation – BAM.  Here are your siblings – one is likely going to boss you around and the other is going to annoy the beejeebies outta ya. 

That’s a lot for a little boy to handle. Especially a little boy that spent the majority of his life (all that he could remember) in an orphanage.

Then we have Hana.  In her case, she grew up with two sisters that were quite a bit older.  She was the “baby” of the family in every way.  My understanding was that she was rarely disciplined and often allowed to simply have her way, which is not terribly uncommon for the first few years of a child’s life, especially the youngest.  But then she joins our family – BAM.  Here is your older sister, Grace. Yep, you are used to an older sister, but this one is only a year and a half older.  Oh, and we’ll throw in a couple of younger siblings.  Now you are expected to act like a “big sister” and “set a good example.”  How stressful!  What a role to step into!

Last year Selam joined our family.  She grew up as a middle child, but because of the age differences between the girls, in some ways it was like being an only child.  She was used to babying Hana. She came into our family expecting to baby Ally too – and that didn’t go over well. ;o)  So, now instead of one younger sister, she has 4 younger siblings – all with strong personalities, expectations and attitudes.  And her safety net is gone – SHE is now the true “big sister.”  The buck stops there.  The first few months were tough.  She had a tough time stepping into this leadership role and finding a balance between leading and being a tyrant. ;)  In the past 6 months or so, she has really blossomed in her role as a big sister and is truly beginning to enjoy it. 

Looking back, our expectations of Abi, Hana and Selam were probably unfair (even though - at the time - I didn't realize I even had expectations).  It truly never occurred to me how difficult it might be to force our children to step into different roles within our family.  And make no mistake – it isn’t necessarily going to be a cake walk to simply “follow the rules” and only add a child if he/she is going to be the youngest.  Unless you are adopting an infant, there isn’t much guaranty that the child was previously a youngest or only. And even if that happens, you are still ousting your current youngest by adding another.  

Thus, any time you add a child to your family – through birth or adoption – you are disrupting birth order in some fashion!  That does not mean it can’t “work” but it does mean that parents should make these decisions with their eyes open and do their best to adjust their expectations accordingly.  We have had tremendous luck building our family by breaking some of these adoption “rules”, yet I know that we could have made thing easier – on ourselves and on our kids – if we had given all of our kids a bit more leeway to adjust to these new roles.  Lowered expectations, a great deal of supervision and gentle guidance can go a long way.  Don’t assume your kids can/will handle all that you expect!  Give them the time and space to step into the roles when they are ready and support them all the way.

1 comment:

  1. Love this!!! We will be doing this in our family here soon. Not sure of the exact dynamics yet, but it will be out of order. There are all kinds of variables that our kids go through when we adopt them. My N, who was the first born in his family is now a middle child... he's got first child personality in middle child role. :)
    It's all hard, I think we as parents can and do all that we can to make it work...and I love that you are sharing how it did! :)