Friday, October 29, 2010

Older Child Chronicles: Part 4

Siblings and More

I feel very unqualified to write this post.  For, I don't know the answers, haven't figured out the answers and feel far less than qualified to pass on answers to anyone else.  This post has been swirling around in my head for a couple months now.  To me, it feels like normal life so I'm having a hard time trying to separate what is just sibling behavior and what is related to adoption and adding an older child to the family.  And, I think when you're in the thick of it you don't have a subjective viewpoint as someone on the outside looking in would.  But, I guess this could just be a "this is how it's been for us" type of post and take from it what you may.

Keep in mind though, every adopted child, every child already at home and every family is different so you may experience none, some or all of this in your older child adoption because we all have different personalities that make relationships all different.

First let's tackle taking siblings to China.  
There are so many personal opinions on this topic and some agencies even weigh in heavily with their opinion so the question of "should we take our other children to China" becomes a very hot button topic.  I don't think there is right or wrong answer; let me explain.

We really wanted to take our three other children to China with us.  We knew it wasn't going to be a vacation in the traditional sense but we also knew we couldn't load up the van and take a road trip to China next summer either.  The main (and probably only) reason we didn't take our other children with us was because of cost.  Three more plane tickets at $1500 each and adding a hotel room at each location made our travel costs almost triple.  It simply wasn't feasible at the time.  They also would have missed three weeks of school and that would have been hard to make up but I'm certain we could have made it work if the finances would have been favorable.
We thought by having our other children with us it would help Claire see and understand a parent/child relationship simply by observing.  We also thought they would help make her comfortable through play and normal child to child bonding.  And while it wasn't a vacation, it would have given our other children the opportunity to see the culture that Claire grew up in and maybe help them understand a bit more why she may do some of the things she does.

Once we decided it was too much of a financial strain to bring them with us we began looking for the positives of leaving them at home.  Their schooling wouldn't be stressed by missing so much, it would give us time with Claire to really bond without the distraction of other sibling interactions or behavior, it would make the official adoption visits easier because we wouldn't have to keep 4 kids entertained with only 2 of us, we wouldn't have to pay extra fees because our agency strongly discourages siblings on the trip (and shows their discouragement with additional fees,) we wouldn't have to juggle luggage and transportation for 5 (and then 6) people.  The kids are old enough to carry some of their own stuff but a suitcase outfitted for 3 weeks is a bit beyond their capacity so we knew that would fall back to us.

Now, our experience traveling without our other children.
The travel part was obviously easier with just the two of us (and then 3 on the way back) than making sure the kids were comfortable and entertained on the 14 hour airplane ride.  We were able to bond solely with Claire without the distractions that other children bring.  We didn't have an issue, beyond those first couple of hours, with Claire being shut down so the benefit of our other children to play with her wasn't necessary; not that it wouldn't have still been nice.  Growing up in a foster family for most of her life, Claire understood the parent/child relationship fairly well.  She grew up more with a grandma relationship but still, she had that authority and caring adult figure before she came to us.  The official adoption visits weren't hard but I'm sure it would have been harder having 4 children with us.  For some of those visits (notary, medical exam, consulate appointment) you just sit for an hour or more, so entertaining 1 instead of 4 was definitely easier.

Now for the flip side.  Being with Claire, and Claire only, for nearly 3 weeks brought a few negative things as well.  For the first part of her time with us, it was only her and us; she didn't have to share us with anyone.  She had 100% attention and while that is probably the way it should be, it did bring home a bit of attitude when she had to share us with the other children.  It's a double edged sword, no right or wrong answer here.  She needed the time with us to bond but then that proved to cause some difficulty when we got home and she no longer had that undivided time with us.  I could see it in this picture I posted, taken when we arrived home at the airport.  Others may not see it but I can tell Claire's face is really thinking "wait, I didn't have to share these arms for 3 weeks, who are you?"
If we had just one, or maybe even two, other children we would have most likely taken them with us.  I think the positives of having them on the trip outweigh the negatives.  This would be based solely on your other children's personality too, though; some children travel really well and some would rather be at home.  But, after going on the trip and everything we experienced I would take them, in a heartbeat, if the finances allowed it.

The first few months at home I did see Claire trying to put herself between us and the other kids; sort of like a hierarchy in her mind and she needed to be at the top.  I noticed this the most with Daddy and pointed it out to him because it's really hard to see for yourself when you're in the middle of it.  But, if I subjectively stood back and watched I could see her turn on some charm when he was around and get different treatment from the others.  It would be very helpful if you spoke with people who will be around you after getting home and ask them to look for behaviors that you might not realize are happening.  Speak with your other children that treatment of the new child is bound be different than them, simply because they started out in your family a different way and that requires different treatment at times.

