Tuesday Topic: Is Our Family Ready to Adopt an Older Child?

This week’s Tuesday Topic comes from Suzanne.  Her question is long, but I don’t want to leave out any details so you can offer your thoughts with as much clarity as possible.  Please take a moment to respond, even if you don’t feel “qualified”; your words may be exceedingly helpful to Suzanne and her husband as they face a life-changing decision.

We have two children that are ours by birth, a son who’s 9 and a daughter who’s 5.  We’ve been fostering for about a year and half, and currently we have two foster children, a boy who’s 3 and a baby girl who’s almost 11 months.  It looks fairly positive that we will be adopting these two within a few months.   They will, barring any new complications, be eligible for adoption by the end of the year, and we can finalize soon after that.

The complication is that they have an older sister that was placed separately. We have been asked if we are willing to take this older sister, age 6.  While they have assured us that our answer to her does not jeopardize our placement with the two we have, we are still feeling a lot of pressure to make the right decision for our family and this little girl.  Sibling bonds aren’t really an issue at this point since the children are so young.  Our foster children have no attachment to this older sibling whatsoever.  While we haven’t had all that many placements, we’ve had a previous placement with a little girl who was virtually the same age as our daughter, and it did not go well.  Our daughter was under significant distress during the months that little girl lived with us.

My question is, how do you make a decision about an older child entering your family?  How do you gauge the effect on your current children?  Are there any concrete tools that we can use to help us make this decision?

We definitely do not feel peace about saying yes to this placement right now, but we are committed to following God’s will in this situation.  We don’t want to say no just because it might be hard.  We don’t want to say yes without fully weighing the effects on our current family structure.  Along with this, how do you possibly find the time to give each child, whether by birth or adoption, the time and attention they need when parenting traumatized children takes SO much time?  The foster children we have already require so much of our time that I am having a hard time envisioning what I could do to make the time to help another hurting child heal.

There you have it.  It is a long question, but not unfamiliar to many of you.  Honestly, who else can speak as clearly to this as fellow adoptive/foster parents?  Please take a moment to leave a comment for Suzanne and I will try to add my thoughts as well.

Encourage one another,

~Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

23 Comments

  1. Marissa
    November 2, 2010

    I think it depends very much on your family dynamic. My little kids aren't fazed by the yelling, screaming, raging sibling at all. It doesn't seem to create much stress within them. That right there is a big factor. Putting another child under that much stress is certainly not a good thing.

    On the other hand, this could be an incredible opportunity. I love my 3 older adopted kids with every ounce of my being. They've brought a lot of complications, but a lot of joy as well.

    Reply
  2. Marissa
    November 2, 2010

    Deciding to adopt older children was the scariest decision I've ever made. It comes with a lot of risks and rewards. It's not a decision to be taken lightly. I don't know if there's any concrete tools to help make this decision easier. I think it's a tough decision for a reason.

    (cont.)I think if you already feel like you are at the maximum in what you can deal with, it's not something to even consider. While I love the idea of keeping siblings together, I don't think it's wise to do it at the expense of any of the children.

    I empathize with your decision. I know it's not easy. I have nothing to really offer other than understanding exactly where you're coming from!

    Reply
  3. Sara
    November 2, 2010

    Suzanne,
    You are wise and brave to ask this question although. As a foster, birth, and adoptive parent I have had to say a few hard no's. The biggest factor for us has always been choosing what is right for ALL members of our household. We have said no to more than one birth sibling. While it was hard at the time, I have on more than one occasion had comfirmation that this was the right decision for our family. I can also say that if we had said yes to those siblings we would have missed out on another child that is not a birth sibling but definitely meant for our family. While it is hard and sad to say no, I think the best way to grow our families is to say yes only when it is in everyone's best interest. Your concerns about the other kids in your house seem reasonable and you are smart to consider whether you have the time and resources to add another child at this time. I wish you all the best.

    Reply
  4. bonnie
    November 2, 2010

    Is there any way to try it out with this 6 year old – maybe as a respite provider for a weekend to get an idea if it is all feasible for you? It seems like you are in between a rock and a hard place – and that is not an easy place to be.

    Reply
  5. Leah
    November 2, 2010

    Add children to your family is never an easy decision. Adding a 6 year old will definitely be life changing and very hard. Your life will never be the same for the good albeit hard sometimes. Adding 3 children to your family in one year now that is crazy! My family grew by three in one year adding a 6 year old and two unrelated 1 year olds. I came very, very close to a complete breakdown. My parents move in with us for at least the next three years to provide additional support, supervisions and guidance. My husband changed jobs to be able to be home more. It was nothing sort of a complete and total life changer.
    6 is an interesting age. It is an age of pulling away from the caregiving to start establishing a person independent of her parents. So not only to you have all the hard stuff, attachment and family building work to do but you have nature working against you in a big way. At least you can get a picture of what the teen years will be like :).

