Managing Unfairness in an Adoptive Family

Tween girl sits at window watching rain, looking forlorn
Angela Lumsden/Stocksy

I contemplated how to get the shoebox-sized package into our house without being spotted. Finally, I decided to stuff it into our minivan to deal with later.

The package was for my 9-year-old daughter, Faith, from her birth mom, who regularly sent packages. In contrast, my 11-year old, Adelaine, had yet to receive one letter, photo or package from her birth family. Though our openness agreements with both sets of birth parents were similar, the ways these agreements played out could not have been more different.

Managing this disparity is tough. But it is only one example of the challenges adoptive parents face when raising kids from different backgrounds.

Perhaps your children's skin colors don't match, or maybe one child experienced years of neglect while another's only memory is of plenty. Such incongruities can potentially mess with our kids' understanding of love and belonging.

Here are some strategies to overcome those disparities:

Gently speak the truth.

Tell your child as much as you can about her biological family, always erring on the side of grace. For Adelaine, it was helpful to know that her birth mother struggled to make ends meet, which shed light on her inability to send gifts.

Make meaningful connections.

Weave discussion about your child's birth parents into everyday conversations. Recently, Adelaine received a school award for sewing. "Nena would be proud," I told her. "She loved to sew!" Adelaine's smile told me I'd succeeded in sparking a small but meaningful connection between her and her birth mom.

Minimize the hurt.

It is important to celebrate when your child hears from his birth family, but do so one-on-one to diminish the sting for the other children. We intentionally give Faith gifts from her birth family when Adelaine is otherwise occupied.

Encourage empathy.

Help your children step inside their siblings' stories. We discuss with Faith how she might feel if Adelaine received contact from her birth family and she didn't. This encourages Faith to be thoughtful when she interacts with Adelaine.

Schedule quality time.

When a child is struggling and feeling detached from your family, spending quality time with you becomes the child's lifeline. This special time communicates that — regardless of background or biology — he is an irreplaceable part of your family.

Above all, don't forget to pray.

Raising well-adjusted kids with a healthy sense of self is a daunting task, and God is more than able to help us fill in the gaps.


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This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Gifts ... For Just One." 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.
© 2017 by Sarah Sisson Rollandini. Used by permission.