Introducing another child into your family Part 1

Today’s handy tips and advice isn’t strictly tips and advice…just yet. Today the lovely Gem from Life With Katie (and Pip) writes about her experience of second time adoption, and next week we’ll share some of her top tips and advice on introducing another child into the family.

For most people, the practicality of adding an additional child into your family is an organic biological process.  For adopters it is a process of unknown length or outcome.  This can make it very complicated if you already have a child.  As a pregnant body becomes more evident you can explain to your child about the baby growing in there and when that baby will become a physical part of their lives.  This is not the case with adoption because there is nothing physical to see until a match has been made.  

When we decided we wanted to go through the adoption process for our second child it wasn’t something we discussed with Katie initially because we knew that the time involved in the process would be too lengthy for her to comprehend.  However the process in itself makes it impossible to hold back for very long because the Assessing Social Worker will need to assess whether they feel your child is able to accept another child into the family. This involves talking to your child about having a sibling and assessing how they feel about it. This is a very important assessment for a child who has already been adopted because regression, and a threat to attachment, are very real issues to prepare for.  Regression happens to most birth children as well but for adopted children introducing another child into the family at the wrong time in their attachment process can create many difficulties for everyone concerned.  So Katie knew quite early on in our process that we were going to have another child.

Then came a very long wait as administrative errors and the birth of a half sibling changed our original plans.  We had originally decided that we wanted to adopt another girl; roughly the same age that Katie was when we adopted her.  Our reasons were creating a playmate of an age where they could interact and we felt that Katie would like a sister.  Katie was quite keen to have a sister (although this did change from time to time).  At this point we discovered that Katie’s Birth Mother was pregnant again.  When the baby was born we were contacted by Children’s Services to ask if we would consider adopting him.  Yes, it was a boy and a baby at that, the complete polar opposite to the scenario we were being assessed for.  Back to the drawing board.  We had never considered the possibility of a baby.  Babies are relatively rare in adoption due to the length of time the court process can take and prospective adopters are told very clearly to get off the bus and head on back home again if they are hoping for a baby.  Not only that but we had been preparing Katie for a sister.  So we started to gently introduce the idea of a brother.  What did she think about having a baby brother?  Would that be OK? Katie took all this in her stride but we couldn’t tell her any specifics at all so had to be very vague about what we said to her.  We hadn’t even been reapproved as adopters at that point.

After approval, and as we got closer and closer to Matching Panel it became harder not to give Katie information. Our Social Worker didn’t want us to give Katie any specific details at all but it became increasingly difficult not to. We slowly drip-fed her information. We talked “what ifs”.  What if your tummy mummy had another baby in her tummy?  What if we had a baby in our family?   How would you feel about having a baby brother, would that be good?  Katie is astute though.  

She knew that more was going on and was starting to feel angry that she wasn’t being given concrete information and I agreed with her.

Eventually we told her that the Social Workers thought that they might have found her a baby brother but that we were waiting to find out more.  This took place over about a month and it was just too long a wait for Katie.  We started to worry that withholding was effecting our relationship so on the morning of Matching Panel we told her that we were going to see the lovely people who said we could adopt her to ask them if we could adopt her a baby brother and that we would pick her up from school and all go out to dinner that evening and give her all the details.  We then informed our Social Worker (at panel) that we had done this.  I don’t think they were overly impressed that we had gone against protocol but were very understanding as to the reasons why.  After a successful panel meeting we collected Katie from school we showed her pictures of her new baby brother and told her that they had grown in the same tummy as each other.  There was a lot to discuss as you can imagine and lots of questions to answer.  We wondered how Katie would feel about having a biological brother and whether this would cause her to regress in the way that receiving her Life Story Book had the previous year.

Waiting several weeks for introductions to start is difficult for any adopters.  Managing that process for a child as well is definitely an added challenge.  It was planned that we would meet Pip first on a Monday and Katie would meet him on the Friday. We decided not to tell her that we were meeting him because we felt that this might undermine her meeting with him.  How difficult would it be for her to know we had met him and she hadn’t?  An older child might be able to handle this scenario better but, at aged 5, this wasn’t something that Katie would be able to emotionally manage.  We involved Katie in other ways though.  Katie and I chose a toy for her to give him and, unbeknownst to her, Daddy and I had chosen a much coveted Build a Bear toy for Pip to give Katie at their first meeting.  She helped choose toys for Pip and prepare his bedroom.  We made room for his toys in the playroom together, creating a visible space in our lives for her brother.

