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Out of Order

Although "expert advice" tells parents not to disrupt the birth order when adopting, reshuffling the deck gave us just the right hand.  by Skila Brown

There's an unwritten rule that you should not, under any circumstances, adopt out of birth order. I don't think I ever got that memo. Or maybe I did, and it got lost in the paperwork.

Five years ago, my husband and I were parenting a toddler when we accepted the referral of an infant--and then said yes to the referral of an older child. This wasn't a snap decision. We spent a lot of time discussing all that we'd be taking on: three boys younger than five, two in diapers, two adoptions within one year. But I don't remember thinking about the fact that we were about to turn our oldest child, our only child, into a middle child.

I admit that my failure to think things through was na´ve. But great things can come from mistakes. If people didn't make mistakes, after all, there would be no penicillin. And, in my house, adopting out of birth order made for some pretty amazing penicillin.

Isaac, our first child, was 19 months old when we brought home five-month-old Elliott. Isaac watched as his role as Mama's baby was swept from under him. He resented that new little being in our house something fierce. (Even now, at six and five, Isaac and Elliott still seem to go for each other's throats when left alone.)

But when four-year-old Gustavo came home, about 10 months after Elliott arrived, all that changed. Isaac had always been intrigued by bigger kids, and he instantly took to his new big brother. This was change he could support, apparently. From the moment my oldest arrived on the scene, he became the magical solution we desperately needed.

Gustavo stepped into his role as "Big Brother" right away. He has a special talent for breaking up fights between his younger brothers, and for distracting either of them from a tantrum. He relishes his perceived responsibilities of keeping his younger siblings safe, helping them, and sharing with them. Our three boys fit together like a perfect triangle. But, to this day, take one out of the equation and all bets are off.

A harmonious progression
In some ways, the disruption of birth order has given each of my kids the best of both worlds. Let's be honest for a minute. The oldest child in a family is sometimes more treasured than other kids. Because he was The First. The one who made us parents. The one we had to wait and wait to hold. And the one we awaited with empty arms. His arrival was the sweetest of the three. There. I said it.

And the youngest? He's the kid we hold a bit longer than we should. The one who is still in our bed, long past the age when his siblings found their own spaces.

Where does that leave the middle child? Ask any middle child and he will tell you. It's hardly a curse. But it's not all that special, either.

In our house, however, our oldest is kind of our youngest. Our youngest arrived second, so he's like a middle kid. And our middle is, in a way, the oldest--the treasured first. I am convinced that mixing up the birth order benefited each of our children. And it's helped our household to live in peace and harmony. So, while you probably shouldn't adopt out of birth order, it worked well for us. So well, in fact, that I would never do it again.  

Skila Brown is the mother to three sons, adopted internationally. She lives with her family in Lexington, Kentucky.

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