“We’re having a baby!” my two-year old used to announce to anyone who would listen. They would eye my (relatively) small belly with suspicion. No baby in there. “We are adopting,” I added quickly. Since our final approval to adopt, we had been preparing our toddler about imminent big-brotherhood. Although we had only one child at the time, I imagine what we went through was much the same as any family expecting a baby. “Our family is going to grow.” “You will have new sibling to play with.” “Are you done with that crib yet?” Only, when adopting from foster care, some important pieces of information are unknown.
“When is the baby coming?” – We don’t know. It could be next week.
“Is it a boy or girl?” – We don’t know. We would be happy with either.
“What will we name it?” – He or she will already have a name her biological parents picked out.
“Biological parents???” – You can see how quickly this conversation gets more complicated than the “you’ll be sharing your room” talk.
Becoming a big brother is an experience shared by many kids. But the thought of a mysterious sibling that could arrive at any moment, that is a bit abstract for any toddler. Especially when he doesn’t have mom’s growing tummy to mark the passage of time. So we turned to books to continue the conversation about adoption. We books about welcoming a new child in the house read to our son. Books about families of all constellations. Books about waiting. And wait we did.
A year passed. Our son became more verbal and his questions more specific. He anxiously awaited the arrival of his new sibling. And when we finally met him, I doubt he was what our older son had in mind. A 13-month old spitfire with plenty of his own opinions. Excited to follow in his new big brother’s footsteps, and fiercely competitive. We continued to talk about adoption but now, how different the words sounded.
I find that many of the children’s books about adoption seem written to meet the needs of the parents – how we waited and waited to be matched with a child. How blessed we feel that the child was placed in our care. How we will love this child forever. But when he is still so young, what does our adopted child hear when we talk about adoption? Does he hear that he is loved, not just by his new family, but by his birth family as well? Or does he hear that he is different from his brother, the one he wants desperately to be like? Does he hear unanswered questions? No, I don’t know how much you weighed when you were born. I don’t know when you first sat up or when you first smiled.
Two years later. We still read to our children books about adoption. We hope that what our younger son hears in the story makes him feel as loved and as special as we think he is. And we tell our own stories. We talk about the day we met him and the day he came home for good. We talk about his birth parents and make lists of questions we can ask them when we see them next. And we say a prayer for all of the children who are waiting for families and the families waiting for children. Because we feel so fortunate that we found each other.
Sometimes our son doesn’t want to hear about adoption. Sometimes when I tell him how thankful I am that we found each other, he shakes his head, “No, not adopted.” It’s hard to understand what he really feels since his communication is still poor. I will never understand what it is like to be adopted. I will never understand what it is to question your heritage and seek answers about your identity, something my son might experience. So we do the best we can to have open conversations and hope he knows how important adoption is as a way to grow your family. Talking to a young child about adoption seems an exercise more for the parent than the child. It’s about practicing your answers to questions that you know will come. And about telling your own story.
Like all other aspects of parenting, we are doing the best we can. Trying hard not to mess up, and celebrating small successes.
Now that our oldest is five and sees how much work goes into being a big brother, I often gauge his interest on growing the family. “What do think? Would you like to have more brothers and sisters?” He nods emphatically. Then pauses for a minute. “Where would they come from?” he asks innocently. Then he answers his own question, “I know. Let’s get them from the adopt shop!” Maybe all of the adoption talk does sink in.
About the Family
Baby J joined the family in 2015. Now age 3, J and his big brother do everything together – climb, bike, swim, scooter, tumble, fight, read, play, play, play. Mom and Dad spend most days chaperoning their mini triathlons and trying to get enough food in them to keep them from getting hangry and most evenings wondering where the day went.