Does adoption positively or negatively affect children already in the family and what can parents do to lessen the negative impacts. We discuss this topic with Dr. Jana Hunsley, an experimental psychologist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and TBRI® Practitioner, specializing in understanding and meeting the needs of siblings is foster and adoptive families.
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Welcome, everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport both the host of the show as well as the director of creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about a topic near and dear to my heart. And that is how does adoption affect the siblings already in a family. Make sure you listen to the end because we're going to give you some practical tips. So you don't want to miss that. We're going to be talking about the impact of adoption on siblings with Dr. Jana Hunsley. She is an experimental psychologist, a licensed clinical social worker, and TBRI® practitioner. And over the years, she has worked in various settings with children and youth who have experienced trauma including outpatient counseling, residential treatment, institutional care, schools, child welfare, and juvenile detention. Jana's experience as a sibling in an adoptive family has led her to this work, and to her current focus, which is understanding and meeting the needs of every member of the foster and adoptive family, especially the often invisible siblings, Dr. Hunsley, welcome to Creating a Family. I am so glad people are talking about this issue. And so I'm thrilled to have you here with us.
Thank you. I'm so glad to be here with you today.
You know, I think my interest in this it's partly very personal and that my family is formed through both adoption as well as birth. So I think I've always been aware of that. But I've also been interviewing adoptees and others in this field, but particularly adoptees I have been interviewing for the last 14 years, I guess. And I have noticed the same thing. And I think that a lot of adoptive people know the same thing. And so I'm really fascinated by this. And I've read your research with a great deal of interest. But before we talk about your research, I wanted to talk about your own story. Because what led you to your personal your professional interests was your personal life experience. Yours is a family that's mixture of birth and adoption as well. So tell us kind of how it played out? How many, how many birth children and how old were the birth children when the adopted children were adopted?
Yeah, yes, I have a mixture of adopted and biological siblings. I'm one of 12 in my family. So it's a very large family. And I grew up as three or four until I was 16 years old. And when I was 16, I went to Taiwan with my parents and my brother. And we brought home my three little brothers who were six year old twins and a five year old. And that experience changed all of my life completely.
As well, your parents life, I would add,
yes, it changed our whole family. And we had no clue what we were getting into as a family system. I very much believed as a naive teenager, that we were just bringing home, three little boys that were just going to be part of our family, and had no idea that those three boys being added to our family was going to change the entire way we functioned as a family. So my whole life changed when I was 16. And we kind of got to a little bit of a normal for us, not normal for anyone else. And then when I was 18, we brought home my six year old sister, five year old brother and two year old brother from Ethiopia. So again, a sibling set of three that came home at one time. And again, we got kind of thrown all in the transition the craziness. And then my last sibling came home when I was 21. And he was a six year old that was adopted from Ghana. So seven siblings that were adopted internationally, all from different countries, two sibling sets. And so if you do the math, it was seven siblings that came home within four years. So it was a huge, huge change. Huge adjustment for our family.
Yeah, I can can only imagine. And you know, most most of the focus of adoption literature and research is on the adopted child and the adoptive parents with very little attention to the kids already in the family. Let's talk before we go into your research. How did you feel as a 16 year old and an 18 year old with the addition of these children? Yeah,
I loved them. I was so excited for them to become part of my family. I thought they were the cutest little kids. And I was very proud for them to be my brothers and sister. And also it was incredibly challenging. And I think I remember feeling like I was almost just pushed to the side and kind of became invisible and my family which I'm sure we'll talk about later, but also just felt like overnight, I had to grow up and be an adult. Like no longer was I a daughter, but I became like another caretaker in our family just because the needs of my siblings were so great that it required all of us to be All Hands in just to survive each day. So for me, it was, it was both and it was it was incredibly good. And I love my siblings so much and also incredibly hard at the same time having to face challenges and grieve the loss of a lot of things and experience a lot of change there weren't really worried for a while I'll just feeling really alone in it. Because it wasn't something that was this, this role in a family system was not talked about. It wasn't something that there was any awareness of that I was even affected by it. And so I just kind of silently dealt with it.
And your parents added a lot of kids in a short period of time. Yes, very much. So. Yeah. So tell us about your research on adopted siblings, and they were going to talk about some of the issues. Yeah, yeah.
