How Did Your First Child React to the Arrival of a Second?

How did you work through sibling issues/rivalries at the time of the adoption and in subsequent years? How about instances in which one child receives more attention than another or silly questions? (Is that your "real" sister?) Our readers respond.

Conversation bubbles representing reader responses to a new sibling

More Attention

We too have experienced the problem of people commenting on how cute our 2-year-old daughter is while big sister, who is 5 years old, is ignored. I think younger children just catch peoples’ eye and attract comments in general, whether adopted or not, Chinese or not. We try to respond in a way that includes both girls. While we were in China, one of the bellhops at the hotel commented that I had “a beautiful daughter, blond hair, blue eyes, high nose.” I responded that I had 2 beautiful daughters. The man immediately caught on and said I had “a beautiful daughter, brown hair, brown eyes, a beautiful daughter.”

We have an 8-year-old biological daughter and a 4-year-old daughter, adopted from china at age 1. Overall, our daughters have bonded very closely together but there has been a downside for both girls as well. Our oldest has really been overshadowed by her new sibling and she has struggled with it. The youngest always draws attention away from her older sister to the point where we have even had people push our oldest daughter out of the way. We have also had problems within our family, specifically grandparents, greatly favoring our youngest.

I believe that our youngest has learned more and adjusted faster by having her big sister. From the minute they laid eyes on each other, they have been best friends, playmates, and sisters despite a four-year age gap.
—Andrea, Tennessee

Differing Abilities

My son has a lot of delays that affect his learning while my younger daughter, who almost 2, is extremely smart!! She is already speaking in complete sentences and riding a bike with ease. This creates a big dilemma for me. I want to praise their strong points but I am struggling to keep my son from feeling that his younger sister is smarter than him. We always praise them both and talk about how he is helping his sister learn.
—JP Bonner

I have two sons, now ages 16 years and 12 years, both from India. They have grown up as different and alike as any set of siblings I know. They have interests that intersect and diverge. One is involved in every school organization and the other keeps his interests few and focuses on them. One is very outspoken and comfortable as a leader while the other is most comfortable with smaller groups.

One of the biggest parenting challenges has been the differing abilities. How do you convince one child that it really IS fair to insist he apply himself more when he brings home a B on his report card, while if his brother brought home all Bs, you’d fairly cheer? Intellectually, they know the differences and why but it’s not always easy. One of our sons was quite horrified to find out his brother would have daily classroom pullouts and tutoring because “that’s only for dumb kids.” His brother calmly explained that this was just something he has trouble with and went on to point out some of his brother’s shortcomings too!
—Elisabeth Green-Streeter

“Real” Brothers and Sisters

We adopted our oldest daughter, who is 11, domestically at birth and our son, 7, from Bulgaria along with his biological sister who is now 4. Before the adoption, my oldest daughter obsessed about dying her hair black because she was convinced her new siblings would have black hair. The irony is that all 3 of us girls, none of whom are biologically related, all have light brown hair!

My husband has two children from a previous marriage who are significantly older than our children. At my stepdaughter’s wedding, a guest introduced my daughter to the term “half-sister.” Trying to explain the terms “half” and “step” was just too confusing. We finally just said, “Some people use those words but we don’t. You’re all just brother and sister!”
—Phyllis Gerben

“Are they brothers?” “They are NOW!” is my favorite answer. We adopted one Hispanic child, one white, and seven African American children plus birthed two kids. Our home is always louder than the average but structure and rules of conduct help everyone stay respectful and safe.
—Stephanie Mullins

We adopted two boys from Russia and Peter was at the center of our decision to adopt a second child. When we received the referral of Kevin, one of our concerns was how Peter would handle the time required to deal with Kevin’s bilateral cleft lip and palate. When we showed Peter the referral picture of Kevin, he asked when his brother with the “broken lip” was coming home. We tried to be realistic and honest with Peter but not reveal too much for his age level.

We brought Kevin home a week before Peter’s fifth birthday. After the novelty of a new brother wore off and the weekly therapy and doctor visits for Kevin began to wear thin, Peter became resentful of the time factor. We both tried to carve time for just Peter but it was difficult to plan between doctor visits.

