How To Support Bio Kids In An Adoptive Family.

“I have both adopted and biological kids and I find my bio kids often get lost in the shuffle of everything we deal with as an adoptive family. How do we support them and stay connected to them?”

We get this question ALL the time. Usually I’m thinking, “Hmmm good question, I don’t have any bio kids so I don’t know how to answer that.” Next, I’ll think, “I should really meet someone who has bio kids and ask them this question.” Then I say to myself, “Better yet, I should find a bio kid who was raised in an adoptive family and then I’ll ask the question.” This weekend my mom and I went to an adoption conference together and I kept introducing her and by saying, “This is my mom, she’s an adoptive mom too!”

That’s when it hit me, I’M a biological child in an adoptive family. *Insert eye roll here* Please give me grace right now, I haven’t slept through the night in almost 16 years. I’m always busy writing and speaking about being an adoptive mom that I forgot that I have another perspective as well. My youngest brother was adopted when I was 16 and he was 8.

My brother needed a lot of support. He had lost his first family, his country, his language and everything he had ever known. He was being raised in an orphanage and was severely malnourished. Once in our house, he would have plenty of food, a mom and dad and three older siblings who were dying to meet him. Unlike the movies, his story wasn’t wrapped with a ribbon and tied with a neat little bow the minute he reached his new life. He had a long way to go before he understood our culture. We had a long way to go before we learned to gain his trust.

In our desire to support our foster and adoptive children sometimes we forget that biological kids need support too. Our children who live securely in our home should be gracious hosts, but they are also still children. When my biological sister was born, I was three. I was so excited to be a big sister, until she arrived. My pre-school brain just couldn’t understand how my parents could pay so much attention to her. My position as only child had been changed without my permission or even consideration for my opinion. (how rude!) When a child is adopted the new siblings must shift and change. Bedrooms, seats at the dinner table, sometimes even birth order. Even if the placement is only for a short time the shift feels big to those who are shifting.

I’ve lived this as the bio child that gains a younger brother. I’ve lived this as the mom of a forever child who becomes a little sister and a big sister all in one day. Here are some things we have learned about providing support to our children as our family changes.

  1. Prepare – Parents know it’s important to get educated on trauma. We research the culture our child is coming from and anticipate areas of concern. As parents, we know we need to set flexible expectations for our new child. Our children don’t know that. They only know the environment and experiences they have lived in their short little lives. There is a fine line between telling someone else’s story and sharing needed information. You may say something like, “New Sister didn’t have enough to eat when she was little. In our home, we have plenty. New Sister may need some time to feel like she can trust us to provide enough food.” We don’t usually know exactly what to expect before a child comes home but if we start the conversation ahead of time, bio and forever kids won’t be as shocked when things are different.
  2. Initiate Conversation – Ask your children specific questions, “How are you feeling about New Sister?” “What is one thing you love about our new life?” “What is one thing that makes you sad?”
  3. Listen without judgment – LISTEN, I can’t stress this enough. No one wants to be interrupted or minimalized. If you child says, “I hate this! I don’t want to do this anymore.” Or “I miss our time together.” Don’t immediately defend yourself or your new child. Just listen. Chances are, your child will work through his or her emotions more quickly if she just feels heard. In my own personal dialogue, I say one-sided things too. “I hate this traffic, I’m never driving this car again, I want to move back in with my parents, I hate being a grown-up.” My emotions in the moment are real and valid but the conclusion is usually much more well-rounded once I’ve been heard.
  4. Keep traditions – You will add new traditions as life moves forward but at least for a time, keep your old traditions. Read the Christmas story together on Christmas Eve. Pray together at bedtime. Watch movies and eat popcorn every Friday. Make sure that these traditions stay in place.
  5. Maintain sacred space – We want our children to share but some things are not for sharing. In our house, we are not allowed to touch another person’s bed even if we share rooms. Closets, dressers and book bags are off limits as well.
  6. Implement alone time – Create time to be with each child and put it on the schedule. Tuesday coffee at 3pm with my 16-year-old is precious time. It’s not much but the time alone together is priceless.
  7. Allow Bio kids to help out – I was 16 when my brother was adopted. My mom allowed me to take him to the park and the neighborhood pool. She encouraged me to read him stories or tuck him in at night. It made me feel valued, special and trusted.
  8. Counseling – Counseling is good for everyone. It just is. Adoption and Foster care are huge life changes for everyone. Encouraging your child to go to counseling even just once a month can create a safe neutral place for your child to share.

Question: Are you raising both biological and adopted kiddos in your home? What would you add to this list? Share in the comment section below this post. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Kim de Blecourt

    Thank you for writing this, Kristin. This is SO important. I am so thankful for a daughter who was not afraid to let me know. I had to schedule time with her alone, with her receiving my undivided attention. Then, I had to jealously guard it. It seems almost impossible when we look at our over-crowded calendars. I get it. It can be done. Here is a secret: You end up getting (what feels like) even more out of it. What I call dates with mom are such healers of things – all the things you did not do, all the things you said that caused pain, etc. This is huge. Thank you again, Kristin.

    • Hey Kim, jumping on here on behalf of Kristin. So glad this content hit home for you. 😉

  • Jessica Herman Broy

    We have 3 foster kids who are siblings and 1 13 yo bio daughter. All things considered, she has been amazing. But I know she gets upset and her and the foster boy who is only 3 months older do NOT get along. She will tell me she doesn’t want him to stay, but the other 2 are fine. Right now she is sharing a bedroom with the 11 year old girl, whom she adores, but she has said she’s over it so we’re trying to arrange it so she can move into the bedroom in the basement that is currently an office. That way she can have HER space and a place to retreat when things get crazy

    • Jessica, this is such hard stuff. You are making good moves to guard her time and space though. Well done.

  • Anne O’Neill

    Somehow I thought my 14 year old bio son would be thrilled to have a new 7 year old brother. i was so excited and then overwhelmed that i did not create enough support for bio son. i was not prepared for the negatives and had emotionally felt that our love and good home would “fix” our new son. intellectually, i had the necessary information, but i was totally unprepared emotionally to be so exhausted and confused. i had nothing left to give the my 14 year old (now 25) son. All of the training and information didn’t prepare us for the emotional experience. our lives have taken turns that I never could have imagined. ultimately, i am a better, deeper, more realistic version of myself. some days i long for the time when i did not have a clue. ignorance was bliss??

    • Unfortunately, there is very little training or preparation for this subject. But it’s ultra important to prepare for. We could write a book on this topic. Maybe we will… 😉

  • Kam Ostwald

    We are 4 months into our adoption of a sibling group from Europe who are same ages to our bio kids. It has been interesting trying to keep 6 kids ages 10-14 from falling through any cracks! We don’t force attachment between everyone but try to give opportunities. We understand that sometimes, bios just need space. We also check in regularly to give them a chance to tell us how they are.
    I do have a concern about siblings who are being victimized…there is a lot of info about the one who likes to stir the pot but not much on the “victims”. Is this just something they learn to live with?
    Thanks for the article!

    • Wow! You jumped right in for sure! We are an international adoption family too. I think more information will probably come out over time. As they find their voice, they will tell you more. And providing opportunities for them to tell you is good, but also challenging when so many personalities are involved. You are still very early in and things will change. Make sure you connect with bio kids and give them a voice too. You have done a huge thing and I think it’s just incredible. We are cheering you on!