So like I said, when this kind of goes back to a little bit of my professional work before I started my research. So like I said, I thought that my experience was unique to me, I didn't realize that this was an experience that a lot of people have in adoptive families. And I thought my experience was unique, because I had so many siblings come home in such a small amount of time, because there was such a huge age difference. There is a lot of trauma, all of these things is like this is why it was so hard for me. And this is why no one's talking about it. And it wasn't until I became a therapist that worked with adoptive families, where I realized, Wait, this is not actually unique to me. And this is actually something that a lot of children are struggling with. And they don't have as big of a family or as big of an age gap, or all of these other things. Their families didn't look like mine. But yet there was such similarities in our roles and experiences in the family. So I was I did that work for a while as a therapist, and then that's what motivated me to go and get my PhD in experimental psychology and do research specifically on siblings, and adoptive and foster families and what their experience was to to learn more and to really just begin the dialogue around what this member of the family is experiencing
it through your research, you have found some commonalities and common challenges. And the first one you've already mentioned, and I want to talk about that more, is the feeling of being invisible. And I interviewed an adopted person one time and he was the think I'm remembering this correctly. There were three children in the family. He was the only adopted child and he was a transracial adoptees, a white family, he was a black child, and is now in a black adult. And he said, he said without a question, I always knew that I was kind of maybe the favorite. And he said, and it was It struck me as a really interesting statement. And I've talked with some other adoptive people, and I'm sure many would disagree with that. But it's not an uncommon thing. And I think that may tie into that feeling of being invisible, perhaps I'm not sure. Tell us what you mean by the feeling of being invisible.
Yeah, when I mean, when I talk about invisibility for this sibling, so I'm talking about is really that they don't receive as much attention in the family system. And that can be for a variety of reasons. In my specific family. It was because my younger siblings had such great needs, that it demanded my parents constant attention and focus. And with that many siblings that were younger, who had such great needs, there was no time left to pay any attention to what was going on in my life. And so I became just invisible, pushed to the side pushed to the backburner and didn't receive the same attention I used to receive. And that's something that I hear a lot from siblings and families, because they often were already part of the family before adoption, or before foster care. And so then you have that this way that you operate with your within your family, you have the relationship with your parents that you have, you have your use to gain a certain amount of feedback or attention or time with your parents, and then adoption or foster care happens and all of a sudden that shifts. And so that's because they're having to focus so much on the other child. But that leads the siblings to feel very invisible in the family because they are experiencing such a dramatic shift.
And I think this with this adoptee. he termed it favoritism. But I think, I don't know not putting words in his mouth. But it seems to me that it could also be that just more attention was being focused on Him whether or not he was the favorite. But but more attention was very focused. Yeah, yeah. And from your research, this is a common feeling of the adoptive siblings already in the family. And let me add that those could be siblings by birth, as in your case, but they could also be siblings that had been adopted into the family, perhaps with fewer needs than the new arrivals.
Absolutely. And that's a huge piece that I always talk about, because I don't like it being biological versus adoptive versus foster children in the family because I think it makes it It simplifies it way too much. And I have worked with so many siblings who were adopted them themselves so they have all of their own experiences and things they need to deal with as an adoptee on top of also being in this role in their family as well.
Let me pause here for a minute tell you about a free educational resource. Thanks to our partners, the jockey being Family Foundation, we are offering you five free online courses through our creating a family.org online Parent Training Center. You would go to Bitly slash JBS support, bi T dot L y slash JVs. Support, and you will see all five of the horses they are free, thanking jockey being family. Another challenge that siblings of adopted children have is and this is particularly the case in your case, it's coping with overwhelmed and distracted parents, parents who are you know, are stretched pretty thin? How did that impact you? And how and what do you see for other with other siblings?