Keeping the fact that we had met Pip secret for nearly a week was excruciating. We wanted to tell her all about him but we couldn’t.  We eventually told her that we had met him on the evening before they had their first meeting so we were able to tell her all about him.  We didn’t specify to her how many times we had met him though.  

The first meeting between the children went very well although, after an initial flurry of interest, Katie wasn’t overly bothered about spending time with Pip.  

She was happier playing with the other children at the Foster Carers home.  Babies aren’t very good playmates unfortunately.  The other children were a good distraction.  Introductions went relatively well, although quite boring for Katie when we were still at the Foster Carers house. We felt that Katie was handling things very well until Pip’s first visit home.  After dropping him back to the Foster Carers house and a quick McDonalds, as it was late, Katie and I arrived home to see all Pip’s toys where we had left them on the floor.  Upon seeing them Katie collapsed in a heap on the floor, screaming and crying gutturally “Where is my brother? Why am I always waiting?”  It was totally heartbreaking to see her feeling this way and it really brought home to me just how difficult this process and all the waiting had been on her, well on all of us really.  I felt awful for putting her through all this emotion and worried about the long term impact on her.

Bringing Pip home changed the dynamic totally in the house, which it does when any child comes into a family.  

The shift in focus of attention was incredibly difficult for Katie, and me.  I felt like I was tearing myself in two all the time, trying to ensure that everyone got a piece of the pie.  One of the reasons we hadn’t initially wanted to have a baby was because of having to physically carry him around and we worried that this would create a barrier between Katie and myself and how this would impact on her.  A toddler is more independent.  We had already been having some behavioural difficulties before Pip arrived home but things intensified with Katie regressing to about the emotional age of 2-3 as opposed to the 5 year old that she was.  Pip had his night-time bottle and went to sleep to the sounds of Katie having a raging tantrum on many occasions.  It was difficult because the age gap between them meant that Pip couldn’t really play with Katie. We allowed her to become my helper, helping to change nappies and feeding him but she would often get bored mid-bottle so Pip wasn’t happy with his milk suddenly stopping halfway through the bottle.  

Katie’s jealousy didn’t manifest in the way we had predicted, which was a surprise.  

She had often pulled other children off me, claiming her territory and saying “That’s my Mummy” so that was the reaction we expected.  With Pip she hasn’t ever reacted this way. It’s almost like she knows that things are different because he is her brother but her anger has manifested in her behaviour by being uncooperative and rude and aggressive instead.  She found other ways of gaining my attention without openly pulling Pip off me.

I was concerned about how Katie would feel restarting school after the half term break. Would she feel jealous that Pip was home with me all day and refuse to go to school?  We didn’t have any difficulties with this in reality.  Katie and Daddy went back to school and work on the same day and Katie totally accepted this.  She was excited to be seeing her school friends and I think it helped to get her back into her school routine.  Doing the morning run with a baby in tow was a big change and challenge.  Pip is the king of needing an 8.41am nappy change if you know what I mean?

Throughout all these difficulties I was totally honest with our Social Worker about how things were going. Pip was very settled, bonding and doing well.  Our concerns were for Katie and the ever increasing intensity of her temper tantrums.  I asked school if they could do some additional emotional work with her, which they agreed to start at the commencement of Year 1.  We tried various parenting techniques and, above all, I tried to give Katie as much of my time and attention as was humanly and practically possible, which is really tough.  We started going out for coffee and cake after her dancing lesson on a Saturday morning, which we still do now.  Our Saturday mornings weren’t a cure-all and they certainly didn’t always go to plan.  Temper tantrums ensued on many of our girly mornings out and I worried constantly as to whether we had done the right thing.  Katie told me on several occasions that Pip took up too much of my time and asked if he could go back to the Foster Carer.  We explained to her that Pip was here to stay, just like she was, and that we were all a family together.  The school summer holidays were pretty awful all in all. We don’t have much family around so I had the children on my own for much of the holidays. Because Pip was sleeping in the mornings we couldn’t really access our usual social activities with friends, although bit by bit we got braver about encouraging Pip to sleep in the buggy.  On many occasions though I felt very lonely and isolated.

Bit by bit though things have started to improve.  The start of Year 1 was initially quite tough with Katie’s behaviour getting even worse but over the past month things have improved dramatically.  Pip is so well bonded now that he is starting to get jealous when Katie is sitting with me or cuddling me so this is now our new issue to resolve (if that is ever possible).  There is still a long way to go but I think hope we’ve turned a corner.

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