Often when we think of adoption, we may have a pre-conceived notion in our heads of what that looks like. Infant adoption. Infant adoptions by parents who can’t, or choose not to, have biological children. We think of big dollar signs and long wait times. Sometimes, we picture international adoption, and flights from all over the world with a wide-eyed infant or toddler in tow.
We often see in media the dynamics and questions that come with this new parent-child relationship, and how they cope with this transition. We might consider what adjustments the new nuclear family will make as they welcome their newest family member.
While this may be the story of many adoptions, there’s a much bigger picture out there of how adoption grows families.
Let me start by saying I, myself, am not an adoptive parent. But adoption has grown my family in ways I can’t begin to explain, but I will try, and also try to set out some tips for anyone else whose extended family grows through adoption.
I have three children of my own. My younger sister and her husband have two living children, their oldest son is the same age as my youngest son. (They are both 5-years-old.) After their daughter was born in 2016, they prayed about growing their family further through adoption. They had it in their hearts to focus on older children and sibling sets, and eventually were matched with a sibling set of four!
The idea of literally doubling their family size from four to eight was no doubt a bit daunting, but after a lot of prayer and discussion, they flew out to meet them in Texas for the first time in the summer of 2017. A couple more months of phone calls, Skype sessions, and their newest family members flew out to South Carolina with a social worker December 2017.
As you can imagine, as an outsider, this was a whirlwind of an event – and no doubt felt even more so for my sister and her husband. But the fact of the matter is not only did my sister grow her family, she grew mine as well. My children have four new cousins. I have three more nieces and a nephew. My parents now have five granddaughters and four grandsons to squeeze around the holiday table. It’s an adjustment for everyone! Because not only do we, the adults have these adjustments to make, names to learn, preferences and idiosyncrasies to discover, so do these new little people.
So, if your extended family grows by adoption, here are my tips:
Lend the adoptive parents as much support as you can.
They need meals, date nights, babysitting, lawn mowing, and a listening ear as much as any other new parent does. Probably even more so; adoption – especially the adoption of older children – comes with its own challenges, frustrations, and rewards.
Give them space to navigate their new normal.
This may seem contradictory to the first tip, but hear me out. Adoptive families need support, there’s no question, but the kids are adjusting to a new situation, a new home. While the kids are super excited, they are also nervous. It is a lot of new names and faces. They may be dealing with some permanence challenges, too, especially if they are coming from the foster care system.
As a new aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent, family friend: do what you can to support the new family, but do it on their terms. Ask first! At least ask them when – it can be difficult to come up with a list of things. They need time to bond with their children and get to know them on a much deeper level than an extended family member or friend might.
Treat each child as an individual.
Not every case will be like ours, with sibling sets and biological and adoptive children – but there are many families who grow in number both ways – through birth and through adoption. And it’s important for each child who joins the family to know they are welcome, they are loved, and they are special in their own right. This becomes especially important around gift giving seasons such as birthdays and holidays. Trying to make the gifts individual yet equitable is a challenge, but absolutely necessary, especially the first few events. Never discount the gift of time! The best gift may be a “date” – time for you to get to know your new family member, and also time for the new parents to get a break.
It’s only been about a year – not even! – since our newest family members joined us, and I will be the first to say that I was nervous about how it would all work out. Now, I can’t imagine our family without them! Our family has grown in number, our hearts have expanded in love, and we have all learned so much from the experience of having them become part of our family. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s only just begun. I’m so looking forward to the years ahead watching mine and my sister’s children grow up together.