Yeah, at the time, when I was living in it, I I've consciously felt that I wanted to just help. I just wanted to help my siblings, I wanted to help my parents because I felt the stress and I felt the chaos I felt how overwhelmed they were. I saw how wrong they were. So I just wanted to help to make things better to try to do whatever thing everything I could do possible to ease their burden, ease their stress levels. Now after doing more research on it, and just processing more of what that experience was, I also realized that there's so much grief attached to this process, when you go through a really significant change like this in your family, especially when you weren't prepared for it. And so what I see now that what I was doing, and what I've seen so many other siblings do as well, is almost trying to ease the stress and ease the burden by acting as another parent or another caregiver in the family act as an emotional support for their parents, they do all of those things, to try to get their parents back. Because so much has changed in their life. They're experiencing change in who they are, how they see the world, changing their family, changing their relationships, changing the way they view the world. And they see their parents day in and day out being so different. I remember for myself, my parents for the first 16 years of my life, to me were such steady, stable caregivers, they always had the answer to everything, they were certain they knew. They're just so stable. And then as soon as my siblings came into our home, all of a sudden, my parents who had seen us steady, stable rocks, were now uncertain and overwhelmed and stressed and emotional. And that felt unsafe for me that felt made my worlds feel uncertain and chaotic. And so I did everything possible, to try to ease their burden and ease their stress that maybe I could get the parents I had known for the first 16 years of my life back. If I could do all these things to help maybe they would be the parents I used to now,
did you also try to be extra good, that's another thing that we sometimes see is our extra accomplished, you know, number one, really good, you know, not causing them any problem. Quite frankly, I think he could cut both ways. Because you can also then try to get the attention by being just the opposite, acting out so that you're reclaiming some of the attention. Let me just ask for you. And then we'll talk about what you see and others. For you. It sounds like you tried to be the parent to the take on some of the parenting role, which is we have a name for that for the vacation but becoming a parent parental fi child. Did you also try to be extra good?
Yes, yeah. And I was already a little bit more of a perfectionist. And, oh, it wasn't as much as trying to be perfect, but it was trying not to have any needs. Yes, I did everything possible to take care of myself, because my parents didn't have the time for me. And so it was that like, if I go to them with a need, it hurts when they aren't able to meet it or when they're distracted and don't even hear me and don't aren't even aware that I have the need. So what I did was just try not to have any needs and just try to be independent and take care of myself so that I wouldn't need them. And that I wouldn't have to add any more burden to their already overwhelmed
shoulders. That makes such a such good sense. Have you seen in your research that Which one have you seen in your research, that some kids go that way? Trying to be extra good, no needs not put a burden and others go the other way, which is screaming with it by through their actions, yelling, you know, I'm over here pay attention to me. Do you see it cut both ways?
Absolutely. And I don't have what I found in terms of the patterns of it, is that oftentimes when there's a larger age gap or when the siblings are older, they tend to take on this I have no needs, I can be independent, I can take care of myself. And then when they're when the siblings are closer in age, or when the siblings are younger than the adoptee, that's when they tend to model the behavior that they're seeing. Because what's happening in their brains is, I see that when this person in the family acts this way, they get all the attention and focus. And because I'm craving that attention, focus, let me also act that way. So I can get that same attention and focus. And so we see that they often just tend to model what they see gets the attention their family,
right. Another aspect of going back to the parental fi child, another aspect is one is is that the child takes over a parenting role with their siblings. Another way that a fortified child can can express themselves is by becoming the emotional support for their parents or listening to their parents troubles and things like that. Is that a comment that form of unification? Is that? Is that fairly common as well?
Yes, yeah. And also, again, when the siblings are older at five even found it when the children are young, I've seen it in children that are as young as 910 years old, acting as an emotional support for their parents, which I find fascinating. But we see that that happens, because oftentimes, adoptive and foster families are so feel so alone, and feel so isolated. And often, you know, we don't we, it's so hard to talk about what happens in the four walls of our home. Because to talk about somebody else, we're we're afraid of judgment, or we're afraid of, you know, being critical or any,
or sharing your dirty laundry outside the family and sometimes yes, dirty laundry situation.
Yes, exactly. And so we just keep it so close inside the family system. And so oftentimes, when these parents don't have friends, or supports or professionals or family to turn to, to talk about the struggles that they're facing, they unintentionally and unconsciously, kind of keep that on the other other individuals in the family who are experiencing the same thing day in and day out. Mm hmm.
Yeah, that makes sense. That makes really good sense. You know, something that we have seen here at creating a family that doesn't get talked about is that sometimes siblings in the family are embarrassed by their siblings behavior. And, and resentful sometimes, but embarrassed is the day when they go out and their siblings act out, or, or even sometimes embarrassed, because their family now stands out. And they don't want that attention. Other kids love that attention. But did you find that in your research?
No, I didn't find that as much. But I have heard it when I'm working with clients sometimes. And I find that often when there's when the siblings don't understand as much of the why of the behavior, why there's why the adoptees by the by the children are in foster care or adopted in the family, why they are acting a certain way, how their bodies are influencing their behavior. And that's when they tend to have more of that embarrassment about it, when they understand the why behind their behavior. What's going on. I haven't experienced that embarrassment as much. Instead, what I found is that they actually are more resentful toward the parents, because they're not meeting the needs of of their siblings the way they think those needs should be met. And so they become more frustrated and angry and upset with their parents. So the blame isn't put on the child who's acting out the blame is put on the parent who's not meeting the need so that they don't act out if that makes sense.
