Friday, 5 August 2011

Growing your family through adoption

Every year people who already have children decide to grow their family through adoption. Gaining a sibling through adoption can be a wonderful thing. But however enthusiastic the family might be initially, there can be some unexpected consequences that are worth taking into consideration. Mother of three, Alison, explains how adopting their son brought with it a range of challenges they hadn't been prepared for.

In 1994 we adopted two girls, Rachel and Rebecca. I had enjoyed being their mum so much that five years later we decided to adopt again. I thought that if we got a son who was quite young the girls may take a mothering role with him, especially Rachel who seemed to love babies. We talked it through with the girls and they seemed keen. So we began the adoption process for the second time.

We had been approved for two boys, but when we met William we felt he was the right one for us. Although at six he was older than we had originally planned, due to some of his early years experiences he was more like a toddler in his behaviour.

But although he needed mothering, the girls just weren't able to connect with him in that way. Emotionally he might have been a toddler, but physically he wasn't. This meant that he would have raging tantrums like a two year old, but as he was a six year old, they felt much more powerful. The impact on our family environment was huge.

Things were very tough for both the girls for a while. They were clearly overwhelmed by their own feelings and the disruption to their lives. We tried to talk to them as often as we could, explaining how William's behaviour was linked to his early years’ experiences and tried to relate it to their own lives as much as we could. We also took some practical steps to create a sense of normality. For example, Rebecca, who was 10 at the time, had her usual bedtime routine with a story from her dad every night. We also told William he wasn't allowed in the girls' rooms unless they said he could. At the time William was being home schooled and could make quite a mess being in the house all day. So we also stopped him from going in the front room so there would be a tidy space for the girls to use when they came home from school.

I think it's really difficult to judge the impact that bringing a new adopted child in to your family will have on your existing children. It can be much bigger than you expect. Even if the children seem happy at first, it can actually take them years to get used to it. Our family has definitely turned a corner now and the children get on much better. William too has changed - he has a much better understanding of people's feelings. Although I might think twice about adopting again, we'd never want to be without William.

For more features on adopting siblings visit the Be My Parent website, or try our bookshop for books on adopting siblings.

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