Claire would often point out when one of the others would get in trouble that "I never get trouble."  At first I ignored it and then warned her that those comments would indeed get her into trouble if they continued.  Even now, 8 months later, she will once in awhile make reference to the fact that the other kids get in trouble more than she does.  Her idea of getting in trouble is a bit skewed as well.  If I get onto Matthew more than once about Legos being all over the floor and threaten to take them away if they aren't cleaned up, Claire will sometimes say "I always pick up my Legos, I never get in trouble."  I have started to point out that she's not much different than the other kids; they all leave toys out, including her.  I now make it a point to include her in my griping about clothes being left strewn around rooms or toys left in places they shouldn't be.  I didn't at first because she didn't know the rules but she took that as special treatment that made her better than the others.  I've encouraged our other children to speak up when they feel something isn't fair and many times I've agreed with them and tried to consciously make an adjustment in how I treat Claire.  Not that I treat her worse because they say it isn't fair but if I complain about Emily having 4 pairs of shoes on her floor I will now look around and see that Claire also has several pairs on the floor and I'll make them both put them away, whereas I didn't do that the first several months she was home.

The relationship between the kids is fluid, ever changing.  The first month or so was a honeymoon period.  Matthew invited Claire to play with him, Emily made it a point to play with dolls with her (which she never touched before), Jacob would do silly things to make her laugh, etc.  The next couple of months brought some real adjustments instead of just accepting everything Claire did as OK.  Emily wanted to read at night but Claire needed to go to sleep, Matthew decided that he didn't want Claire in his room all the time playing with his things but Claire didn't understand that because she could play with them before, Jacob turned back towards being a 12 year old boy with a 7 year old sister; he didn't want her hanging around him asking questions all the time but she didn't know why that wasn't OK anymore because it was before.  I would get onto the older kids for not including her as much but at the same time try to explain to her that I will let each of them have their own space and time and they don't have to play with her or entertain her all the time.  I encouraged her to play with something that she wanted to but it became more obvious that she wasn't used to that.  She was the older sister to a handicapped brother in China; he played whatever and whenever she wanted to.  She was the boss and never really played alone.  She spent some time unhappy because nobody would play with her; she still does occasionally but she's learning how to entertain herself a lot better now.  When I'm in the kitchen preparing dinner she will color or play with her dolls or go outside.  This is a huge step in independence that she didn't show before.

Around this time she became obsessed with one of Emily friends who lives in the neighborhood.  "Kate" would come over to play with Emily but end up entertaining Claire the whole time; imagine that struggle for Emily.  Claire was getting nearly 100% attention from Kate, so she "loved" her.  That has backed off quite a bit as the newness has worn off and the 10 year old girls want to hang out together occasionally without a younger sister.  They still involve Claire a lot when they play but I've noticed Claire's obsession with Kate has faded as Kate wants to be with Emily more.

I noticed the next phase between the kids as more sibling rivalry.  I've always had an attitude of kids can work out their issues without parent involvement (to an extent) but I've noticed that I settle many more sibling fights now than I used to.  This is hard.  Sometimes I get upset with the older kids for nit-picking stupid things that Claire is doing, or saying.  I remind them that even though she's conversationally fluent in English, there are still a lot of nuances in speech that she does not understand.  Instead of helping her make sense of something she's not saying right they tend to tell her it doesn't make sense in a nit-picky way.  I usually step in and remind them and then help Claire reword what she's wanting to say so she can also learn from it.  Then other times Claire gets upset because one of the other kids tells her what to do.  All of a sudden that stubborn streak shows up and she will get feisty with them.  Sometimes I get onto her about that because it wasn't that the other kids were trying to boss her around, it was more that they knew I would say something if she left her toothbrush out, or clothes in the bathroom after her shower, etc.  So it may start out as Emily saying "Claire, you left your toothbrush on the counter" and Claire responds back with "don't tell me what to do" and then progresses to "Claire, I'm not telling you what to do, I'm just telling you that you left it out" and then I'll hear "Emily, why you so mean to me?" and a response of "I'm not being mean, Claire!" and of course the voices shriek a little higher each time and then Claire gets downright mad.

I don't want to come across to the older kids that I always choose Claire's side but also don't want it to be that I always defend Claire and the older kids can't do anything right.  It's a balancing act, a tight rope at times.  I fall off the rope a lot, sometimes upsetting Claire, sometimes upsetting one of the others.  It's a good thing that kids are very forgiving.

So, if we take this sibling situation back to the idea that bringing home an older child is really like bringing home a newborn, this is how you could interpret the stages.

Bring home the baby: Older siblings are in love, they are being such "big helpers" and everything in your world is rose colored.

Baby starts to crawl: Older siblings are finding toys for the baby, who can now hold onto things and get around, a little bit.  This is fun, the baby can play!

Baby turns into a toddler: Mom!  Baby is messing with my toys. MOM!  Get the baby.   Mom doesn't come quick enough, of course, so then the baby starts crying.  "what did you do?  Why is he crying?"  Older sibling has a look of "uh oh, maybe I shouldn't have whacked him with that toy." look on his face.

Older sibling and Toddler, now preschool age learn to get along and play a bit better and you sigh a sigh of relief that the 2 year old stage is over.

Older sibling goes to school and gets his own friends.  "Mom, make him get out, he's bothering us!"   And so it begins again.

It's fluid and it changes.  
It's not easy, it's not hard (at least all the time).  
It's cool to watch your family swell with love for another, it's covering your head up with the pillow at the end of the night and hoping that morning is a long time away.  
It just is.