Sure, or isn't controlling them better? Or whatever? The perception, whatever the Yeah, that makes sense. Actually, it makes really good sense. And you talked. I don't know that. Did you feel that sense of you said it was destabilizing for you that because your parents weren't the calm rocks that they had always been? Did you mourn the loss of
those parents? I didn't know that's what was happening. But yes, I did. And that is such a hard thing to grieve because they're still right there. Yeah, not a loss. There's, they're still there. But they're totally different than what they used to be. So I not only grieve the loss of my parents, but also just the loss of my family. The family I'd known for the first 16 years of my life was so different than the family I had 16 to now still, like it is very different families. And I think what was so hard is one, it was unexpected. I didn't know that. It was going to change so much that I would have these losses. So it kind of came out of nowhere. But then also it's these people are still in my daily life, but they're totally different than how they used to be. And so it's just such a complicated grief process.
Yeah, totally. It's complicated even further, because you're not able to talk about it and you're not at nobody It also recognizes it. So that leaves you alone. It's not like a typical grief, where the rest of the world recognizes it and and validates the fact that you're grieving. If anything, this, you'd be very alone and also probably trying to put feelings into words in your mouth have feelings into your mind, or your heart. But even a Do I have the right to grieve this and maybe you know, they're there. They're struggling. And, you know, I'm not struggling as much as they are. So I don't even have the right to have these feelings that I have.
Oh, my gosh, yes, that. Yeah, I don't talk about that part as much. But it's so true. Because I remember so much as a teenager, feeling like, this is really hard for me. But my siblings who are adopted have it's so much harder. And so I can't be upset about what I'm experiencing. I can't, I can't be sad about this or be angry about this or be resentful or bitter. I can't have any of those things. Because they have such a harder life than I do.
Yeah. That pain Olympics. Yeah. I am not even a medalist, you know, compared to speaking therefore, I can't have that. Yeah. Yeah. Yep. The creating a family.org podcast has extensive archives of shows related to today's topic of blending, bio and adoptive children in the family. We've been doing this podcast for 14 years. And so we have a huge library. And much of it is evergreen content, equally as relevant now as it was 12 1314 years ago, when it was recorded, you can begin listening now on your phone, or in the car, however you want. Go to your favorite podcast catcher. However you listen to your podcast, search by our title, creating a family and follow us and then scroll through the titles and download or, or stream whichever ones catch your fancy. Let's talk some about secondary trauma, because as you've pointed out, your siblings but also many children who are joined families through adoption, international adoption, adoption, through foster care, older child adoption, and other for even even domestic infant adoption come with what's less this because we're talking secondary trauma systems, not so much the domestic infant, but they join their families. And they bring they bring the baggage of the lives they lived before. Which is of course they do they have to. But the children in the family who many of them have not experienced trauma, and it's and yet they're now exposed to trauma. So talk to us a bit about secondary trauma, and how that impacts kids already in the family when we adopt a child with with trauma background.
Yes, I'm so glad that secondary trauma is something that's just starting to begin to be discussed in families. Because it's something that has been for so long, just focus in the helping profession, like the people that professionals who are helping individuals have experienced trauma, but not about the families who are living it day in and day out. And that's exactly what it is for siblings as well as parents, they are living in the daily effects of trauma on the brains and bodies of people that they love. And, and that is a secondary trauma. It's It's knowing their histories, knowing their stories, and then watching how that affects their brains, their bodies, their behavior, their beliefs, every single day. And having to live in that. It's just I mean, it's an incredibly hard experience. And again, something that can't be talked about often outside of the four walls of the home. Because it's that I remember always feeling like I can't tell my friends what's really going on, because I don't want them to think negatively of my siblings. I don't want them to judge them. I don't want them to think they're bad kids. And so I'm not going to tell them about the violent outbursts or the meltdowns, or any of those things because I I'm so protective of them. I don't want them to, to have any negative feelings about them. So I just keep it all to myself.