Someone asked me the other day if they are brothers. YES!!! They get mad if the other one plays with their toys. Kevin gets very upset when he has to come inside before his older brother. Yet Peter is very protective of Kevin. They are brothers and our sons.
—Sharon and Gary Valente

I have 2 Korean children ages 4 and 6, boy and girl respectively. They are not biological siblings but they love and fight just like biological brothers and sisters do. I have also noticed that they are very protective of each other. Whether being reprimanded by mom or dad or having a friend be ‘mean’ to one of them, they are right there together, hugging and snuggling.

My biggest pet peeve is strangers stopping me to ask if they are real brother and sister. My answer is always YES!!
—An AF Reader

When we adopted our daughters from China, we traveled with several families and kept in contact with each other. About a year ago, one of the mothers noticed that our daughters shared a unique “look.” After a couple months of sharing pictures, personalities, and distinguishing features, a DNA test confirmed that the girls are biological siblings.

Both of the girls have siblings within their adoptive families and we have heard comments from the adoptive community that we might be placing more emphasis on the girls’ biological relationship, as if that is some “miracle” and adoption is not. This could not be further from the truth. They are both miracles to us!

We had our first reunion in April and the entire family embraced our daughters. We are blessed to have an additional branch in our family tree.
—Sandi and Jon

Smooth Transition

Alex never had the “only child anxieties.” The world revolved around him and he liked it that way. But my husband and I didn’t. Over our 15-month-long adoption odyssey, Alex went from happily oblivious singleton to rave-reviewed big brother to our Moscow-born daughter, Anya.

Talking about his baby sister-to-be all the time was crucial in his transformation. We told him that everyone had a job in bringing her home. Daddy and I had to fill out lots of paperwork and travel far away and his job was to stay with his cousins. When we brought Anya home, Alex was waiting at the airport with a bag of Kix cereal and open arms. Even when she toddled into the house and claimed his favorite action figure, he remained pleased with our new addition.

Today, at 8 years old, and 4 years old, Alex and Anya are very much siblings with all the attendant passionate rivalries, power plays, giggle/tickle fests, and adventures. And they have learned to share the center of the universe.
—Diane Crowley

We adopted our first two children from Guatemala and we had our third child by birth. When we were adopting our second child, we were also expecting our third child at the same time. It was very interesting around our house to say the least! Our son Benjamin was 2 at the time and very excited to welcome his baby sister home from Guatemala. When his baby brother Bryan was about to be born a few months later, Benjamin really believed that all babies came home on planes. He continued to look up in the sky for him to arrive! Although Mommy’s tummy was getting bigger, he still thought that Bryan would arrive at the airport just as he and his sister had done. (If only childbirth were that easy!) We were very fortunate that Benjamin accepted his siblings so easily. They play together, argue, protect one another and do all the things that siblings do. We went from zero children to three children in just two years and they’ve been the three best gifts our family could ever have received!
—Dennis and Karen, New York

Getting Along

When our second child came home at 28 months, she was emotionally drained and sleepy. Our 5-year-old was excited to become a big sister and beamed as she showed her new sister around.

As time went on, our youngest began to show her anger and rage. She has a very large and angry vocabulary and also bites, hits, spits, destroys toys, and has frequent nightmares. Her behaviors are very difficult but we spent a long time preparing our oldest for this possibility. When we watch the two girls interact, we see our oldest using the techniques that we scripted for her during the role-plays. Despite all the problems, they still exchange a lot of hugs and spend a good amount of time playing together. We are now getting ready for finalization and celebration that will follow. Our oldest asked the other day how long we would have to wait to “do it all again”. When I asked her how many sisters she thinks she would like to have she said, “Oh, maybe eight more and a brother too.”
—Lynette Olson

We adopted a son from Vietnam in April 2002. This past November we adopted a daughter from China. Our son Bradley was nearing his third birthday when we arrived home with out daughter Rachel, who was about 11 months old.

I don’t think my son was prepared to have a sister old enough to follow him around and play with his toys. When friends and cousins had new siblings, they were tiny babies who did nothing but eat, sleep and cry. Whenever Rachel did something that he would never get away with, like snatch a toy or cry over “nothing” I would remind him, “You are older than Rachel.”
—Julie Rosenberg

We have one birth child, 10 and two children adopted from foster care, who are 6 and 5. Our biggest family issue is sibling rivalry and fighting. From the moment our daughter entered our home at age 5 months, there has been extreme sibling rivalry between the two youngest. Sometimes they drive us nuts with their arguing and other times they are the best of friends and can play happily without incident. I worry about whether some of their conflicts arise because they are just too genetically different. Although I know in my head that all kids are different, in my heart I feel a lot of guilt. I worry that we shouldn’t have adopted two children so close together, maybe we should have stopped with two children. The good news is that all of them are happy children who do great in school and in their social relationships.

