Elementary aged sister and brother hugging outdoors on a sunny dayIn the past, adoption agencies discouraged families from adopting an older child if they had younger kids. They reasoned that this type of adoption would disrupt the birth order of the family. Today however, many Christian adoptive families are choosing this type of adoption.
You may feel like God is leading you to adopt an older child, but worry how disrupting your family’s birth order could affect your younger kids. It’s something worth considering.
“When talking about adopting out of birth order, it is best to throw ‘always’ and ‘never’ out the window, and replace them with ‘sometimes.’” says Dr. David Brodzinsky, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Clinical & Developmental Psychology at Rutgers University.
Adopting out of birth order is not a black and white matter: it’s neither always a good idea nor never a good idea; it is sometimes a good idea. If you decide to pursue this type of adoption, here are tips for helping your children adjust after adopting an older child.

Disrupting Birth Order in Adoption

Are you wondering if you should adopt a child who is older than a child already in your family? What can you do to make it easier for all the children?
Disrupting birth order requires preparation, and it’s still not the best choice for those who aren’t willing to go in with their eyes wide open. To that end, here are some wonderful resources:
Rules of Thumb When Disrupting Birth Order
Course: Disrupting Birth Order in Adoption and Foster Care
When Parents Adopt Out of Birth Order
Does Birth Order Make a Difference in Adoption?
Course: How Does Adoption Affect the Siblings Already in a Family?
Adoption & Sibling Relationships: What Children Have Taught Me

Talk About Adoption

Prepare your biological kids for adoption by introducing the topic to them. Kids are curious. They’ll want to know what adoption is and why you want to adopt. You can introduce adoption to your kids by:

  • Reading children’s books about adoption
  • Getting together with another family who has adopted an older child. They can share what it was like, and may have some valuable tips for you!
  • Keeping your adoption discussions a normal part of your daily life. Ask your kids questions and allow them to ask you questions. If you don’t know the answer, do the research with your kids to find the answer.
  • Explaining how families can grow through adoption, just like having a baby grows a family.
  • Talking to them about loving others and providing a home for kids like them who want a family.

Include Your Kids in Your Adoption Journey

Including your children in your decision to adopt an older child will help them feel envisioned and excited about the adoption. Include them during your:

  • Family devotions and prayer times
  • Research about adoption
  • Home study visits
  • Reading of books about older child adoption
  • Adoption profile creation process

Making your decision to adopt an older child a family affair makes everyone feel included and ready to help.

Communicate With Your Kids

After the adoption, be sure to keep the lines of communication open. Have a weekly family discussion night where everyone in the family shares their thoughts, concerns, or ideas.
Keep the rules simple: be kind and listen to others. It’s not a time to gang up on anyone or gossip, but an opportunity for everyone to discuss ideas. You can discuss things like:

  • Household chores
  • Vacation ideas
  • Decoration changes
  • Menu ideas

Of course, always be available for your kids to come to you privately, day or night, to talk. Kids need to know their parents want to listen to their concerns or questions.
Older adopted sister taking a selfie with her younger sister

Consider Each Child’s Birth Order

Birth order can affect children. Older siblings tend to be natural leaders. They’re nurturers who often enjoy helping take care of the other kids. A younger sibling is the baby of the family. They’re the ones that everyone likes to play with.
When you bring a child into a family and they take over another child’s birth order position, it can be a major change for that child. One mother shared how her daughter became jealous and refused to touch the adopted child because she had “stolen” her position in the family.
These parents took time off from work and attempted to make memories as a family. They paid special attention to the displaced child. Over time, the daughter adjusted to her new place in the family and became best friends with her new older sister. It took extra effort from the parents to help everyone adjust to the new family birth order.

Get Help if You Need It

Every adoption looks different depending on the adopted child and the adoptive family. Older kids can struggle with:

  • Loss
  • Grief
  • Past trauma
  • Separation
  • Attachment issues

If you find you or your kids are struggling, be sure to seek professional help. Lifetime Adoption has over 30 years’ worth of experience in helping adoptive families. If your kids are having a hard time adjusting to the adoption, our professional adoption coordinators can provide information and suggest where you can find counseling.

Older Child Adoption

You are preparing your family for some pretty significant changes, so have patience with your kids while they work through the process. Any changes in role take time for everyone impacted.
While you are supporting your children through the process, don’t forget to offer yourself plenty of grace and patience too. You are entering one of those seasons in life where self-care is especially critical. Devote extra effort and intention to your children to settle them into new dynamics and relationships. At the same time, you’ll need to prioritize your physical and mental health so you can offer that support.
If you adopt an older child into your family, there’s guaranteed to be some adjustment for your adopted child and your other children. Prayerfully consider how to talk to your kids about adoption, include them in the decision, consider your kids’ birth order, and keep the lines of communication open for everyone. Seek God’s help throughout the process so that you, your biological kids, and your adopted child will all feel loved and part of the family.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 1, 2021, and has since been updated. 

Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.

Written by Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.

Founder of Lifetime Adoption, adoptive mom, adoption expert, and Certified Open Adoption Practitioner (C.O.A.P).

Since 1986, adoption expert Mardie Caldwell has been dedicated to bringing couples and birth parents together in order to fulfill their dreams.

“Many years ago, I was also searching for a child to adopt. We didn’t know where or how to get started. Through research, determination, and a prayer, our dream of a family became reality. I started with a plan, a notebook, assistance from a caring adoption consultant and a lot of hard work; this was my family I was building. We had a few heartaches along the way, but the pain of not having children was worse!

Within weeks we had three different birth mothers choose us. We were overwhelmed and delighted. Many unsettling events would take place before our adoption would be finalized, many months later. Little did I know that God was training and aligning me for the adoption work I now do today. It is my goal to share with our families the methods and plans which succeed and do not succeed. I believe adoption should be affordable and can be a wonderful “pregnancy” for the adoptive couple.

I have also been on both sides of infertility with the loss of seven pregnancies and then conceiving by new technology, giving birth to a healthy daughter. I have experienced first-hand the emotional pain of infertility and believe my experience allows me to serve your needs better.

It is my hope that for you, the prospective parents, your desire for a child will be fulfilled soon.”

Read More About Mardie Caldwell