And I've seen it also, not just because they don't want the negative feelings towards their siblings, but also towards their family. They don't want their family to be perceived as weird or out of control or chaotic or whatever the whatever the word so it's, you know, it could cut both ways. You know, especially if their family has not been that way in the past. Not wanting to be perceived that
way. Yeah, yeah. The desire to just have a normal nice, healthy family is is a huge thing.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, we, you know, teenagers may say they decry normality, but I think that we all want that. You know, we just do we want calmness if nothing else, or just the feeling of not being if we don't want to be normal. We certainly don't want to be abnormal. Yeah, yes. Did you ever resent your siblings? for coming in and disrupting your family the way they did, which of course, I realized they didn't disrupt the family. Yes, they came in with their, with their background. And the family was disrupted as a result but the feeling of putting words in your mouth if your teenage So,
yeah, I, I did not ever I personally did not ever resent my siblings. I definitely resented my parents. And I see that being one or the other, and a lot of siblings either resent being the parents or then two siblings. For me, it was all at my parents of Why did you do this to us? And and why did you put us through this
yet? Why would you? You made this choice? Why did you do it? Yeah.
Yeah. And how could you not know this was gonna affect us? Yeah.
Yeah. And why aren't you doing better dealing with? Yes, exactly. I will say also, this is not about parents, this is about siblings. But I would throw out there that so many parents when are also feeling at this stage? Oh, my gosh, what have we gotten ourselves into? Or? I have ruined my family. Why have I done this? And how do I get out of it? That type of scenario. But that's for another show. We're paying attention to the siblings mission? How did you know you had two older and one younger sibling when your family started adopting? How did your rest of your siblings? I'm assuming your older siblings were out of the house at that point?
Yes, yeah, yeah. So I have a little bit of a unique family, like makeup, because my older two siblings were already out of the house. So they were both in college, getting married around the time of the adoption. So it wasn't, they weren't in it as much, which actually then became almost like, we were two different family systems. So I had the family I knew, for the first 16 years of my life, which is I was three or four. And then all of a sudden, like when they kind of moved out, I all of a sudden became like the oldest of the nine, the set my seven adopted siblings, my brother, and I became then like, you know, one of nine, and so experiencing that change, and that we kind of still function in that way, like different family systems.
How did your brother who was? I don't know how much younger than you? How did he deal? did he deal deal in a similar way that you did? Or did he deal with different ways?
No, he dealt differently than I did. I think because, and I, again, I find this in a lot of families, that every sibling has a different experience with it. And and a lot of it has to do with their age, their gender with all of these different things. And so for my brother, who at that point was the only son, when my family brought in three new boys, it that really changed a lot of things for him of no longer having that identity as the only son and being so connected to my father, because we lived on a farm. So they did everything together on the farm and had a really close relationship. And now all of a sudden, there's three new brothers, and now there's four sons in the family. And so that changed so much of his life, and really made him struggle with a lot of just his value in the family and his place in the family. And so he was there was more anger and resentment for him than there was for me.
That makes sense. That leads to that. What factors do you think influence the degree of the challenges that siblings face in an adoptive family? Is it their age at the time of the adoption or the age of the children being adopted? The degree of trauma how much how much trauma the children bring brought into the family, the type of the ways that this trauma expresses itself through behaviors? Yeah, so what what are some of the factors that you see make is not all families are impacted as much? And so what what are the what factors influence how much the siblings in the family will be impacted? Or could be impacted? Yeah, so that I actually did
another research study on that, because I wanted to know, after I learned about all of these experiences that siblings have, I want to know, okay, what makes like, Why do some siblings have a really positive experience? Why did some have really negative? What's going on in these families? Because how can we then support these families better? And what I found was fascinating and also extremely helpful, because it didn't have anything to do with the age of the child that was adopted or the age of the sibling or the age difference, or birth order changes, or the amount of trauma or just so many, yeah, just so many different things, none of those, like kind of demographic factors that really can't be changed. Once you bring a person into your family. Those things didn't matter. What mattered and what really affected their experience was the way the family communicated.
Ah, in what was what explained the different types of communication what worked from a communication standpoint and what didn't?
Yeah, so families who had I just cause as healthy family communication, which is where the family members feel They are free to share their thoughts and feelings openly and honestly and freely within their family system without fear of how those thoughts and feelings are going to be received. Those individuals have the most positive experiences. And I found that that's true, not just for the siblings, but also for the children who are adopted as well. They just overall have a better experience.
Interesting. And that makes that does make really good sense. But I'll admit that I would have thought that the degree of trauma for the children coming in and how and how it is expressed, would have been a factor too. But that's not what you found.