We had no children when we adopted two sisters from the foster care system. The departure of the oldest one for college this fall was a big adjustment for all of us. Having just one child at home was a new experience for my husband and me! Change is always hard for my younger daughter and her sister’s leaving brought up old wounds from the break-up of her family of origin. My older daughter had to work through jealousy at the thought of her sister getting all our attention since she never had the experience of being our “only” child.
—Colleen, Illinois

My husband and I have 4 biological children and 2 sons adopted from Russia. The baby’s transition into the family was fairly easy, much like if we brought a newborn home. Since the first adoption went so well, we decided to do it again. This time, however, was not so smooth. When our 5 year old son, Sasha, arrived he was not the instant playmate our biological 6 year old expected. He had a number of behavioral problems and the children were very resistant to him at first. Then my house became a war zone, complete with screaming, throwing, and constant arguing. Our normally well-behaved children were yelling at us “why did you do this to us!” One of our daughters asked, “doesn’t Russia have a return policy?” Fast-forward a few months and all is calm. The peace treaty must have been signed one day while I wasn’t looking. All six children have settled into their places in the family and Sasha is now one of the pack. The other day I found all three boys cuddled up to each other asleep on the couch. Those are the moments that make the wars worth it.
—Lynn Lanning

We have 3 boys, all born in Korea, aged 3, 6 and 7. Each is remarkably unique and there is the usual sibling rivalry. The older boys had begged and pleaded for a little brother. “Why not a sister?” I’d ask. “Mom, we don’t do girls. What would we do with one anyway?!” they’d answer. The boys named their new brother Aaron and wanted him in their room so he wouldn’t be lonely. They are best friends and bitter enemies but look for each other first thing in the morning and say good night to each other as the last thing each night.
—Lisa Montenegro

I have two daughters, Bridget, 14, and Katherine, 6 who were both adopted domestically at birth. Bridget had wanted a little sister ever since she could speak. Although I wanted a gap in their ages, it seemed that before we knew it Bridget was 6 and we had done nothing towards finding her a sister. So we talked to our agencies, updated our home study, and decided to adopt domestically again. When the call came about the birth and I said, “She was born in the ambulance?” I thought my daughter would faint! She had a sister!

Within 24 hours, Bridget met her new sister. It turned out to be an incredible experience for her and gave us an opportunity to talk about Bridget’s story and birth parents. It really helped give her insight into the struggle and strength it takes for a birth mother to make this decision.

I thought with 8 years between them I would be immune from much of the sibling rivalry issues that many parents deal with. Wrong! They adore each other but at times still fight like 4 year olds. At other times I will see them huddled together and Bridget will be braiding Katherine’s hair or helping her pick out clothes. They are just like any other sisters overall!
—Kate Findlen

Just two years after adopting a pair of older siblings within the U.S., we adopted newborn twin boys. When the babies arrived, our daughter, then 6, was very excited but our son was less enthused. We allowed the kids to express themselves freely, honestly and appropriately. He told his father and I that he missed all of the time we used to spend together. So each parent took turns on a regular basis to “date” the older children. This gave them time away from home and the opportunity to have the focus and attention on just them.

We adopted both of our children from the same orphanage in Mumbai, India and brought our 3 year old son with us when we traveled to pick up our 23 month-old daughter. We were hoping that he would serve as a buffer in the bonding process. However, we were surprised when our daughter did not take to him right away. But he soon became her security blanket. Our daughter had a rough adjustment period and over the next 2 weeks we spent in India with family, our son was the only person that made her feel safe and happy.

After those initial days, our children were siblings in every sense of the word. One minute they love each other, the next they’re fighting like cats and dogs. Our daughter definitely has had a hard time learning to empower herself and “shine” outside of our son’s shadow. Our son’s biggest challenge was learning to share all aspects of his life, especially the toys and things that were always “his.” But the benefit of having a full-time friend in the house always won out over the challenges. In my mind, it is no different among birth siblings.
—Heidi Riechel


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