The beautiful Lebel family, minus their daughter,G, whose picture can't be posted yet in accordance to foster care policy.
I am happy to introduce you to Camille, a fellow mom whose "story" is one you want to hear. Family, love, Jesus....all of the important stuff. Thanks, Camille, for being so open with us and sharing from your heart.
Adopting Older Kids With Younger Kids at Home: the Lessons We Hope to Learn
Two years ago, if you had told my husband, Charlie, or me that we were about to add three teenagers/young adults to our family, we’d likely have shared a giggle and shuffled you off to a white-padded cell. I mean….adding unkempt rooms with piles of reeking laundry, angst-filled relationship drama, missed curfews, and locust-like eating habits? Who does that?
We do, apparently. Because when God says, “Hey, I have some people for you to love,” you don’t respond with “But dude, I really need my junk room!”
So now we have Ian, 20, and Herdest, 19—our “unofficially adopted” guys and Ellie, our two-year-old, adopted domestically as an infant. And as of about two months ago, we’ve proudly welcomed G., our 17-year-old daughter, who we’re adopting from foster care.
There’s so much I’d like to share with you about adding older kids to your family. How there are concerns about adopting out of birth order, but it’s not as scary as it might seem. How yes, it’s challenging, but also filled with wonderful blessings. How all kids deserve families, and there are thousands right now alone and waiting.
But alas, neither of us has all day, so I’m going to attempt to stick to one thought-process.
So, some of the questions we often get from people who find out we have three older kids living in the house with our toddler-aged daughter fall along the lines of:
Aren’t you worried about her? How does that work? Is that safe? What will she learn from the older kids?
(Actually, we get much more invasive, ridiculous, and ignorant questions, but they make me want to say not-nice words, and since I’m guest blogging, we’ll keep it polite, mmmkay?)
I understand that these concerns come from a well-meaning place, but first off, let me point out that such questions can come across as rather offensive.
Have we considered the emotional well-being and adjustment needs of our daughter?
Heck no. We just thought we’d completely change her family structure with absolutely no preparation and see what happens.
Gah! Of course, we worry about our daughter. We worry probably in the same way you worried when you got pregnant with child #2, #3, etc. We prepared in the same way you would if you planned to move in an ailing grandparent, a stepchild, etc. Family structures change all the time, folks. We prepare as best we can, show some extra love and grace, and move on with life.
Logistics and Safety
Probably the most irritating insinuation from others is that we would build our family in a way that risks the safety of its other members. We understand that there are many stereotypes about foster kids (especially older kids) out there, but if you’ve spent any time around them, you realize that many fears are unfounded.
Please understand, I’m not saying that every day is roses and kittens. There are hard moments every day, and times that require extra vigilance. I would never advocate anyone jumping into foster care or older-child adoption without some serious preparation and a strong support system. Kids need supervision. Period. Know how much is required for your family to stay safe. Biological or adopted, it’s up to you as parents to know your kids, their maturity, their needs, and their capabilities, but it can work.
Yes, our older kids and our toddler have vastly different needs and interests, but as it turns out, they complement one another better than expected. The mall? The bookstore? The park? We can generally find something of interest for everyone. And after Ellie goes to bed, we have time for homework, games, or movie night with the older kids. Also, I’ve generally found that as long as a destination has working wi-fi and food, teenagers stay moderately happy.
Also, the older kids generally prove to be an amazing help with the toddler. To clarify, I didn’t welcome older kids with expectations they’d become live-in nannies to my daughter. Just as I wouldn’t leave my two-year-old with any random sitter, I’m not leaving her with someone simply because they’ve been in our house a few weeks. However, as it turns out, Ellie has wrapped all her older siblings around her finger, and they’re wonderful with her. While I cook dinner, G. might play dolls with her or take her outside to swing. Herdest might watch cartoons with her while I run to the store. Just having someone who can fix a sippy cup or a snack is an immense help.
But for some, the concern remains about what the younger child might learn from her older siblings.
Hmmm. I was an older child, and I taught my sister to bungee jump Barbies off the balcony onto my grandmother’s head. I taught her to make “magic potions” from all the spices and sauces in the refrigerator and pantry and dared her to drink them. My cousin convinced his little brother to climb into the creepy creature-infested crawl space under our kitchen (totally freakin’ out my mother).
All over the world, older siblings teach colorful words, messy pranks, and perhaps less than favorable lessons about the opposite sex. And all over the world, engaged and attentive parents intervene to control these “lessons” and nudge all children back onto the correct path.
Is Ellie going to learn some “interesting” things from her much-older siblings? Definitely. I’m having to remind myself that the word “bruh” doesn’t need to end every sentence. Legit, y’all. I’m also a bit concerned that Ellie now thinks potato chips are suitable for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just tonight, my little dear (and some furniture) ended up covered in blue Sharpie, and yeah, I had to take some deep breaths not to yell at the person who apparently didn’t see a problem with her having it.
But I’m actually excited about the majority of lessons Ellie will learn from our family and the lessons we will all learn from one another. And while I know there will be bumps in the road, my constant prayer for our learning is that we remember these things each day:
- Diversity is a strength to be embraced. We don’t judge others based on hair color/styles, tattoos, clothing, piercings, sexual orientation, etc. We just love people.
- When we share our struggles, their power over us weakens. When we share love, it grows and makes us stronger.
- Family is flexible. Boundaries will change to include, embrace, and love new people.
- Family sometimes has little to do with whom you look like or where you come from. Family is formed when people choose to love one another, no matter what.
- Love isn’t always reciprocated. We love anyway.
- The greatest commandments of Jesus were to love Him and love others. Sometimes, loving others means leaving our comfort zones; we take leaps of faith, knowing the One directing our path.
And no, we’re not done, and as we add more children, it’s likely Ellie (and the older kids) will have tough days when there’s simply not enough of us to go around. We’ll get tired and lose our temper or forget to pick one of them up or fail to check homework folders. There will be days where all of us want to escape the craziness for a good cry and some blessed quiet.
And that’s okay. Because I want my kids to know that we’re not called to an easy life. We’re called to be brave, bold, faithful, and daring in our love of others. We’re called to say “Yes” with our hearts and hands when God says to care for His children. We’re called to find joy in the endless laundry, dust, dishes, dog hair, crushed goldfish crackers, too loud rap music, smelly socks, overflowing diaper pail, toddler tantrums, and surly teenage mood swings.
And when I fail miserably, I guess I want them to see that too, for God has never required perfection from his servants, just a willing spirit. I want my kids to have big hearts and open spirits, and I pray the lessons they learn in this family will lead them to a life of more. More patience, more bravery, more faith, and more love.
Camille, mama through open adoption, foster adoption, and older-child adoption, blogs about kids, marriage, God, and life at www.embracingtheodyssey.com.