“Wait…we have a sister?”
If you haven’t told your biological children about a child you placed for adoption…it’s time. Today, in fact. Okay, so that’s easier said than done. From personal experience I know this: the longer you wait to share the truth the greater chance there is for shame and guilt to permeate our thoughts and actions.
I waited twelve years post-placement to tell my boys that they had a sister. Holding back the truth wasn’t fair to them…to my birth child…or to me. I wasn’t ashamed of my birth child. I was ashamed of me.
I waited too long to let go of shame—but better late than never!
Suggestions for telling children about birth sibling:
▪️Have a few photos of your birth child ready to share. These can be from the hospital, or photos sent to you from the adoptive family. Photos will help your child/ren visualize that time in your life—and give them a memory of their bio sibling to hold onto.
▪️Start with simple explanation. For me, I started with something like this: “Years ago, mom and dad had a baby…and couldn’t provide all the things we wanted to give her. We couldn’t provide all the things you have today. We loved her so much and wanted the very best for her—so we chose a different family to provide and care for her. But just because we couldn’t provide for her at the time, doesn’t mean we don’t love your sister very much. Someday, when the time is right, I’d love for you to meet her…”
▪️Be prepared for questions…they will come:
“But…Why Can’t She Live With Us Now?”
It’s the question I was faced with after telling my boys they had a biological sister who was placed for adoption. My eyes welled up with tears and I stumbled in my response. Previously, I’d told them I couldn’t provide for a baby at that time in my life—but all my boys could see was a fancy house that we lived in, spacious bedrooms, food galore (with four boys in the house Costco was a frequent outing) and toys in abundance.
In their minds…It didn’t add up. My explanation didn’t resonate. The connection wasn’t there. “But…you can be a mom to her, now.” They argued.
I knew it’d be impossible for them to understand, or to even fully grasp until they became a parent themselves one day. So, I responded as best I could.
“I know it doesn’t make sense now. But at the time in my life, I didn’t own a house or even a car. I couldn’t give her clothes to wear or a bed to sleep in. We couldn’t take care of her the way we take care of you. Dad and I wanted her to have the best life possible, and to do that, we had to make a really hard choice. We chose another set of parents who could care for her in our place.”
Blank stare. I continued anyway.
“BUT…we can arrange a visit when the time is right. Just because she has a different set of parents, doesn’t mean that you aren’t brother and sister. She is…and always will be family.”
My husband and I made a promise that we’d encourage a relationship between siblings. And we kept that promise.
Connections with young kids can be difficult. The best advice I can give is this: Be truthful. Be open. Answer questions to the best of your ability. Don’t fall into guilt or shame when they struggle with understanding. Be patient. In time, their little hearts and minds will be opened.
“I’m still getting used to having a sister.”
My oldest son’s comment didn’t come from a place of anger or bitterness—just a simple statement that reminded me this: Adoption leaves behind a trail of questions, some that soak and linger over time, for bio siblings.
For years, my son had thought he was the OLDEST. He’d found pride in where he stood in the birth order and used his first-born rights to dominate over his younger brothers, often settling disputes with, “Well…I’m the oldest.”
When he discovered that he had an older sister who was placed for adoption—and that he wasn’t the oldest after all—I expected him to pout or complain. He didn’t. When he celebrated along with his younger siblings I thought the matter had been settled. He internalized his feelings and I didn’t probe. Instead, I concentrated on trying to “normalize” our family. But there is nothing “normal” about adoption. It’s an imperfect scenario with an imperfect beginning.
When we re-adopted his sister in the family, I could tell that my son had big dreams for their relationship. I can tell he thinks the world of her. I can also tell that he wishes he’d had more time together in their growing up years. That simple fact breaks my heart a little.
We must keep talking about the impact of adoption on bio siblings. Once we find the confidence to share our adoption story with bio children—that’s where the hard work begins. We have to keep the door open and allow for the tough questions. What our children think about adoption at an early age changes and becomes more complex as they become older and turn into adults.
As parents, we have to probe further. We have to give them a place to express and help them grow into healthy adults. We have to teach them to choose unconditional love over fear