What it’s like when your parents adopt


Hugging our oldest goodbye the day after her wedding

I get frequent emails from parents preparing to add children to their family via adoption, wondering how best to smooth the transition for children already in their family.  We adopted our first child when our bio kids were 10,8, 6 and almost 4, so in our family, adoption is just as normal a way to grow a family as giving birth.

Initially the most challenging thing for our kids was having mom (and sometimes dad) gone for a week or more traveling to get the new child.  We did our best to smooth those days by planning fun things for the kids to do while we were gone, and preparing notes and treats for the kids to receive from us each day while we were gone. (You can find links to our adoption stories here.)

With baby/toddler adoptions, the challenges on homecoming felt similar to giving birth:  kids had to get used to mom’s time being tied up with the new baby.  One advantage of having new siblings arrive past the newborn stage, however, was that the new kiddos were almost immediately able to play and interact with our existing kids.  Babies are always interested in other children, and for us at least, bonding between siblings seemed to happen pretty quickly.

With the adoption of our older daughters, siblings also helped smooth the early days. The new girls interacted more easily with siblings than with us for quite awhile.  In fact, to a degree bonding happened more quickly between the siblings than it did between parents and kids.  These days, watching my kids’ obvious connection to each other is a huge encouragement to me, especially on days when one teen or another is not so happy with mom or dad.  They truly are family to each other, and that fact brings me great joy.

However, everything wasn’t always easy for us, or for other families adopting older kids.  Often in the early months and years there is markedly less harmony for awhile.  Parents feel more stressed, and that stress often rubs off on the existing kids.   I wrote more here about some of the other challenges our family faced. For us, it was helpful to find snippets of one-on-one time with each of the kids.  For awhile we let our older teens stay up just a bit later than their barely-younger new siblings.  So much time during the day was taken up with the new kids (school, language learning, attitude issues, and working on relationship-building)  and with the daily needs of the tiny ones  (we also had 2 preschoolers) that the oldest less-needy ones really needed that hour at the end of the day with mom and dad to themselves.

I’m sure we didn’t do everything perfectly.  But we did our best to meet our diverse clan’s needs.   Our kids learned to serve others, to pitch in when life gets busy, and to set aside their own needs for family members.  Hard sometimes, yes.  But in the long run, I’m confident that the God who led us to each of our children is also able to grow each of them amid the ups and downs of life.

But all of the above is all from a mom’s point of view.  Right now I would really love to hear from adoptees and siblings who’ve gone through the adoption transition themselves.  

  • What did your parents do well?  
  • What helped smooth the transition for you?  
  • What was hardest part of the transition?  
  • What did you enjoy most about your growing and changing family?
  • What do you wish could have been handled better?

If you are comfortable answering here, please comment below (anonymously if you wish).  Or if you’d rather, drop me an email. (mary.owlhaven at gmail.com) If you’re a parent and want to ask your kids and share their answers, that would be great too. Please feel free to share this post with other adoptees and their siblings. I think that all adoptive parents have a longing to love their children well, and could learn a lot by listening to how the experience feels from the child’s point of view.


The winner of the book More Than I Can Handle is commenter #16, Kim Hamilton.

Pin It


  1. Gary Coryer says:

    A funny story about kids anticipating an adoption event that’s illustrative of how much they truly understand about the process. At the time my two boys (William and Kevin) were six and four.

    Overheard in the next room:

    William: Your life is about to change!
    Kevin: Why?
    William: when the baby comes …

    Kevin: How do you know all this?
    William: BECAUSE OF YOU!!

    I wish to this day that I had written down his list but his one liner at the end struck my my funny bone and I was busy getting ready to leave the next morning and not entirely with it. (Normal state for per-adoption parents). I do remember that he listed less time with mom and dad, more expectations to handle more stuff on your own, special time with mom and dad cause they were feeling guilty about spending so much time with the baby (guilty), mom and dad grumpy from lack of sleep. He also listed getting time to hold the baby, how to avoid helping with changing diapers, how the baby doesn’t do much at first but gradually learns to play with you, having to learn to share.

    His list was really quite exhaustive. So I learned (I hope) not to under-estimate how much kids understand about a situation. I was fortunate that Will’s verbal skills were very high and he could express himself well. But sometimes I know we tend to assume that a child doesn’t UNDERSTAND a situation when really they don’t have the ability to EXPRESS themselves about it. Rule 1 around my house is never, ever under-estimate a child.

    A Dad struggling to keep up