I received a question from Julia on sibling rivalry and acting out between both birth and adopted siblings. So today I will tackle the question on how to deal with the rivalry that can stir up between the adopted and biological siblings.
“Mom, I wish I was adopted.”
“Mom I wish I was your biological child.”
Recently, this conversation came up as my teen daughters sat on my bed for our routine evening chats. My heart broke for each of my daughters. I understood the pain that both of them acknowledged and and my heart ached as I listened to both of them share.
I don’t like to separate my children into adopted vs. biological, but it can’t be helped. Whenever we go go family gatherings or events, the first question is always, “How many of them are actually yours?” Of course both Russell and I always respond the same, “They are all actually ours.” You see all of our children have been birthed in me either through my womb or in my heart. Sharing each child’s “God story” is important in our home. Some of my children have lots of baby stories and the excitement of being birthed into the world. They have tons of baby pictures…sweet stories of all their “firsts”. Then some of my other children have their stories about how God brought them to our family and how they began their healing journeys. Each of them is a vital part of the tapestry that God has woven together to make the Schweighardt family.
Despite all of our efforts to keep our children’s thought patterns that each of them are unique and a special part of our family…rivalry still exists. Painful words still spew forth from their mouths. Issues still arise with jealousy from both sides. The enemy constantly attempting to crush the beauty of what God has created. Doubts that enter the mind. Insecurities that pop up. Hurts that are so deep that they come out of the mouth like a double edged sword.
I think the best way to explain how we have worked through some of these issues is just to give you some examples.
Biological child issues:
Everyone only cares about the adopted children in our home. They are the special ones. They get all of the attention. No one wants to hear about me. They get an entire month of celebration. Adopted children get both “gotcha days” and birthdays. Biological child can receive lots of verbal abuse and passive/aggressive behavior from their adopted sibling. Some times enough is enough and the behaviors get reversed to get even.
*When adopting, get the entire family on board.
*If you are adopting toddlers or older children, prepare your family for the new child or children.
*Ask your child to help be a guide and role model for the new child.
*You will also need to prepare them in the manner that they may hear words that are not used in your home.
*Set up safe guards against potential sexual abuse.
*Communication is so important.
*Help your children to understand that they formed in your womb, it was a safe environment filled with love and nurturing. Many adopted children don’t get to experience this. It takes time for them to feel safe, to trust, to build relationships.
*Meet with your biological children often to discuss frustrations and how to handle situations that arise.
*Make sure that you continue to acknowledge how important they are in your life.
Adopted children can pull you away from your biological children because they do require a lot of time and energy. Set special time aside for your biological child so that they know they are still loved and are an important part of the family.
*Encourage your biological child to pray for their adopted sibling and issues that they may notice that their sibling may have.
*Help them to understand that the child has not grown up in your home and that it will take time for the child to feel a part of the family.
*Have special “talk it out” times where the adopted child and the biological child can sit and voice their frustrations to one another in a healthy way. The talk does not end until they can both leave the conversation with some sort of mutual agreement. This has been one of our best interventions.
*Pray with your child and for your child often.
*Encourage your biological child and explain to them about all of the pain that the adopted child has been through. Most of the time the adopted child is acting out of pain and hurt.
*If you encourage the “talk it out” sessions, it helps so the biological child doesn’t begin to act out on the adopted child.
Jealousy over biological child. Always comparing. Passive/aggressive behavior. Aggressive behavior. Trust issues. Feel they are treated unfairly. Mind games. Acting out. Get even attitude. Verbally abusive.
*When Samuel first game home, he was in the 6th grade in Liberia. We soon found out that 6th grade in Liberia was NOT 6th grade in America. I had to take him back to the basics. Samuel felt like he should have been at the same grade level as Anthony. Samuel wrote me a long letter telling me that I only cared for Anthony because he was my birth son and that I didn’t care about his education. It was a very harsh letter. But it showed me where his mind was and what he was thinking. I still have this letter and pull it out every now and again to show Samuel. He looks at it now and laughs because he knows how foolish it was. It took me months to prove to him that I cared about his education too. I had to show him that he wasn’t ready for that level of work. He finally saw…through experience…how he was not ready. It took consistency on my part to make this happen. He eventually gained my trust and realized that education in Liberia and in America were different. Once he saw that, his relationship with Anthony improved.
*Lies. Lies. And more lies. Speak truth. Truth. And more truth. One child in our home began telling stories about their past. Russell and I both understood that from a child’s mind, many of these stories became a fabrication of what they had hoped for in their past. One of our biological children began writing down the stories and saw how the stories changed each time. The stories were challenged. Anger flared. Opportunity for “talk it out” session. But it was also a time to explain to the biological child that for many adopted children, their past is a big blur. Sometimes we only remember things the way we want to remember them. Constantly teach on the truth. This is an area that you will battle with for a long time. Whenever you have opportunities to call out lies, do it.
*Jealousy over biological child. Remind the adopted child that you did not have them in your womb for nine months. You have lots of years to catch up on. But also remind them that there are different trust levels between them and the biological child because you have known the biological child their entire lives. Trust is something that has to be earned. I also take opportunities to reach out to their heart. Remind the child of how far they have come and that you love them just as much as the biological child. Set goals that are attainable to work towards the things they are wanting or privileges they are trying to gain. If they say that the bio kid gets things that they don’t, I nip it in the bud right away. There is no “chosen” child in the home.
*A scripture that is spoken often in our home is: “My dearly loved brothers, understand this: “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” James 1:19. Words can come out quick that hurt and tear down. Anger can take over very quickly. Quick to listen can be the last thing on the list. We talk it out a lot. Always taking it back to God. Words hurt. The pain doesn’t disappear. But forgiveness is a must. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. You must stay on top of this. You must communicate. The offended and the offender must come to terms. It is tiring. It wears you out as the parent…but it MUST be done. I have seen healing take place. I have seen the child stop in their tracks as they begin to THINK before it is spoken. This is a training that we implement in our home.
T: Is it true?
H: Is it helpful?
I: Is it inspiring?
N: Is it necessary?
K: Is it kind?
God has blessed my husband and I with an amazing family both birth and adopted…born in the womb and in the heart. It is a beautiful image here on earth of our adoptive family in heaven. I encourage you to be consistent. Pray often. Continue to hope. I have seen God do amazing healing with relationships in our family. There are others that are still in the works. All of my children have hearts that quickly forgive. I truly believe that this is because we have consistently tried to take a biblical approach with each situation. My children see each other as brothers and sisters…a family. We stand up for one another and we encourage each other. Are we perfect? Absolutely not! Each day brings new challenges. But I treat each situation with consistency always turning it back to God.