Growing Pains in Adoptive Families

Illustration of eight children in a group hug
Jennifer Bell

In the last four years, my husband, John, and I have adopted six children from foster care. With each addition, we've realized anew just how much an adoption can affect not only the most recent arrival, but also the little ones already in our home.

When Bella and Casey joined our family, we had to help 3-year-old Alyssa understand that her new siblings needed a lot of attention and assistance. Most recently with the arrival of a sibling group of four girls, Casey and Bella were the ones feeling left out.

All of our kids need time to adjust to their new reality, so it's important that we as parents gently guide that process.

Teach them compassion.

We can ease the adjustment by helping our kids grasp — and empathize with — their siblings' plight. Without giving too many details, I told our children, "Your new sisters have been through hard things. They haven't been treated well. They've been separated from one another, and they also worry about living with us." I also cautioned them: "Since sometimes it's easier for others to act mean when they're worried or scared, remember that they need our kindness."

Starting with compassion softened our kids' hearts. It helped them see that when their siblings treated them unfairly or made demands of Mom or Dad, it was often because of anxiety or fear.

Help them cope with anger.

Newly adopted children get angry for many reasons. Even small misunderstandings can escalate into big fits. I told our kids, "It may seem as if your sibling is angry at you, but usually it's anger that's been there a long time."

When kids understand the reasons behind someone's anger, they usually deal better with it. We reminded our children that they sometimes get angry, too, and that we all can be hard to live with at times.

Create one-on-one time with each child.

The children already in our home needed to know that they were not being replaced and that they would always be loved. We took time to read books together, do crafts or go on outings. The hardest part of adding new family members is making time for each child, but it's often what they need most.

Nearly a year has passed since we brought our last sibling group home. While there has definitely been a learning curve, it's wonderful to see all the kids bond — with us and with one another.

Tricia Goyer is the author or co-author of multiple books, including Lead Your Family Like Jesus.
This article first appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Growing Pains." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2016 by Tricia Goyer. Used by permission.