Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In Which I Talk About Birth Order

I've been doing a ton of research in the past few weeks about older child adoption, and there are some really interesting things out there.  One of the hot debates is about adopting out of birth order.  Since I had someone e-mail me and ask about whether or not we'd thought about this the other day, I thought I'd talk about our reasoning here.

People tend to have relatively strong opinions about this topic, for some reason.  Basically the general idea is that you are supposed to adopt children in the "natural" order they would come in your family-- ie the newest child should always be the youngest.  This is so that the older children don't feel like their spot in the family has been usurped by the newly adopted child.  Some people contend that it's merely important that the eldest child be able to keep their spot, as they will have a more difficult time adjusting than the other kids in the family who are already used to dealing with an older sibling and so will be less upset if they lose their "spot" as second oldest, third oldest, etc. 

But we're going against convention, and adopting a child who is ten months older than the little guy.  And after some soul searching, we concluded that it would actually be more beneficial for Connor to have an older sibling than it would be for us to adopt a younger child.  Let me explain our thinking, here.

Connor is four years old chronologically.  But in terms of motor skills and cognitive development he is much younger-- probably around two years old cognitively and around 6-8 months old in gross and fine motor skills.  Unless we are choosing to adopt a child who has cognitive and physical issues just as profound as the little guy's any kiddo who joins our family is going to pass Connor up pretty quickly in terms of development.  So then we'd have the odd situation where the younger child chronologically would be the older child developmentally.  I would think that situation would be more confusing and irritating to Connor than having a sibling who is older and therefore should be developmentally ahead.

There's also the fact that if we were to adopt a child who was younger, they'd be competing for a lot of the same types of attention as Connor.  For example: Connor doesn't feed himself at all.  If we adopt an infant, I can't feed Connor and a baby at the same time, and so they'll be in competition as to who gets fed first, who gets more time, etc.  But if we're adopting a child who is able to feed herself, than we can sit down at the table together and I can interact with her while feeding Connor.  That way the kids are both getting attention-- it's just different types of attention. 

That's not to say that we're adopting a kid who's older because we think it's going to be easier, or something.  Ah contraire-- we know that the older the child is, the more likely they are to have attachment or trauma-related issues, and so we could potentially be exposing Connor to some behaviors that are not going to be beneficial for him.  But we also think that the benefits of having a sibling outweigh the risks of adopting an older child, and without going into detail here let me just say that we've been careful to choose a child who, while still at risk for those issues, is less at risk than many other children who have also spent time in institutions.  And we'll have a better idea of what Sylvie's personality is like and what challenges we may face than if we were adopting her when she was a baby.  So we'll see how things go.

I don't think there's any right or wrong answer on this one, and in the end it's what's best for the individual families.  Obviously we don't have her home yet, so we'll have to see how things go and whether or not our reasons were good ones!



leah said...

Sylvie really sounds like a great fit for your family- with her age and developmental stage, she'll be old enough to feed herself, but young enough to adapt more easily into her new environment.

Honestly, you are going to have the cutest photos in a few years: with adorable Connor and Sylvie grinning side-by-side. May that day come as quickly as possible!

Wherever HE Leads We'll Go said...

I have always heard that you should keep the birth order when adopting. As you said, you need to do what is right for your family, not what "they" (whoever they are) say is right.

Elizabeth said...

I agree with you. My oldest is fifteen, but she has pretty severe disabilities and definitely requires the most care, not very different, actually from a baby. My "middle" child is thus really more like the "oldest," and strangely he is. The "baby" is really not the baby but acts like the typical "middle" kid. I think with special needs, birth order is sort of irrelevant, and as long as each is getting attention in the way they deserve -- well, it all works out.

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