March 24th, 2006
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Sometimes, in the adoption decision-making process, the children are forgotten. I am not talking here about the child that you are considering entrusting to another family, but the children that you already have, and/or your subsequent children.

If you are already a mother, there is no doubt that the children you’re raising will grieve their missing sibling. If this baby is your first child, but you plan to have more children in the future, you still need to think about the fact that the children you eventually parent will feel the absence of this child.

Many “kept” children are deeply unsettled that one of their siblings was “given away.” They wonder if they might be sent away, too, should times turn tough. They also observe your pain and grief and feel sad for you, possibly even taking that burden on themselves. And there may be more obscure issues that arise, such as those children who struggle with the idea of being eldest in your family, but not the eldest overall. (The idea of being the “first” baby can have a surprising importance to a child.) For all of these reasons, and more, kids often need counseling in order to deal with the repercussions of having a missing sibling.

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The problems get even worse when all of the adults involved are not honest. In a recent support group discussion, the following scenario came up:

A birthmother and the father of the child placed for adoption ended up marrying, creating a group of children split across two families, but with the same family of origin. After the adoption was final, the birthmother got a letter from her daughter’s adoptive parents telling her that, in order for her to continue seeing her child, she would have to come without the child’s full younger siblings, who the adoptive parents have chosen to keep secret from their adopted child.

Essentially, these adoptive parents had chosen to lie to their adopted child, because that was easier for them. Of course, they didn’t frame it that way. They told the birthmother that they didn’t want to confuse their child, but it seems pretty obvious that much more confusion will be caused by their approach of half-truths and broken promises than would be produced by simple honesty.

Is it fair for the adopted child to be deprived of knowing her siblings? What purpose does this serve? And what trauma will this arrangement produce for the kept siblings? It doesn’t matter whether the siblings are full or half relatives—children still have strong feelings about their brothers and sisters, whether they actually get to know them or not. When an adoption is less than open, it causes great pain for the children. When an adoption is closed, the pain is still there, but is experienced for different reasons and plays out in different ways. There is no perfect solution.

I have one more thing to say.

While you are considering the effect of adoption on your children now and your children-to-be, also remember that it isn’t just siblings who miss the adopted person. My nephews have a terrible time with the fact that their cousin was “adopted out.” They love getting to see him from time to time, and seem grateful for our honesty about his existence. They would much rather know him than not kow him. But they definitely grieved his loss as a “real” cousin, and continue to do so. In fact, my oldest nephew has produced some heartbreaking drawings that depict his feelings about being separated from his cousin, and my youngest nephew has come out with some really angry zingers about how he wishes I had kept my son. I’m sorry to say that this is something I never anticipated when I was considering adoption.

2 Responses to “Effect of adoption on siblings”

  1. terri says:

    Thank you for addressing this important, often overlooked, issue.

  2. Heather, I sure wish my birth daughter’s adoptive parents could read this post. Even though my second daughter only got to see her older biological sister, when she was a baby, she loves her and can’t wait for the day that she hopes they will get to meet. I would like to think that my birth daughter’s adoptive parents have not realized they are hurting my daughter too by not allowing contact with her and her biological sister. Thanks so much for this timely and well written article.

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