In open adoption, the beauty of birthsiblings is that adoptees can gain the home they most need without losing the sibling connections they’re likely to most treasure, over time.

At Abrazo, the majority of the children who get adopted here are blest to have birthsiblings, whether those sisters and/or brothers were born before or after placement.

It’s important to us that the children whose parents place a baby or child for adoption have every opportunity to participate in the open adoption process, too– to whatever extent is age-appropriate.

After all, even little kids know when Mama has a baby in her tummy. We’ve worked with preschoolers who were old enough to know that Daddy isn’t around anymore, that “we don’t have a house to live in, so that my baby brother/sister is going to grow up with someone else.” They deserve to know who that family is/will be. They need to meet them and get to know them as the relatives they’ll become, across the years to come.

Birthsiblings need to understand adoption is not a punishment, and they won’t get sent away if they misbehave. The concept of half or full-siblings is too abstract for most children, but nearly every child knows somebody who has family members who live somewhere else. Open adoption helps ensure that kinship connections are bonds build to last.

Siblings are Usually Life’s Longest-Lasting Relationships

Due to the age difference between parents and children, sibling connections are usually life’s longest-lasting relationships. Given the tendency for those with infertility to adopt later in life, this makes the preservation of sibling ties between adoptees and all their siblings of vast importance.

In this photo, shared by all the parents, you see a young Abrazo adoptee (top.) He’s grown up always knowing and adoring his birthbrother (the middle guy), and he is hugely proud to now be the uncle of his birthbrother’s baby. These three relatives don’t live in the same state, so this relationship has been carefully cultivated by the big guy’s birthmom and the adoptee’s adoptive parents over the years. As a result, these brothers are now sharing their extended family ties with the tiny guy, as well. What a blessing, when birthfamilies and adoptive families can be joined, not separated, by the adoption process.

Abrazo’s community includes countless birthsiblings from coast to coast, who were not adopted themselves, yet whose lives have been enriched over time by the open adoption relationships between their family and the adoptive parents of their sibling who was adopted.

Open Adoption Arrangements are the New Normal

For those who still ask “isn’t open adoption confusing for kids?” the answer is “no, it’s parents who keep secrets and conceal the truth that are most confusing.” Children aren’t harmed by being loved too much; those who were adopted and know their truth grow up with half the confusion and twice the love.

Nowadays, kids in any school system know somebody whose family members may live in different houses, in different cities or different states or countries, even. While parents do still need to talk with their children about family privacy and who’s on a “need-to-know” basis when it comes to adopt, having birthsiblings or siblings who have been adopted is not the fodder for the gossip mill that it used to be. Empowering kids to decide when they do or do not want to share the adoption branch of their family tree (and teaching them the right words with which to do it) is part of raising them to embrace their own reality.

In Abrazo’s open adoptions, our parents who place and parent who’ve adopt come up with lovely ways of keeping siblings connected. Many make a family tradition out of attending Camp Abrazo together each summer. We know folks who exchange school pictures every fall, or who live close by enough to attend sporting events together. We’ve seen Abrazo adoptees walk their birthmothers down the aisle when they get married. Many birthfamilies and adoptive families invite each other to their children’s birth parties, to confirmations and graduations. Other adoptees visit via Skype or FaceTime, some play Fortnite together online, and a few families have even vacationed together. (The possibilities are endless.)

Ground Rules for Sibling Visits

Healthy boundaries are a vital component of any positive relationship, including open adoption. While an adoptee’s parents may feel like another aunt and uncle to the birthsiblings, it is important that the adults are clear with the kids about who’s who. During visits, each child’s parents retains full responsibility for discipline of their child/ren they’re raising. If holiday gifts are given by birthfamily to the adoptee, their siblings in the adoptive home should be remembered as well. (Similarly, any gifts given by the adoptee and adoptive parents to the birthsiblings should not exceed the birthparents’ means to provide for their own child’s gifts.)

Birthparents and adoptive parents should discuss in advance their respective ground rules, as both may have different rules in their own homes. Parents need to talk with their kids beforehand about being a “good guest” and what that means (ie., “in their house, it’s okay to eat in the kitchen or living room, but please don’t feed the dogs any table food” or “remember, their family doesn’t use cuss words” or “while we’re there, they prefer for us to leave our masks on and our shoes outside.”)

Adoptees can sometimes feel overwhelmed or unsure how to act during reunions, especially when they worry that everyone is watching them; sometimes, they may become hyperactive, or bossy, or get withdrawn or behave regressively. Know that this is normal (and yes, even healthy– even if awkward, at times.) Be sensitive to this and offer them an opportunity to process privately with a parent, if necessary. If questions or issues arise in the days after the visit, welcome the chance to talk with your child about their feelings, and call on an adoption-competent therapist to help, too, as needed.

If Parents Don’t Make the Arrangements, the Kids Will

Some parents don’t perceive that there’s any need to establish connections when the children are small. They then get complacent over time, thinking “it isn’t really relevant anymore” when the kids get bigger. It is, though– more than they know.

Theirs are typically the kids who end up searching for answers (and birthrelatives) in secret, and in most adoptions, secrets are rarely healthy. They find each other online. They meet on their own terms. (Adults, research “GSA” to learn more about the dangers of adoptees being inadequately prepared for/insufficiently supported in independent reunion pursuits.) When an adoptee is still a minor, the custodial parents have every right to know when their child is in touch with a birthrelative. And every adoptee who is an adult should have every right to share the news of their connection without disapproval or judgement from their adoptive parents or other relatives.

Reconnecting with one’s first family is not a rejection of the adoptive family– it’s an affirmation of all the adoptive family has done to teach them how important all family members truly are, whether they became related by biology or by adoption.

The Beauty of Birthsiblings: Carpe Diem

The holiday season reminds us again and again that life is short, and there’s no time like the present to reach other to those we love.

Recently, three of Abrazo’s forever families have faced grief at untimely partings. Right before Thanksgiving, one Abrazo birthmother who’d placed siblings years ago lost one of her twin infants due to genetic complications. The week after, three siblings adopted by different families got the sad news that their long-lost birthmother had been murdered by an abusive partner. Then, another Abrazokid was sad to learn that his eldest birthbrother, hospitalized for weeks, had died of Covid. All three placements were originally open adoptions. Because of this, these adoptees and their birthsiblings are still tenderly surrounded with the love of their forever families in this season of sorrow. (And that truly is beautiful.)

We have no control over what happens to us or our children in this life, but through open adoption, we can gift our kids with plenty of family. And when we do, the beauty of birthsiblings truly becomes a gift that keeps on giving.

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