Yeah, yeah. And there was a study with about 200 adult adoptive siblings who are sharing their experience back when they lived in the home. So it's a retrospective study. And yeah, I was also fascinated by so many of those things that we often talk about in the adoption foster community, that these are the these are the don't do this, or, or do this or pay attention to this and found that those things actually didn't affect the siblings experience.
Oh, fascinating. Yeah, that's really interesting. All right. What about to do find any, or maybe through your research or through other research that you have read about the impact? Does it matter about disrupting birth order? Have you seen the degree of impact on the siblings change based on whether the birth order was disrupted? Yes,
so that was part of that study. And what I found was that for siblings, the birth order change did not affect their experience. Because again, what mattered the most was the way they communicate as a family. And if those siblings felt like they were able to share their thoughts and feelings, share their struggles, share how they were being impacted with their families, and, and be able to communicate about that openly and honestly, and just, you know, have that felt safety have that emotional safety, just to just express what you need, and what's going on. That's what mattered the most. And so, yeah, again, super fascinating to me, that birth order, which is the thing that we say so often don't change birth order. That might be the case, what I did, my research was not on the adoptees, it was on the siblings. But what I found in my research, again, with a few 100 siblings was, that doesn't affect their experience.
That's an interesting finding. Because when we talk with families who have six, we focus on families and interviewed them about who had successfully disruptive birth order, and their children seem to be doing fine. We didn't interview the kids. So I suppose that could be an argument that we really don't know. But at least from the perception, the family seemed to be due to be strong. And they disrupted birth order, but there were some universal things that they did. And part of it did relate to being able to communicate, as well as trying to give attention recognizing the the displacement and being able to talk about it was it was another thing. So yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. Hey, guys, stay up to date on the latest federal adoption policies and laws that impact families. By receiving advocacy alerts delivered right to your inbox, the National Council for adoptions online Action Center gives you the tools, talking points and facts, you need to speak up and be an effective adoption advocate. Visit adoption council.org/advocacy, to sign up for the alerts and make your voice heard on adoption issues that matter to you. So what can adoptive parents and for that matter, adoptive professionals to do to mitigate some of the challenges of for siblings of adopted children?
Yeah, well, I've kind of have a two part answer to that. The first one I think about is if a family is getting ready to adopt or to foster, what can you do to best prepare the siblings in the family for that. And one of the things I found in my research study as well was siblings had a much more positive experience in their families and in the relationships in those families, if their voice was heard from the beginning, so if they were just asked from the beginning, hey, this is what we're thinking of doing as a family. What are your thoughts? How do you feel about this, and getting their voice heard at the beginning, gate, like shared some power with them, which I think is so important, because one of the things that we have to be careful of is it's, I hear this sometimes in the adoption and foster community is that we're just bringing another child just like if you know, if the mom were to birth the child, we wouldn't be asking the children's permission to do this. But it's such a different experience, because often we're bringing in a child who's experienced a lot of trauma, and that trauma is going to affect the whole family. And so, really making sure to have those conversations before a child comes into the home to talk through those things and and to get there opinion to have their voice be heard. But then also just to prepare them, how does trauma affect the brain and body? How did like what are the things that might happen in the family? And what are the things that we know are going to stay true, as much as we can, as the family, those family rituals or things like that, that we're going to do as a family that we are going to work so hard not to change, but just to prepare them better for that. So that's kind of what in terms of before you adopt, or foster, those are the things those, that's the advice I'd give.
And, you know, I also think you can seek input without seeking permission. So it's not that you're seeking your child's permission, but you are seeking their input. And it may be that if they are so strongly against it, that this is not a good fit for your family. But it also may be that they're expressing what they don't want to lose. And they're giving you a heads up on how you need to you as a parent, need to approach this so that you can meet the needs of these kids. Because I do hear parents saying, it's not the it's not a child's place in a family to decide whether or not another child is at it. And they go back and forth thing. And I I think about that, and I agree with you that I think it's somewhat different because of trauma. But I also think it's different because I don't necessarily think you're asking permission. You're listening. And you're Yeah, so that's how I view it anyway. Yeah,
yeah, exactly. Because what when you're just seeking their input, what you're saying is your voice matters to me. Yeah, that is so important. Especially when we're thinking about building that kind of healthy family communication, those are just easy steps to do to build that
your voice matters, you matter, your needs matter. And we want to do this in a way that we want to adopt this child. And but we want to do that in a way that doesn't denigrate your needs, so that we could still meet, you are still important to us and setting that up at the beginning. I love that idea that because that's the kind of the heart, it seems to me the communication you were talking about, you know, you start at the beginning, and then it makes a whole lot easier as time goes on. Alright, so you said it was a two part answer on what we could do as parents or professionals to mitigate some of the challenges for siblings of adopted children. So one starts in the preparation. What was the second part? Yeah.
