When that sibling call comes


Siobhan Rowe
Focus on Adoption magazine

Have you discussed the possibility of being asked to adopt one of your child's siblings?

As an adoptive parent, there is a chance that one day you will be asked if you would like to adopt one of your child’s siblings—maybe a newborn, perhaps a teen.

That phone call will probably send you into instant emotional turmoil, and you’ll probably be asked to make your decision fairly quickly. In this article, we hear from adoptive parents, all of whom received one of those calls. As you will see, each reacted differently to the news and made their decision in different ways.

Becky and James

When Becky and James Kelly received “that call” their reaction was an almost instant “Of course!” They had adopted their baby boy, Marcus, a year earlier and hoped to adopt again. It took them two hours to agree to adopt Marcus’s new born brother Zach.

That wasn’t the case with the next sibling call. Two years later, Becky recalls the phone call with the news that the boys’ birthmom had delivered another little baby, “We hadn’t discussed the possibility of another sibling call,” says Becky.“

This time, it was a much more intense conversation involving financial issues and how they saw their home life with another child. The couple’s adoption agency had advised them to take their time and that, if needed, the baby could be placed in temporary care. By the end of the day though, Becky and James had decided. “We asked ourselves how we would answer our kids if, at some point in the future, they asked why we had said “No” to adopting their brother—that was a big influence on us,” explains Becky. She also says that once they made the decision, they were thrilled. When asked how she’d feel if they get a third sibling call, she thinks that she and James would probably need more time to decide and would take up the offer of temporary care for the baby. They both hope that there isn’t a next time, but their decision will depend on the timing and their family situation.

Laura and Brent

Laura and Brent Livingstone received their sibling call about the soon-to-be-born child of their daughter’s birth mother on the same day that they completed their application to adopt a sibling group from Ethiopia. Despite that, Laura says her instant response was, “I can pretty much says yes, but I’ll have to check with my husband.”

“We always wanted a large family,” says Laura. Though the answer was yes, that didn’t mean smooth sailing until the baby was born. “I was torn in both directions. I was concerned that the birthmom would change her mind, but also much more aware of how hard the situation must be for her than I was when we adopted our daughter, Danika.” Knowing that Danika and the new baby, Jaeyden, would be together was extremely important to their birthmom. In fact, she had intimated that if Laura and Brent couldn’t take the baby, she would try to parent herself.

Laura and Brent also agree on the importance of sibling connections—that’s why they specified that they’d like to adopt siblings between the age of zero to six from Ethiopia. Laura also hopes that the transition to Canada will be easier for their new kids if they have each other.

Not long after Jaeyden joined the family, they were told that far away in Ethiopia two little girl cousins, aged four, were waiting. Even while Laura anticipates the children’s arrival, she still thinks that if she and Brent received another sibling call they’d probably adopt the baby. “I think we’d feel like we didn’t have any choice, that we couldn’t say no.” Laura adds that, mainly because she wouldn’t want her children’s birthmom to go through the pain of not parenting another child, she hopes it doesn’t happen.

Laurie and Michael

When Laurie and Michael Davis adopted two siblings aged two years and nine months old, they immediately felt that their family was complete. That didn’t mean the early months were easy. The children had both been in different foster homes and their older daughter, Zoe, experienced a great deal of grief over leaving her foster parents. Ben, the younger child, had several physical and developmental challenges.

When Laurie and Michael adopted the children they were aware that they had an older sibling who had already joined an adoptive family and they were keen to have openness. Shortly after the kids came home, they were told that their children’s birthmom was expecting another baby and were asked if they would consider another adoption. “It was so intense already," says, Laurie. “We were still in total wonder that we had children in our home. It was also really hard work—both kids were very needy.” Though Laurie and Michael decided that they couldn’t adopt that sibling, they were absolutely committed to openness with his new adoptive family. Since then, their children’s birthmom has given birth to two more children: one has been adopted, the other is in foster care, at least for now.

Laurie and Michael have been active in ensuring that they and their children maintain contact with their siblings and their families, no matter how far they have to travel, or how much effort they have to make to coordinate reunions. Though, initially, Laurie and Michael had to do most of this work, the other families have become more proactive about getting together. Laurie says she’s sure that she and her husband made the right decision—all the children were prenatally exposed to drugs and alcohol and have extremely high energy levels. When this couple made their decision, in order to avoid unwanted pressure, they deliberately didn’t tell their families.

Laurie and Michael are grateful that their children can develop this early connection with their siblings. The children are still young and simply enjoy playing together. As they get older, Laurie hopes they will feel comfortable to talk about deeper issues and receive support from each other.

Julie and Ben

It's your decision

  • It is your decision. Try not to let other people push you in a direction that doesn’t feel right.
  • If you have a partner and you don’t agree about a sibling adoption, get some counselling before you make the decision.
  • If the sibling is older, insist that MCFD provide you with full details of the child, including any developmental or psychosocial reports that they might have. If those assessments are more than a year or so old, ask for new ones.
  • Carefully consider how the adoption of a sibling will affect the other members of your family.
  • Take your time with the decision—don’t allow yourself to be rushed.

Pressure to adopt from family or social workers can add to the stress of a sibling call. When her family received their call, Julie Soames felt under immense pressure from everyone, including the birth family.

Jade, the daughter that she and her husband Ben had adopted five years earlier, had two older siblings (9 and 12) who had, until then, been living with their birthmom. Since adopting Jade, the couple had adopted two more children, both were under four years old. Though she felt that, morally, adopting the children was the right thing to do, Julie also felt overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing more children into the family. “If I’d heard of someone else in that situation that hadn’t adopted the children I’d have thought, ‘What! They didn’t adopt them?!’ I really wanted to take the kids, but I didn’t feel I was up to it. Everybody saw us as the best solution and that it made complete sense.”

Julie’s husband didn’t see things the same way. His feelings were far less mixed; his attitude was the more the merrier. “I think my husband thought I had more strength than I have. I didn’t want to get into something I couldn’t handle. At times, it felt like he was choosing. We went to counselling to help us make the decision,” explains Julie. Naturally, such different feelings led to marital tension, the effect of which is still present in Julie’s voice.

Rather than go with her gut instinct or to assert her true feelings, Julie let the situation unravel. Eventually, it was decided that one of the girls would go with her birth father and the other one, Jasmine, would join Julie’s family.

Jasmine was with the family for one year. Julie says that Jasmine had wanted to stay with her birthmom and struggled with life at Julie’s home. After a visit with her father’s parents, it was decided that she would go to live with them. Julie thinks she’s happier there. Though clearly the whole situation was stressful for Julie, and the kids, she feels that Jade and Jasmine developed a stronger relationships as a result of living together and she is grateful for that.

We hope these stories help you understand that there is no right or wrong answer with sibling calls. Though if you get such a call you can’t know for definite how you will react, it would be wise to consider the possibility before it happens.

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