One of the questions many parents ask when they begin to consider adoption for their family is “what impact will it have on our children?”
When a family already has children in the home and then begins the process of adoption or foster care, they tend to get some routine guidelines from social workers:
* Don’t disrupt birth order – bring home only children younger than those already in the home.
* Don’t “twin” one of your children by fostering a child of the same age.
* Don’t adopt a child less than a year after giving birth to a child or within a year of a previous child’s adoption.
* Consider carefully how many children you can parent with medical needs.
I used to disagree with those guidelines. That was back when I was operating in a sort of “love is all you need” mentality, and I thought these were arbitrary limits on the children a family could love. Now, while I realize that there are many successful stories where these guidelines haven’t been followed in individual families’ circumstances, I think there is much wisdom in considering these issues.
Adoption and foster care do impact your children who are “already home.” There are many positive impacts; but the plain truth is, it can be hard – on parents, on kids, on everyone. Looking back at our adoptions from nine years down the road, I can begin to make out the shape of the ways those first few years impacted our older kids. Three rise to the top of the list…
1 – We thought we would avoid the stresses of anyone losing their “place” in our family when we kept birth order and adopted kids younger than our biological children.
What we know now is that our oldest daughter very much lost her place when we brought home our second daughter, even though they were nearly four years apart in age. Not only was there a new daughter in the family, she was also young, adorable, medically fragile, and different. I remember standing at a checkout line in those early months with my two girls while the cashier went on about how cute our new daughter was, and I reflexively put my arms around both girls and said something like “yes – they are both so beautiful!”
But my older daughter didn’t stand out like the small, African girl with the big brown eyes in the middle of the peach family, and she still carries the displacement of that time. It will always be a part of her story. It doesn’t mean that her story took a wrong turn; because if there is one thing I am learning, it is that suffering is important and useful. But I still get a lump in my throat when I think of the shift that happened in her small world when I left early on the morning of her eighth birthday for Liberia.
2 – We didn’t “twin” our children, but…
We do have three kids who are all within about two years of age of each other – one biological and two adopted. So, without meaning to, we ended up with some odd version of triplets. There are times when these three are a lovely, well-oiled unit, complementing each others’ strengths. And there are others times when they are not.
Those times are heightened by the fact that the three of them have drastically different abilities and disabilities, strengths and weaknesses. This was a challenge I didn’t anticipate, and I realize that because we kept to the “rule” of not adopting children of the same age, I falsely expected that this dynamic of competitiveness, vying for position, and squabbles over control wouldn’t happen in our home. But it does.
3 – When we adopted and fostered children with special needs, our other children developed special needs of their own.
Living with a sibling who has frequent and demanding behaviors stemming from his trauma background; a child who is hospitalized multiple times a year, taking mom away with her; frightening rages and tantrums; children who inevitably require huge amounts of mom’s time as we take on the intense level of parenting required for kids from trauma backgrounds – these all trigger trauma and need in our first children.
Sometimes the very things that will bring one child forward set another child back. Secondary trauma takes hold in our home at times.
I trust that God is writing our children’s stories – each one of them – and I trust that He will redeem the suffering that they have encountered through our family’s story. But I don’t deny the fact that there is a level of suffering there because we chose adoption and foster care.
So I find myself often reflecting on the topic of suffering. James tells us that we should count it joy when we encounter trials. Somehow, I find this easier to think of in regard to myself. I can understand intellectually, and I can see experientially that God uses trials in my life to shape me (so, so slowly) into someone more like Him.
But I admit that I still find this very hard to understand in regard to my children. The bottom line is that my children sometimes suffer because we chose a path of adoption and foster care. Some days, I feel the sadness of knowing that we opened a door to hardship in the lives of our kids. While I am actively trying to accept and welcome suffering in my own life, deep down, I wish I didn’t have to welcome it into my children’s lives too.
But we do – we open the door to hard things for our family.
I pray that our children will learn that they may pray for resolution or release from difficult circumstances; but if resolution or release don’t come, God is allowing a suffering that will accomplish something in them – something that He values. I pray that my children will see that He has chosen to weave their stories together with His love for the orphan – not only for the orphan but for them. I pray that they truly understand that He has not forgotten them.
with hope and gratitude,
(read my next post on What Adoption and Foster Care Have Given my Children)