So the second part is for all of those parents who are like, Well, I'm already in it. They're already part of our family. But
thanks a lot. Where were you years ago?
Yeah, we're struggling right now. So what do we do? Yeah, and I think one is that's really important to do is to have some one on one time with each of your children in your family. And this could be five minutes, 10 minutes, it doesn't, I always am very careful not to make it as this is a scripted, make sure you spend this amount of time every day or once a week, because every family, it's going to look different for every family and every season of their lives. But the point is, is to make sure to have that one on one time with each of your children, whatever that looks like, just to show to give them that undivided attention to say, you matter, I love you just for who you are, you are worth my time you are worth I am, you know, I'm stressed, you know, I'm overwhelmed. But you are worth my time and attention. And I'm going to give this space to you. And that's so important to do. So that's the first part is that just giving that one on one time. And again, that can look so different based on the season, it could be a 10 minute conversation, that's just intentional conversation with your teen as you are, you know, cooking a meal or doing something like that it could also be 10 minutes of play, or 20 minutes of play with your child, it doesn't really matter the purpose, the point is just to have that one on one time with your child. And the second part is really starting to build the habits of healthy communication. Some families already have this, and it's working for them very well and other families need to start to build that. And it's not an easy process to build that changing the communication pattern of a family is a very hard process because it's creating new habits in the way that you communicate and the way that you and with that you communicate as a parent, your thoughts and feelings and the way that you're mindful and aware of what's happening in your brain and what's what your needs are. But then also being attuned to the other members of the family and that takes a lot of time to build.
And sometimes you don't have you don't feel like you have that time then. So is that where family therapy can come in?
It depends. I think one of the things so I give like specific tips on how to do I call it like building a healthy a home of healthy communication. There's five tips that I give that are just can be really easy things just to change and how the family communicates day in and day out because I am very aware Have you all stressful and chaotic and busy a family can be. And so it's not like, oh, I have an hour a day to devote to this, right. But there's just some really basic things that you can change about your day, give us your five tips, give us five tips. So the first one is to build that foundation of mindfulness, so as the caregiver, to just be aware of your own thoughts and feelings, so that you can show up well, and the relationships in your family, so that you when, when your child comes to you, you're not reacting to them out of your own stress or out of your own triggers or frustrations, but you're able to be present with them. And so building that foundation is so important. And I would say that if someone doesn't have that, and is struggling to have that, I think that's for therapy for that individual, or some self awareness, coaching or counseling would be really important for the caregiver. So that's that foundation. And there's two things that I kind of serve as like the scaffolds that you do consistently over time. The first is to model openness. So as the caregiver, we don't I don't know if we spend enough time talking about this, but that our children are so aware of what we do, and, and model what we do as caregivers. And so to be able to just model the openness of sharing, verbally sharing, when you're struggling, when you're frustrated, when you're sad to verbally say I'm feeling this way because of this, and here's what I'm going to go do to take care of it. And as a caregiver, you're usually already feeling that, but it's just learning to verbalize that just to stay to out loud, because what your children are hearing is one, it's okay and normal to have negative feelings or to be struggling or to have all these different feelings. And also, we can take care of it, there's things we can do to manage it, and to take care of ourselves. And so modeling that is really important, because then it will help the child begin to open up as well. And so that modeling openness is the one asking questions is the other one, just asking open ended questions to that to your children. I always say that if your family gets together on the dinner table every night, that's a really easy time to build this family ritual in where you focus on just asking how the day how the day was maybe asking what was a really good part of your day? What was the best part of your day? What was a really hard part of your day? And just asking those kinds of things just to get, hey, I'm interested in what's going on your life, I want to know what's happening. Please tell me and doing that. Over time, you'll find that between modeling openness and asking questions, your children will start to open up to you and share those things and feel safe and comfortable coming to you as a caregiver to share what's going on in your life. And the last two things are being receptive. That is so important, which starts back with the mindfulness piece of being receptive to what your children come and tell you. Because sometimes, when a caregiver isn't mindful, and is really stressed and overwhelmed, what happens when your child comes to you, you either can shut them down, dismiss them, ignore them be distracted, and not pay attention to them all, unintentionally. But that sends a lot of messages to your child about, I can't come to you when I'm struggling. What you're saying
is Don't burden me. Even if I don't want to be even if you would, that's not your intent. If you're not receptive, what you're basically saying is I cannot deal with one more thing. And you're one more thing.
