Brothers and Sisters

One of the things I find the hardest to deal with is that of life story work.  It's not because I don't want to discuss it with Katie but it's more because I worry about how much information to give and when to give it.

This is being discussed between TCM and I at the moment because of the contact Katie and Pip are having with their half sibling Kip.  I've written before about how well that is going in the obvious sense.  The children get along really well and their relationship is developing positively. I do think there is a fall-out from it all though which I wrote about in "No, I grew in YOUR tummy Mummy" and also in "Chick or Egg?". Thoughts are clearly whirring around in Katie's head and things are definitely coming out of her mouth.  This morning, after a very challenging and argumentative start to the day which included Katie peeing on her bed, Katie flounced in and announced that I wasn't her Mummy so I couldn't tell her what to do.

"You're my step-Mummy!" she said.

Clearly she's been watching too many Disney films for this to be her frame of reference!

"******* is my real Mummy" she added

I stopped drying my hair and swivelled around to look at her.  She was swinging on the door with a triumphant look on her face which clearly said "I've got one over on her!".  This is her raison d'etre at the get one over on me.  She's such a 6 year old!

I took a breath and said "Honey I am your Mummy.  ******* is your tummy Mummy and she grew you and helped make you beautiful.  I am the Mummy who gets up with you in the night when you're poorly; I take you swimming and to gymnastics; I tuck you in at night and do everything a Mummy does.  I am your Mummy honey and I love you very much".

She seemed satisfied with this answer and nodded and went back to her bedroom to finish taking all the bedclothes off her wet bed.  She later came back to say she was sorry and tell me she loved me.

I knew this would happen one day.  I've run over the scenario in my head from time to time.  I thought it
might be a few years later down the line but Katie is currently challenging everything about TCM and I so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  It also highlights that she is feeling unsettled and is trying to make sense of her world.  She differentiates between Pip and Kip by saying that Pip is her twin and Kip is her brother.  I think there is a way to go on these issues and I'm not naive enough to think that there will be a time soon where Katie accepts without question the fact that she is adopted. I can't say I blame her either.  She's coming to an age where children want to be the same as other children and they want everything in their life to be ordered. I remember having a biological Father and a step-Father around the age of 8 and hating that I had two Dads. I didn't want two Dads. I just wanted the one.

With all this in mind there is a part of Katie's life story that we haven't really shared with her yet.  This is the fact that her Birth Father has had another child. Katie has a sister.  When I've shown her pictures I have shown her the baby and told her that her BF has had this child with his girlfriend but I've not said she is her half-sister.  With Kip it always felt more straightforward because we knew we would have direct contact but with her sister that is unlikely to happen.  With her sister it will also raise the questions of "Why can't I see her?" and "Why is she living with BF and I wasn't able to?".  It's a good question and the answer is one of BF getting a bit older and a change of circumstances and a different BM.  How can you explain that to a 6 year old though?  TCM and I have discussed this situation on several occasions and debated what we tell Katie about it.  At the moment though I feel she has far too much on her 6 year old plate to come to terms with without adding a scenario that we are unable to influence for her.

This leads me onto a wider issue.  When you adopt you are encouraged to be as open as possible with your children about their adoption.  This is the current thinking.  I'm aware from my own training that psychological practises change and adapt all the time as more research data comes to light.  My parental instincts are shouting at me not to tell her about her sister at the moment but then that leads to us someday having a big reveal where we share the information and wonder how Katie will react.  There is also the issue that we have no background information on Pip's BF whatsoever and I doubt we ever will get any updates. This will give us siblings that are half-blood related yet with very different stories on their BF side.  My instinct is almost to organise Katie's LSB so that the pictures and names are there and wait for her to join the dots and ask the question.

The over-riding message we receive from Social Workers is to speak openly about our children's adoptions so that they never experience a "finding out" moment but where does that advice stand when siblings come into play?  Katie was 2 when we adopted her and has always known she was adopted. I have started telling Pip stories about how he came to live with us so that those stories are part of his awareness too.  The ever-changing nature of Birth Families however means that we will always get information second-hand (if we're lucky) and we will probably often face this dilemma of what and when we tell our children.  I am also very aware that each time a piece of information is shared it rakes up emotions that our children may not always be ready to handle.  It's a huge responsibility as an adoptive parent knowing when to share.  We are already seeing how unsettled Katie is.  She's had to deal with an unsettled school month when her teacher was away and all the emotions of seeing Kip.  She is clearly unsettled about her Birth Mum at the moment.  I think that's enough for anyone to handle, let alone a 6 year old child.

I would welcome any thoughts and comments and stories of how other people have handled these situations. I feel very under-prepared to manage all these issues.  I know we will fumble and stumble our way through it all as best we can but I want to do better than fumble and stumble.  Advice and recommended books to read would be really appreciated.


  1. The advice we have been given by after adoption is to put the information there but not explain what it means until they ask or they are older. So it isn't hidden but they don't have yo deal with it until they are old enough to start to understand. But this advice was about a relationship which is possibly more complex. I think go with your gut, do what feels right to you, you are the expert in your children.

