Five months ago, Vicki and Wayne began the process of adopting Mizelle(11) and Carmella (10), who joined Willeona(14), and Ramone (13) whom they had adopted a year ago. Everyone agrees that mixing two sets of siblings in a household that includes two cocker spaniels, a golden retriever, and two parakeets has presented both easily challenges and joys.
Prepare for changes in your life.
As they enlarge their family Vicki and Wayne are relying on skills learned in the first adoption. Vicki says, "The older kids come with a lot of attitudes and thoughts...a lot of baggage and you need to prepare yourself, because it can become extremely challenging. You find yourself being a hard knock person when you 're really not. You have to be able to discipline and prepare yourself to do things that are out of the norm. Whatever happened to them in foster care…whether it was good or bad, and my experience is that they’ve had both…they have some serious issues that they needed to work out from the past.”
Introduce rules clearly.
Children who have been with other families will need to learn the rules and expectations of their new fmily. Each child or sibling group may have been experiencing a very different structure at their ormer foster family. Willeona and Ramone required the introduction of ground rules since they had been given few restrictions about curfews or talking on the phone or bedtime. Willeona recalls, “It was hard but good to have boundaries about where to go and where not to go and how to speak and how to respect other people.” She agrees that kids need limits even though they may rebel against them.
Carmella and Mizelle had experienced more rules than privileges in previous homes. Vicki explains, “When they first came, they asked if they were allowed to have a glass of water. ‘Can we take things out of the cabinet?’ Once they realized that they had the freedom, it became a free for all. They’d go downstairs and eat all the Pop Tarts.”
Mizelle characterized his new home as, “There’s more freedom here. There’s rules when we need them.”
Celebrate positive siblings relations.
”Are we close?” Carmella teases Willeona, putting her head on her new sister’s shoulder. Willeona, true to the code of older sisters, pulls away slightly, but not without a smile. Like the girls, Mizelle and Ramone must share a room, an improvement for Mizelle who says, “ I had to share a room with three other people in my last home.”
Be ready for rivalry.
Summer has been a time of transition as each tests the fabric of what it means to belong to this family. Wayne says, “It’s hard to tell if kids are going to get along. You tell them, ‘You’re going to be here forever. This is going to be a brother and sister story. Some way we have to compromise and get along. If you have disagreements or arguments, you can always come to me and we’ll try to work on the best way so everybody can get along.’”
In the beginning, disputes weren’t easily settled, particularly if Vicki or Wayne stepped in. The newest family members accused them of favoring the “special two who had been here longer.” Gradually Mizelle began asking questions and trying to understand situations around him. Vicki says, “Now, if he’s wrong, he will admit it almost instantaneously.”
“Every day someone is mad at somebody,” says Vicki, “but it’s starting to get better. There are more days when they’re just like typical brothers and sisters with less and sometimes no arguments.”
Acknowledge that school is an opportunity for each child to be independent of his/her siblings.
This fall each child entered a different school. Willeona started high school, Ramone returned to a school that addresses his special needs, and Mizelle and Carmella respectively attend a middle and elementary school. After a summer of closeness—sometimes too much closeness—each is anxious to be apart.
Mizelle says he’s okay with starting sixth grade in a school where he knows no one, having lived in foster homes with multiple children. Willeona admits to felling scared about entering high school, “There will be extra work and peer pressure even more. Some kids I’ll know, but a lot of my friends will be going to a different high school.”
Expect siblings to make comparisons
In pre-adoptive classes provided by Hennepin County, Wayne and Vicki learned that children joining a family often view possessions as a way of gauging how much they belong in a new family. Vicki says, “ What is hard for them coming from a foster family is that they come into your home and they know that you’re their family and they want everything and they want it now.”
New parents should do their best to minimize differences in privileges and possessions among siblings and explain any differences that remain with reasons that the child can understand.
Prepare the children for a new last name.
Because Mizelle and Carmella won’t be adopted until November, legally they can’t start school with the last name of their new family, although their teachers can choose to call them by either last name until they are adopted. Carmella has decided to sign both last names on her school assignments. Mizelle is equally pragmatic. “Having a different last name is nothing to worry about,” he says, opting to be called by whatever name the teacher prefers.
Willeona says, “ At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to have a new last name, somewhat yes and somewhat no. I didn’t really think about having my name changed, but then again, I thought it would be cool to have my name changed.”
Mizelle, who with his sister has spent much of his eleven years in various foster homes, says, “ When there’s someone with the same last name, then that’s someone that you can call family rather than having six different people in the same foster family with different last names than you.”
Accept the fact that the children may not be ready to call you Mom or Dad.
The foursome alternate between calling Wayne and Vicki by their first names and referring to them as Mom and Dad. Their parents respond to either title, letting the children gradually adjust to new roles. Willeona explains, “I try to call them Mom and Dad, but it’s just that Vicki was in my head a lot. Sometimes I call her Mom. Sometimes I call her Vicki.”
Mizelle took his cue from his siblings, saying, “I started calling him Wayne because I heard Ramone and Willeona call him that. I think I will call him Dad.”
Placement day and adoption finalization are events to be celebrated. Vicki and Wayne celebrated Willeona and Ramone’s adoption finalization by going out to dinner with Vicki’s family and then taking a weekend family trip to Chicago. This Christmas, everyone will travel to Jamaica to meet Wayne’s family.
Willeona is anxious to meet another set of grandparents, saying, “ This will be a trip to meet my dad’s parents. It’s a trip to meet family and a vacation away from Minnesota in winter.”
Fearless Carmella wants to “go shark-catching in Jamaica. I’ve heard that there’s big fish. It’s the first for me. I’ve never been on a plane.”
Talk about problems openly and honestlyFive months ago, Vicki and Wayne began the process of adopting Mizelle(11) and Carmella (10), who joined Willeona(14), and Ramone (13) whom they had adopted a year ago. Everyone agrees that mixing two sets of siblings in a household that includes two cocker spaniels, a golden retriever, and two parakeets has presented both easily challenges and joys.
Talk about problems openly and honestly
There are other differences, as Mizelle points out. “We’ve had a few family meetings where everyone would sit down and discuss what you want to talk about. It’s easier to do that with a family. In foster care, there were group meetings where we’d talk about one issue, one thing in the house. Here, we’ll talk about anything that is on our mind that we need to get off and to say to each other, just to bring out something that you need to get off your chest.”
For other families who are adding children through adoption, Willeona advises, “ Speak your mind and be open.”
“Be stable, stay firm, “ adds Vicki, “and if you have a spouse, make sure you stay bonded and are united in what you think. You need to be realistic. Don’t expect miracles overnight. Be patient.”
Wayne says, “It’s been a great experience. They change from when they moved in. They change for the better in their attitudes…they gain respect.”
Mary Martin Mason grew up in an open adoption as is her 17-year-old son. She often addresses national audiences on issues of adoption including the open adoption. The author of Designing Rituals of Adoption and Out of the Shadows, Birth Fathers Stories, she is the Adoption Clearinghouse Coordinator for MARN (Minnesota Adoption Support and Preservation - MN ASAP) and editor of the N ASAP Family Voices newsletter. firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.mnasap.org