EMN Mailbag: “How soon should my sister adopt another sibling group?”

Dear Heidi: My sister in law and her husband have adopted two very sweet boys, 3 and 6. She is doing a great job, though they both need to grow as parents. She is wanting to accept another sibling group over the summer to achieve her great desire for a large family to love. My husband think that’s to soon and too many needs to attend to. (We always feel that our children need us so much but see how the olders help in giving of themselves. And we have them under our care 24/7.) Can a home full of adopted children get their needs met, especially if they are all adapting to new parents at around the same time? Would social services keep this in mind? They already really seem to like their home setting for the adoptive 3 and 6 year old. I also wondered if social services would frown upon homeschooling and be prejudice against them, as I think is the reason they have their 6 y/o in public school. I pray they keep him home the next school year. He hardly has time with his new parents except busy evenings. How could he possibly get his emotional needs met being sent away everyday to a huge group of children who may or may not display positive loving environment?? No down time, no cuddle time with mom, no personal enriching interactions during a busy focus of school, school, school. There must be articles written on this?? I want to guide my sister n law as best I can and to bond our families if it proves “safe” for our family. Already, we’ve shared such beautiful exchanges of love, children and adults. It is so sweet and beautiful to witness! Sitting around and reading, eating, and playing together and frolicking in the yard and woods. But if public education continues, I fear we’d have to live more separate lives with the further influence of peers and the world’s poison they can teach each other without any proper loving guidance. Thank you so much for your time and thoughtful direction and any words of advice, “Sister B”

Dear Sister B:  I wonder if you saw my article at Catholic Exchange this weekend. I admire homeschooling parents, and agree that the emotional and developmental needs of some children are best met with the concentrated one-on-one time home schooling provides. However, other children (including my own) do very well in a classroom situation. Mine are in a charter school that I believe has done an outstanding job with both my kids, who have special needs. I still work with them at home – especially their religious education – but they are thriving in their school.

Although you don’t actually ask for advice for yourself, I’d like to encourage you a bit first. It isn’t clear from your letter what circumstances led to your SIL’s children becoming available for adoption – whether they came from the foster system, for example. It is also unclear how much time has passed since the adoption was finalized. For both these reasons, you are absolutely right to keep a close eye on all the children while you are together as a family, remaining ever kind and loving toward them all. The adopted children may be “behind” socially and in other ways, and are undoubtedly still traumatized from the loss of their first parents. They may say and do things that make you squirm as they work through their losses. Try to be generous in your tolerance, even if at times you feel your children might pick up on some of their bad habits. Through your diligence and patient re-direction, the bad habits will pass quickly – but they will never forget the lessons in kindness and compassion. Those will last a lifetime.

As you continue to support your relatives with their parenting efforts, I’d suggest you focus on encouragement and affirmation, rather than advice (unless they actually ask for it). Adoptive parents already experience a great deal of stress associated with the bonding process. They need your encouragement and affirmation whether they choose public school or the husband seems constitutionally incapable of loading the dishwasher or picking up toys. The dynamics of every family – including Catholic families – are unique; adoptive families have additional layers of adjustment and bonding that must take place. Affirm what you can, offer support where you can … and pray about the rest. They will never be just like your family, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. God loves variety. Through these children, God is giving you an opportunity to love in new and exciting ways. Years from now, you will look back and realize just how much these beautiful kids have touched your life — grubby hands, impish grins and all!

I can tell you from personal experience that adoptive parents of older children have MANY misgivings, and second guess themselves often about whether they are doing the best they can for the kids, who often develop at a very different pace from their peers. Watch for signs of depression in your SIL, and encourage her to take care of her own needs with as much diligence as she tends to her children’s. Parenthood is a marathon, not a sprint, and she will not be able to keep up the pace unless she takes care of herself: eating, resting, exercising, praying, and managing her expectations regarding chores and schedules. By all means, please direct her to the Extraordinary Moms Network if she needs additional support.

If your SIL were to ask me about when to add additional children to the family, I would advise her not to even consider adopting additional children until a secure attachment had formed with the first set – which could take a year or more. It takes time for the child to settle in his or her new home, and behavior issues may lie unresolved under the surface for months or even longer. Don’t count on a social worker to look out for your SIL’s best interests – they are in the business of getting children placed in homes. If your SIL does choose to proceed with the adoption, there are many adoption experts that would counsel her not to adopt out of birth order. That is, if her child is 3, not to adopt a child older than 2.

You asked for resources. Here’s one on the subject of second adoptions. Two other books I would recommend for your SIL include “The Call to Adoption” by Jaymie Stuart Wolfe and “Raising Adopted Children” by Lois Melina. The latter book has a section on large families and adoption.

I hope this helps. God bless you!

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