In the world of foster care and adoption, when it comes to siblings, keeping them together is always the first choice. Even though in your mind, you see yourselves all running in a field of flowers or dancing in the sun together, hands clasped, laughing joyously, the reality can be a lot different. Flying Legos, pushes off swings and sabotaged homework can be the harsh truth of adopting siblings, because along with the sweet faces, you adopt the issues and histories of kids in the system. With a little know-how, you can get through it all.
The Caretaking Sibling Issue
A common problem when adopting siblings from foster care is that the older sibling has played the role of caregiver to younger siblings. Especially the case in homes in which the biological parents were neglectful or abusive, senior siblings will struggle to give up control to the new parent. Often seen as “bossy” behavior from the oldest child, fighting for control of the younger ones and rescuing the younger kids when they are being disciplined will be issues new adoptive parents will have to work through with adoptive siblings. Although this could work in your favor if you could get the oldest child to organize a work crew for you, get everyone to mow the lawn or develop a “Jackson Five”-like singing act, usually it just doesn’t work out this way. Best to just work with the eldest and get him or her to relinquish control.
Usually seen when there are just two siblings, adopted siblings will vie for attention from new adoptive parents. Siblings will show rivalry with excessive tattling on the other child, extreme competition and sabotaging of the other sibling’s success by hiding schoolwork, lying about the other’s behavior or stealing items and “planting” evidence on the other child.
Again, turning this behavior into something that could help you get the windows washed or the dogs walked would be great — you know, “I bet Suzy could walk Fluffy better than you . . . ” but, well, that just isn’t right. Nip it in the bud by spending quality time with each child separately and building each child’s self-esteem. If you don’t have time for that, sign them up for Girl or Boy Scouts and let them do it for you.
Keeping the Past Alive
When siblings come from an abusive past and come together to a new home, they sometimes bring up painful memories from the past to hurt each other. All kids say hurtful things to each other in an argument, but the things adopted siblings can bring up go beyond the usual “you have a pizza face” or “your feet stink” that normal siblings will bring up. This alone is not a reason enough to separate siblings, but intervention is definitely required. Promote healing of the past for siblings and if needed, arm them with normal ammunition, such as “you eat snails for breakfast” or “you have lint in your bellybutton!”
You as the Outsider
Older adopted siblings can come into your home with an “us against you” attitude. More amplified than normal teen obnoxiousness, you may find them ganging up against you when you try to discipline one of them or try to enforce a house rule. They may join forces to get their way and, at the very least, try to control their bedtime and the television remote. Once you gain their trust and they understand that you are enforcing rules for their benefit (yah, like that will ever happen), you will have an easier time of it.