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6 Tips for Families Adopting Out of Birth Order

Firstborn children are natural leaders. Youngest children are charming and popular. Middle children are often overlooked.

We’ve all heard these theories about personality and birth order. And, if you’re hoping to adopt, you’ve probably also heard that birth order is a delicate structure that shouldn’t be disrupted.

But how much do adoption and birth order really affect each other? And, as a parent considering disrupting birth order through adoption, what do you need to know to successfully integrate your new child into your family? Should you pursue adoption or foster care out of birth order at all?

The answer: It depends.

Here’s what you need to know about birth order and adoption, as well as some tips to help you decide whether disrupting the birth order could work for your family.

Tips for Successfully Adopting out of Birth Order

In the past, adopting out of birth order was often discouraged, and some adoption professionals still do not allow hopeful adoptive parents to adopt a child who is older than their existing children.

However, researchers are starting to question the true importance of birth order in adoption. As adoption expert Dr. David Brodzinsky told Creating a Family, “When talking about adopting out of birth order, it is best to throw ‘always’ and ‘never’ out the window, and replace them with ‘sometimes.’”

In other words, adoption disrupting birth order can sometimes work, depending on each individual family.

If you are thinking about adopting a child older than your biological child or other adopted children, there are some things you can do to help make it a more positive experience for everyone involved:

1. Respect each child’s individuality.

Each of your children is going to grow and develop at their own pace. Avoid making comparisons, and allow each child to explore his or her own interests and strengths. Above all else, always ensure each child’s individual needs are being met, regardless of whether those needs are “typical” for the child’s age, and assign privileges and responsibilities based on capability and maturity level — not necessarily based on who is the oldest.

2. Be aware of potential issues.

Many older children have experienced trauma by the time they are adopted, and this can result in special emotional, developmental and behavioral needs that must be met. If your adopted child has experienced abuse, it’s also important to be cautious and aware of how this may impact their behavior toward your younger children. Be educated and realistic about the potential challenges of adopting an older child, and be prepared to address them.

3. Consider your individual circumstances.

Often, the success of families that adopt or foster out of birth order comes down to each family’s unique dynamic and the personalities of the children involved. Gender, age and the number of children in the home may also influence a family’s ability to disrupt the birth order. For example, a family with a toddler adopting out of birth order may have an easier time than a family with school-aged children; most toddlers have not had time to develop a sense of influence as the oldest child in the family and are therefore less likely to struggle with transitioning to their new position in the birth order.

4. Prepare your current children.

It’s always important to prepare your children for a new arrival, especially when you’re adopting out of birth order. Keep communication open with your children throughout your adoption process, and be positive and excited about the way your family is changing. Explain to your current children that their new sibling might need additional attention while they’re transitioning into the family, and remind your children that you will always be there for them whenever they need you.

5. Expect an adjustment period.

Even with the best preparation, it’s going to take some time for everyone to adjust to their new position in the family. You may find that your existing children struggle to accept the adoption and their new roles, especially if they’ve been displaced as the oldest child. Similarly, it may take some time for your new child to find his or her place in the family, as well. Don’t be discouraged if you find your children “acting out” or regressing at first; it will take some time for everyone to adjust to your new normal. 

6. Seek support.

Before and after the adoption, reach out to your adoption professional or another counselor for help, especially if your family is having a hard time transitioning. They can point you to additional resources and help you learn as much as possible about birth order when it comes to adoption. They may also be able to help you find adoptive family support groups and educate you about the services available to older children adopted from foster care in your state. Take advantage of these resources — you don’t have to go through this alone.

Adopting out of birth order can be challenging — but, when you have found the child who is meant to be a part of your family, you shouldn’t let those challenges stop you.