Preparing birth children for an adopted sibling

Lucy shares some practical tips from her personal experience of adopting after having birth children.

As the mum of birth and adopted children, I'm often asked how to prepare birth children for an adopted sibling.

If a blended family is to weather the storms that may be a part of its future, then it must make sure these early days go well, and whilst adults are largely able to steel themselves against others' comments, children do not always have the emotional resources to do the same.

Good preparation is essential.

From the start, it is important that your birth child understands, and is comfortable with, adoption. Our kids were just six and four when we adopted their younger brothers, but we'd been talking about it for at least two years. They were possibly too young to understand it all, but it's much easier to create a culture that they’re then always aware of, rather than having misconceptions that need un-learning.

We didn’t sit them down for Big Family Talks. We simply used the opportunities when they came up – for example, if they asked me if we were to have more children, I might respond with, “Yes, hopefully, but he or she may not come from my tummy...” before explaining, simply, what adoption was and why it was needed.

When we began the adoption process, we led our children along with us. They may not have done the paperwork or meetings, but they always knew when we were seeing our social worker or attending training.

If you have birth children, one part of the adoption assessment process is that your social worker will need to meet them - and usually spend a bit of time alone with them. This is a good way of checking how birth children are responding to the idea of adopted siblings, as well as to answer their questions. When our social worker came round, it was a positive and relaxed experience for all of us. Our children knew who she was and why she was there.

We spent a little time together, all five of us, then my husband and I left the room for about 10-15 minutes, enjoying a drink in the kitchen while our children and our social worker chatted. Apparently, during this time, our daughter said she wanted us to adopt sixty children! Our social worker asked her where they would all sleep, and her reply suggested that our bed was a lot bigger than it actually is!

When we were approved at panel, we took our children out for tea to celebrate.

They had been every bit a part of the preceding months, and we wanted them to feel involved.

We also tried to strike a balance between not underestimating what our children might be able to understand, and not giving out more information than they actually wanted. To this end, we didn’t shy away from using phrases like, “Children are put into care if their birth family can't keep them safe and warm”, but we wouldn't elaborate on why a family might not be able to fulfil this role unless specifically asked.

We might talk about alcohol and drugs in terms of 'things people take that make them ill' – and we continue to use this language today as we talk with our adopted children about their past.

We made sure we kept investing in our birth children, both during the process, and afterwards. We kept up daily routines, enjoyed day trips and holidays, and tried not to let the adoption stuff distract us from the children we'd already been blessed with.

If this was going to work, we needed our birth children to know that we weren't replacing them.

Even during introductions (the period of time when adoptive parents and child get to know each other), we spent some precious moments with our birth children when our adopted children were with their foster carers – going out for pizza together or hanging out in our hotel room. These times gave important reassurance to all four of us that we were loved and valued within our family.

We also prepared the children's environment for the adoption. First, we prepared their friends. I wrote a short picture book about our adoption, and made sure all their friends got a copy. We wanted to give parents and children an easy way to talk about what was happening in our family.

Second, we prepared our children's schools. I offered to go in and speak to my son's class about adoption – and ended up with both Year 1 classes and several staff! I used the book I'd made, displaying the pictures on screen. There was lots of engagement and some good questions.

Third, we prepared our church – this is crucial whether or not you have birth children! Home for Good offer plenty of resources to help churches welcome looked-after children (see here and here for example), but one thing I would particularly recommend is to ask for a couple of 'up-front' slots to share your adoption journey. This ensures that everyone has the same information about where you're up to, and also communicates to people that you're willing to chat to them more about it, and how they can support you.

If speaking in front of a crowd scares you rigid, why not ask if a church leader can summarise your news, then lead a time of prayer for you?

Adopting or fostering families sometimes shy away from openly sharing their journeys, for fear that people may ask questions that can't be answered. But this kind of closed approach can unwittingly create mystery in the minds of those around them, with many valid questions going unanswered, and people backing off from the support they might otherwise give.

In reality, you develop your own ways of responding to questions where the answer would give an inappropriate level of detail – and people soon stop asking these sorts of questions anyway (because you've been open enough to share why they're inappropriate – all part of the learning process!). But communicating about your journey is highly appropriate, encouraging those around you to support your family well into the future.

Preparing our church family definitely helped our birth children.

For example, it made their group leaders more sensitive to any difficult behaviour that might have arisen in response to the upheaval at home. And, right from day one, our adopted children have felt completely at home at church, which has been wonderful, reinforcing to our birth children that all four of them are in the right family.

Above all – pray! If you are preparing to adopt and already have children, be encouraged that God truly does set the lonely in families – and in the right families. Blending birth and adopted children is no problem for the God who longs to father us all. Commit your family to Him, now and into the future, and ask others to do the same on your behalf.

Written for Home for Good by Lucy Rycroft (



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