Yes, exactly. So being receptive is so important. And and also just to be able to hear from their perspective, because they might come to you with something and you're about maybe even about adoption about something that they're struggling with in the family system. And you don't agree with it. And you you don't think that that's true, both in that moment, what's important is just to put yourself in their shoes and see, it makes sense that they could feel this way. And it's okay if I don't feel the same way. So being receptive in that way knowing that every family member has such different personalities and experiences. And so everyone's going to experience everything in very different ways. And the last thing is just to affirm their preciousness affirm their value. That is something that we talk a lot about a lot with a child who comes into our home who's adopted of let's make sure that they know how much they matter, let's let's build up their self worth their self esteem, to help them know that they are loved and valued just for being part of the family. And they're wanted, because they have so many messages about not feeling good enough. But for siblings, they mean that as well. Because there's been so much changed in their family, they need to know I love you for who you are. And I'm so glad you're my daughter. I'm so glad you're my son, I'm so glad you're my child. And just to tell them constantly, you matter so much so that when they're telling themselves lies about, about their worth, about their visibility about their role in the family about whether or not they can come to you. They know unequivocally, I matter. And I am loved just for who I am this family.
Mm hmm. Yeah, that's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. You know, we've talked about some of the negative things or potentially negative things for biologic or children already in the family. With the adoption of a new Child, what are some of the benefits of adoption to bio siblings, and they're not by all the siblings in the family?
Yeah, this is something that I want to do more research on, because I find it fascinating. But what I've found is that siblings often tend to be incredibly empathetic and compassionate adults, even even as children, but then also become very empathetic and compassionate adults. And what I think is happening, this is what I want to do research on one day is they are experiencing this big change. And also having somebody who's experienced trauma come into their family, and they're learning all about trauma and how that affects a person and they're seeing how that plays out in daily life. And while they're while they're still developing while their brain is still developing. And, and I think that has that almost helps to improve their empathy and compassion and understanding of others and of relationships and of the world, because they're living it out as their brain is still developing. And so it seems to impact them at a much deeper level. And so yeah, they just become very empathetic, very compassionate, understand people, they also become very mature. This is something where oftentimes, they, because they've lived so much in the four walls of their home, and through their experiences, they see the world differently. And they are just so much more mature than other than their peers and other people that are their age because of what they're living in their lives. And they often tend to see, I think I mentioned this already, but they tend to have a much wider worldview, and much more aware of why we're here on this earth. What's the purpose of my life? How do I how do I build a meaningful life as a person, and that's what their focus tends to be on. And I've even found in my research that, and part of this has to do with my participant pool, but a lot of them go on to adopt or foster as adults are going to profession where they're helping children. Because they've experienced so much as a child. They want to help other children who have who have experienced hurt who have experienced trauma.
First and yeah, that, yeah, it's hard to Yeah, I'm sitting here thinking, and I can I definitely know of situations, and I don't know, if that's universal, or it's just, you know, self that it's it's selection bias, you know, because I'm there who I happen to be thinking of added curiosity, have you timed? Sure you have doing this research? If you talked with your parents? What is was their perception at this time? And where did how did they feel about it now?
Yeah, I mean, they were just trying to survive. And they will say that it was it was survival for a very long time. And so they, like so many parents had to just narrow in on what was right in front of them on the crisis that was brought to them that day, that hour, that minute, and just meeting the needs of that. And they they will say they'll be the first ones to say I had no idea. We had no idea. This was going to affect our other children. We didn't have a clue. Because they went into this whole process. As we've already successfully parented, multiple children, we've got this, we can do this without knowing this is an entirely different type of parenting that you're about to do. And so yeah, they went they they, they were in survival for so long, and can look back now and say, I I had no idea that this was going to affect affect you and your siblings the way that I did, while also just, you know, acknowledging that, that it was also incredibly hard on them, because they were so stressed and overwhelmed and, and couldn't find the support they needed to meet the needs of my siblings.
Yeah, yeah. That's a good point. And that's how it that's how it often works. Well, thank you so much, Dr. Jana Hensley for speaking with us today about how adoption affects the siblings already in the family. And I want to I'm very curious about your your research. And so as you continue to do research, let us know we would love to help you publicize it. And to our audience. Thank you for joining us, and I will see you next week.
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