The Importance of Maintaining Birth Order When Adopting

 

There has been much debate over the years about families wishing to adopt out of birth order.  There is much research out there about birth order and personality.  Some research has even discovered that birth order can also affect a person’s academic performance, career choices and relationships as well.  So when we look at adoption and birth order it is important to keep this in mind if there are children already in the home.  Not only can adopting out of birth order impact the adoptee, it can have a huge impact on the children already in the home.

 

Displacing the Oldest Biological Child. First let’s look at which birth orders and age of children are most impacted.  Most of the research out there says that when you displace the oldest in the family this can create the biggest issues.  In other words, if you have a child that is 8 years old and you place a 10-year-old in the home that tends to cause more issues than if you place a child in the middle of a sibling set of 3 for example.  Age also affects birth order.  If you are going to disrupt birth order, doing it when the child is younger seems to have less impact.  If the child already in the home is 0-3 this seems to be the least disruptive age group.  Family size can also impact whether adopting out of birth order will be most successful.  Larger families seem to have less issues when adopting out of birth order.

 

Adoptive Child’s Birth Order. One issue that is sometimes overlooked is the birth order of the child you are going to be adopting. If the child you are bringing into your home is the oldest in their biological family and you are now placing them in the home as the youngest, this too can cause issues.  They will have already developed certain personality traits to match their place in the family and adjustment can be very difficult if they go from being the oldest and all the responsibility and roles that takes on to now being the baby in the family. You also have to consider the emotional age of the child you are adopting. In adoption we talk about chronological age but you also have to look at their emotional and developmental age. Adopted children are often emotionally and developmentally younger than their chronological age.

 

Sibling Rivalry. Some of the issues that may surface when adopting out of birth order is sibling rivalry.  Having to share parent’s attention will always be an issue when you bring a new child into the home. But if the child in the home is also feeling displaced this could cause the behaviors to be worse.  Some behaviors that are typical in these situations are children regressing and acting younger than their chronological age, throwing temper tantrums, more oppositional defiant behavior or becoming withdrawn.  If a family does decide to disrupt birth order and especially when displacing the oldest, adopting a child of the opposite sex can sometimes be better than adopting a child of the same sex.  Many families give their reason for adopting a child of the same sex is that they want their children to be “friends” and get along.  This is not even necessarily true in a family where there are 2 children close in age that are biological siblings.  There can be more competition if the children are of the same sex.  If the child you are brining into the home is the same age (or close in age) of a child already in the home this is called artificial twinning.  This can also cause a potential for competition among the children and fighting for parent’s attention.  Artificial twinning is not the same as having biological twins. Artificial twinning is also something to try to avoid but if a family does decide to do this you need to make sure you treat each child individually and not as twins.

 

The take away from this is when at all possible try to avoid disrupting birth order. However, if you are feeling strongly about adopting out of birth order, here are some thoughts:

  • Consider adopting when the child/ren in the home are younger.
  • Be aware of potential issues and consider each child’s individual personality and current birth order.
  • Prepare the current children in the home and have conversations about what it might look like when bringing a child older than them into the family. 
  • Expect an adjustment period and expect some behaviors and emotions to be larger than expected.
  • Seek support.

 

If you have questions about this topic, there are many resources out there for families including Nightlight’s Post Adoption Support Center. Reach out today!

 

written by Nicky Losse

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