Raising multiple children is challenging and difficult at times in any type of family, but in blended families the obstacles parents must overcome can be even more challenging. A blended family is when a parent or parents raise a biological and adopted child together.
There are a plethora of issues blended families will face and numerous questions they’ll ask themselves as they begin to raise and continue to watch their children grow — Will I love my biological child as much as my adopted child?; How do I explain the difference between a biological mother and a birthmother?; How do I lessen the feeling of loss for both children? These are just a few of the many concerns adoptive parents may have. At times, the challenge may seem overbearing, but it can be overcome.
Adopting While Raising a Biological Child Preparing a birthchild for a sibling joining the family through adoption can be difficult, but parents in this situation have an advantage — they’re already raising a child so they have an idea of what to expect, says Elaine Frank, co-director of After Adoption and Parenting Services in Philadelphia, Pa. Although, Frank warns there is “one pitfall.”
“A 5-year-old wants a sibling and a baby is adopted,” she says. “Once the “honeymoon” period is over, parents must deal with normal parenting issues, such as sibling rivalry. The birthchild now says ‘Lets give her back.’”
During this situation, parents need to be sensitive and explain to the 5-year-old that the baby is staying without making the child feel guilty, Frank explains.
Rita Laws, who has worked in the adoption field for 25 years, understands this situation all too well. Laws is a consultant and volunteer for the National Adoption Center and the National Adoption Center for Adoptable Children. She lives in Oklahoma and has adopted nine children and has three biological children. This family is a melting potfilled with African American, mixed-race and special needs children. Laws says another situation that may cause conflict in the family is when the adopted child is older than the biological child. “Adopting a child older than your biological child can cause many problems,” she says. “Being the oldest is a unique thing. The oldest biological child is a born leader.”
Laws’ biological daughter was 6 years old when she adopted a sibling group which includes a little girl older than her 6-year-old biological daughter. “The two firstborn females were duking it out for the next 12 years,” she says.
Laws suggests if adopting a child older than the biological child, make sure they’re about seven years apart in age. “When you take away a role, it causes a psychological toll, there’s total displacement,” she says.
To make the best of the situation, Laws tried explaining to the children that they are equally important and they both have a special and important role in the family. She would tell her biological child, “You are my first-born. We wouldn’t have other children if it weren’t for you.” “I told the adopted child that she is the oldest, and that is special, too,” Laws says.
She also encouraged the girls to explore activities outside of school. “I’d throw money at any interest they had,” she says. “You have to reinforce interests — hobbies are important. I made it a priority and it worked for us. It made the children feel important.”
Pregnancy After Adoption
When Terri Weber found out she was pregnant two years after adopting her son, Todd, she was in shock. “Shocked is an understatement,” she says. “I was scared to death of being pregnant.”
Terri and her husband, Lee, adopted Todd through Adoptions From The Heart in 1996 because they had infertility issues. Her pregnancy was a problematic time because she and her husband had already “said goodbye” to their infertility problems and felt completely comfortable with adoption.
The “scared” feeling Terri and Lee Weber felt is not surprising to Frank. She says the same couples come to her groups for years and some of them do end up getting pregnant after adopting.
There have been couples who feel very uncomfortable and worried about having a biological child after adopting. “The mom that was pregnant [in one of Frank’s groups] wasn’t sure if she would love her biological child as much as her adopted child,” Frank says. “But, she managed just fine.”
The challenges blended families and parents with biological children face are similar, but they may deal with them differently, Frank adds. To help blended families that adopt first, then have a biological child, Frank suggests they read books about child development. “If a couple adopts a toddler, they need to know how a 2-year becomes a 2-year-old,” she says. “They need to know what stages the child goes through before becoming a toddler.”
Loss is a very common feeling among adopted and biological siblings, and is one the Weber family is currently dealing with and plan to explore more thoroughly.
Terri says both of her sons suffer from loss issues. “They have the same feeling of loss, but for different reasons,” she says.
“Todd is fearful that his birthparents are dead because he never sees them,” Terri says. She explains that she planned to have an open adoption, but the birthparents could not handle the situation.
Terri’s biological son, Scott, has feelings of loss because he does not have two sets of parents. “Scott was not happy he was a birthchild because that made him different,” she says. “He was jealous and angry.”
To help 5-year-old Scott with his feelings of loss, Terri and her husband introduced Godparents to Scott. They also use family themes to help lessen the feelings of loss for their children. “We explain how cousins are part of a family, but they don’t live in your house.”
Terri and Lee plan to address this issue and more this summer while on vacation. “The theme for this summer is introducing the birth process — about going to the hospital and having a baby. Adoption is so unique, but both experiences are very, very different. People that get to go through adoption are very lucky,” Terri says.