    Are you ready? Can you do it? I would make sure you have the resources including weekly therapy sessions, parent support groups for families raising kids from hard places, family support, limited out of the home requirements, support and love for your two kids already home. All of this is costly in money, energy and time. Make sure both you and your husband are in total agreement on your decision.

    Congrats on your growing family and best of luck.

    Reply
    1. staci
      November 11, 2010

      Thank you for this Leah – adding two kids to our family this year has brought us to our knees. We've needed constant help. Adding three makes me nauseated. Not impossible but life altering for sure!

      Reply
  6. Beth O.
    November 2, 2010

    Suzanne, I don't have an answer to your question, but I will be praying for you during your decision making process. God bless!

    Reply
  7. Cat
    November 2, 2010

    I don't think there is any concrete answer or tools. We were in a somewhat analogous situation and decided to adopt. For us, it was a combination of prayer and guts/insanity and just this peace at one point along they way that we were doing the right thing. I did want to make one point in particular – don't underestimate the family bonds, even at the young age. In our case, we adopted one DD at age 5 (apart from her family since age 4) and the next year adopted her sister, age 12 – at that point, they had been apart 2 full years and some periods before that. Our younger DD had fading memories already – but she KNEW and still has an attrachment to her bio sister that runs deeper in some ways… and our older DD was VERY attached to younger DD.

    Not saying that this should guilt you into anything (not at all!), but consider that there may well be a bond there that is not apparent and may never be… but may leave a hole. Even if brining the older DD into your family is not the right thing, maybe you can find a way to have the children know each other growing up??

    Reply
  8. Hope
    November 2, 2010

    My first suggestion would be intensive fact finding. What types of issues is this child dealing with? Can you talk with her foster parent?

    If the fact finding goes well, I would ask for visits with the sibling. It would seem that you would perhaps want to have some visits with the children after adoption even if the oldest was not placed with you, why not start now? Get to know her but DO NOT let her know you are considering adopting her until you have decided you'd like to (if you do).

    Saying a prayer for you. God will give you discernment.

    Reply
  9. Emily
    November 2, 2010

    Feeling completely unqualified to make any sort of judgment, I just wanted to let you know, Suzanne, that I am praying that the Spirit would guide your heart and your husband's heart into His way simultaneously. May you be of one mind as you weigh so many different factors–both present and potential–and strive to faithfully care for the gifts He gives, knowing that ultimately, He cares for each of these children–and you.

    Reply
  10. carla
    November 2, 2010

    I think the fact that you are already not sensing this would be a good situation for your family is a big sign. We accepted the referral of a girl that was a bit older than we had been prepared for, then once we got her home, we could tell she was even older (quite a bit older). This has been a big struggle and adjustment for our youngest bio who is nine. I honestly can't even tell you at this point if we did the right thing or not after having her here almost two years. I still struggle with it and seek the Lord daily. I will say because of our experience, I would not adopt a child older than existing children in the home, especially bio children. Our agency would not let us adopt children older than the youngest in our home, so as not to mess up the birth order. I didn't understand this at first, but I am glad that they had this rule. My suggestion is that you and your husband pray about it and do what you have complete peace about. I am a firm believer that you have to consider the children already in your home first.

    Reply
  11. One Thankful Mom
    November 2, 2010

    I just want to say that I love my readers. Thank you for your great responses — I hope there are many more. Keep them coming!

    Reply
  12. Kathrin
    November 2, 2010

    Dear Suzanne,
    first of all thank you for sharing your feelings I know it can be hard to put it in writing. I too feel that you have an answer, if you can't say "yes" with all your heart it's probbably not right for your family (at least not for now). Don't feel pressured into saying yes.
    I think it is wonderful that you can adopt your two foster kids. All the best to you.

    Reply
  13. Teresa
    November 3, 2010

    Hi,

    When we started our adoption journey our 4 year old had only 1 request. To ALWAYS be the eldest child in the family.
    We kept it and it was a good decision and a wise request.
    She's the typical eldest sister and would have been very stressed if she lost her place in the family.

    I feel there are 6 year olds and 6 year olds, they are still quite young, and cuddly.
    At the same time it really depends if she is a good match for your family.
    My 8 year old is still very sweet and inocent.

    What I would do? And this is just my 2 pc.
    I would contact her foster mom, have a nice big meeting with her to have as much information as possible about this possible daughter of yours, organize a big picnic or outing where you could get to know her and see if the girls play nicely together.

    Reply
  14. Teresa
    November 3, 2010

    After that I would have a nice family meeting to listen to your birth children's hearts and how did they feel about this little girl.
    Just ask if they liked her, if they got along, what would they feel if she came to live with you, not too much, as it is not their decision after all, but at least you could have an idea about what the first impression was.
    Obviously in an ideal world you would adopt the 3 of them, and if you think the 2 little ones are already part of your family, she would be the only new element.

    I think because she's so close in age to your birth daughter, you need to make sure YOU can love her, you have space in your heart for her, your hubby is available to love her too and both your children like her enough to be willing to share life, love and attention with her.