    1. That sounds pretty much what I was thinking doesn't it? It makes sense and is good advice for many scenarios really. Thank you for sharing. x

  2. My children were all over 5 so they knew about their story, however as they are reaching teenage years one by one they are struggling to understand, rather than just 'know'.
    We have always been very open with them about everything and I believe they are in a better position because of it.
    Not easy though...

    1. Thanks Annie. I am a big proponent of an open approach. I know that we can't prevent the emotions that they will feel and how they will express them. I suspect I worry about it too much but I just want to protect them. It's good to hear that your children are in a better place for the openness though. Thank you for taking the time to comment. x

  3. The difficulty for us has been working out how much detail to share as the boys get older.
    When they were first with us we simply said that their birth parents couldn't take care of them. By the time they're teenagers we want them to know all the details that we know.
    The tricky bit has been getting from that early basic story to the full technicolour. Unfortunately, the details are different for each child, and every child's understanding develops at a different rate.
    The boys are more interested sometimes than others, so we go with that. When they ask a lot of questions, we assume that means it's time to give them more detail. They're ten and seven now and know more than they used to, but there's a few things left to explain. Sometimes we talk about who their 'real' parents are, and I always say that they can decide how they feel about their birth parents and how they feel about me. But, I love them, and they are my real children! I also say that I met their birth parents who do love them too (but I know not all adopters can say that).
    No advice, I'm afraid. But, lots of sympathy!, and similar experiences. It is tricky and it'll be hard to know if we get it right!

    1. Thank you for sharing. It's reassuring to read that we are all working in a similar vein to each other and saying similar things. We didn't get to meet our children's BPs sadly. We had two failed attempts with BM but she sadly feels it's too much for her and I can understand and empathise with how she feels. We do have people in the children's lives though who knew her fairly well so that is something at least. I think you're right, it will be hard to know if we got it right and with so many emotions at play I suspect there isn't a "right" way really. x

  4. My daughter is 5 and born from my tummy, so not adopted at all. However, she came via IVF using donated sperm and donated ovum - both anonymously donated with no chance of tracing them. DD is mine with no other family available to her at any time in her life. Atm she accepts that we are a family without a Daddy. She doesn't yet know that you need a 'daddy' to be made. A friend at school told her she must have had a daddy who died. She came home and told me and we agreed that the friend was wrong - we never had a daddy. I don't have a life-story book for her. I've shown her the hospital where the doctor put her in my tummy to grow and when she was big enough he took her out and gave her to me to bring home. Her biggest concern was where I had a hole for this to happen. I don't know how this will play out in the future but I don't feel the need to go into details until she's a bit more aware of biological issues. When I read your posts I feel that our situation is a lot less complicated than yours. I wonder if ours will end up more complicated in the end, who knows?

    1. You raise an interesting point and you'll have to let me know how it pans out in the longer term. There are so many ways of creating families these days and for us we have many questions that can't be answered. The LSB only gives an answer from one perspective really and that's the view of Social Services. It doesn't tell the story of how their BM felt at having them taken from her or how she has felt all these years since. All that is part of the story as well. We had a lot of the biology questions when Katie was aged 3-4 but she's not asked many questions since. There is a great book called "Mummy Laid an Egg" which gives a great biological explanation for children about sex and babies. I've not had to read it to Katie yet because my explanations have sufficed (one of the benefits of being a Sex-Ed teacher I guess!). Mind you, explaining to a little one is very different than working with year 9 and above which is what I'm used to! x

  5. My boy also has a half-sib on his father's side. I wonder why it is that sibs on the father's side are so rarely included in contact arrangements, etc. All I know about this child is that she is a girl and she is a bit older. She lives with her mum. While I see that it's probably a bit unfair to drag this lady into a load of complicated adoption contact scenarios, I do feel sad that my son will have such limited information about his half-sister. We don't have our LS book yet (it's only been a year since final order after all!! lol!) but I'll be very surprised if she's even mentioned in it, considering how difficult it was to persuade BD to share any info at all - the only photo we have of him is a school portrait handed over by his mother. So complex.

  6. FinallyAFamily201325 May 2014 at 00:32

    Our son said he wanted to go live with Birth Mum and Birth Dad (he used their names) to which we told him that firstly this is not possible as it has been decided in court that he is legally not allowed to. However (I found out via his SW) we also told him that even if the court had not decided that it would not be possible anyway as Birth Mum and Birth Dad were no longer together. We told him that Birth Dad had met a new lady and had two children with her and then had left her with the children whilst he met yet another new woman and currently had a child with her. I told him "you have half-brothers or sisters" but it was just a "phrase" as he is too young to understand what a half-brother etc "is" - he seems to struggle to comprehend "brothers and sisters" since he was only 3.5 when he had his final contact with Birth Mum and brothers and sisters. We said to him we understand it gets complicated but soon we will have a family tree (an explained what that was) which would show him in a picture how his family "looked" when on paper.


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