Ask AF: Feeling Left Out of a Birth Family

A parent asks our experts how to help a biological son from feeling left out from his brothers' birth families.

Q: Our seven-year-old biological son seems to swing between feeling left out because his siblings (both adopted) have “other families” to feeling that they can’t be part of our family because they have “other” families.

A: It’s common for kids to feel that things should be equal and fair in their families—and, of course, they are usually not. Your son is feeling this keenly. Empathize with him, saying something like, “I’ve noticed that, when your siblings hear from their birth families, you seem ____ (upset, sad, jealous). Tell me about that.” Validate your son’s feelings, rather than telling him that he shouldn’t be upset, sad, or jealous. Say, “I can see how you feel; that is tough.”

Seven-year-olds are beginning to integrate everyday and biological relationships, and that can be confusing. Help your son understand your family’s unique makeup and its permanence. Yes, his siblings have other relatives, but they are his “real” brothers and sisters “forever.” They do all the things brothers and sisters do together, including playing and fighting. Tell stories about when they all joined your family.

Finally, think about the contact you have with your other children’s birth families. Is your son teased or excluded by his siblings at such times? If so, you need to address that with them. Is it possible to include all the children when you have a get-together? If not, you or your partner should do something special with your son on these occasions, to let him know that he, too, has a special place in the family.

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