    If she is not a good match for your family, I would keep an eye on her situation and hopefully a family not too far from where you live can adopt her and the siblings can keep in touch.

    Hard decision.
    Best wishes

    Reply
  15. Kate in NY
    November 3, 2010

    I am thinking of your biological daughter. You write that she was under "significant distress" during the time you fostered another girl who was the same age. As much as you might want to do what seems to be "the right thing" by taking in this little girl, I think you need to put your daughter's emotional needs first. You and your husband could no doubt get through the tough stuff if you adopted the boys' sibling – you are foster parents, and obviously well equipped to deal with kids from "hard places." Your older son would probably be fine as well – his place in the family dynamic would not be altered, and the little boys would also maintain their "spots." But I sense your daughter would be the one who would be most affected. Sometimes doing the right thing is not necessarily the most outwardly noble – adopting the sibling of your children seems honorable, but it could take even more courage to accept that it
    might not be the best fit for your entire family.

    I also feel that adoption SHOULD be motivated primarily by selfishness – that is, the selfish desire for more children. I would pray about this: do you want this new child in your family, truly and with all your heart and soul – or are you feeling the (understandable) pull of duty, charity or guilt? I wish you the very best as you ponder these difficult questions.

    Reply
  16. C.H.
    November 3, 2010

    1 of 2
    There is no cookie cutter answer to your question, other than you need to PRAY! I have read through many of the answers you've been given so far and much of the advise is very good… you need to do more research about the little girl, how does your daughter (same age) feel about the idea, have the siblings ever lived together or do they just know about each other, can you do respite for a weekend or two, can you do visits, if that goes well can you foster her for a while WITHOUT commiting to yourselves, her, or her SW that you will adopt? DO NOT MAKE ANY PROMISES YOU CANNOT KEEP!!!! I am sure your intentions are good and you want to do the right thing but please keep in mind the impact all this will have on this little girl.

    Reply
  17. C.H.
    November 3, 2010

    2 of 2
    We are currently adopting two older children through disruption (failed adoption) Watching my older kids hearts be shattered over the rejection of their first adoptive family was the most devestating thing I have ever witnessed in my life. I would be happy to discuss this situation with you and pray with you anytime. May God bless you and keep you and your husband united through this hard descision. If either of you is not 100% positive I would say wait, don't move forward until you are completely united.

    Reply
  18. sleighs79
    November 3, 2010

    I just want to say thank you, thank you to everyone who has posted their encouraging words on here. It is a blessing that I did not expect, yet so desperately needed. This is probably the most difficult decision we've ever faced as a couple. We are taking all of this into account and spending much time in prayer as we make this decision for our family. I am just overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude that all of you took the time to speak into our lives and pray for our family, even not knowing us at all. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. One Thankful Mom
      November 3, 2010

      I had the privilege of speaking to Suzanne today. She has a beautiful heart and wants more than anything to follow Jesus in this decision for their family. Please pray for Suzanne and their husband that they will joyfully follow Him wherever He leads.

      Reply
  19. Kathleen
    November 5, 2010

    I have a few random thoughts on the subject. (Apparently more than a few, as they won’t all fit in one comment.)

    Seeing the 6yo in a respite situation is not likely to be an accurate test.

    Just because you are not aware of a bond between the children, doesn't mean they won't feel a sense of loss if they are permanently separated. (My 20yo dd still misses two young half-sibs she never lived with and hasn't seen since she was, I don't know, 5 or less? She also "misses" the youngest half-sib that she has NEVER met. It's all part of the same feelings of loss.)

    Adopting 3 in a short period may be crazy… but we adopted a sibling group of four, all at once, 11.5 years ago, then aged 11, 9, 8, 4. And I think there are much better resources available now (Beyond Consequences, Post Institute, Eric Guy, Karen Purvis, etc.)

    BTW, my b-kids were 9 & 4 when we adopted.

    Reply
  20. nancileamarie
    November 11, 2010

    What a very difficult question. I do not really feel qualified to give advice, as we are just stepping into being foster parents. However, I think how your bio daughter responded to the other girl who was about the same age is a good "test" of what it might be like for her in bringing in this 6 year old. Even if the 6 year old isn't in your household, can the two younger siblings keep in touch?

    Reply
  21. Jessica Rudder
    February 3, 2011

    I'm a bit late to the discussion here, but, felt that it was important to point out that while the younger children might be too young to have a bond with the older sister, it's possible that the older sister has developed a bond with her younger siblings.

    I'm not saying that you should not adopt the younger kids if you decide you are not able to take the older child as well. If I were in a similar situation as the big sister I would not have wanted my younger siblings to miss out on their chance at a family because of me. However, I would also not have wanted to lose them forever. Perhaps, if it is not right for your family to adopt the big sister as well, there will at least be opportunities to allow her to interact with her younger siblings occasionally.

    Reply

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