Thursday, February 9, 2012

Adopting the older/younger child at once

I received this question from Cindy today:

"So, if you adopt a younger one and an older one at the same time and they take comfort in each other,  how do you stop the younger one from attaching to the older one out of sheer survival in the beginning? I hope that makes sense. Thanks, Cindy"

This is a great question, and one I wouldn't have thought of addressing.

First, let me say that while we technically adopted Johanna (14) and Alyssia (2) at the same time, they actually came home six weeks apart, with Johanna being first. I had to finalize Johanna's adoption before her 14th birthday and Alyssia's paperwork didn't go through in time to travel for them together.

However, most of what we did would apply to a family adopting two at the very same time.

Gabriella (2) did come along for the trip to adopt Johanna. They certainly did not bond :). Gabbey was fussy and out-of-sorts and doesn't like for anyone to take care of her needs except Daddy, Mommy, or Ellie. She would smile and play a bit with Johanna, but since Johanna didn't know English or truly how to play with a baby, they didn't connect on any deep level.

Johanna was very excited to learn that we were bringing home "another Chinese sister" just a few weeks after she joined our family. I knew she would probably feel a deep connection to Alyssia and in a way, I was glad she would have a little "buddy".


Alyssia grieved hard and rejected Mama completely. And was more than happy to bond with Johanna immediately. She would literally scream if I touched her and run to Johanna (or anyone else who was near).

So, not only was I dealing with two newly adopted girls, but a younger one who would not even smile while I was in the same room for weeks and weeks.

I remember posting over on RQ that I felt the need to keep Alyssia away from my older girls until she had accepted me at least a little. Some were supportive, while others stated that I should allow the situation to "play out" since they would all be siblings in the end. I disagreed with that then and even more so now. I needed to bond with both girls before allowing them to bond to each other.

We did separate and severely limit the amount of play/snuggle/alone time either of the older girls had with Alyssia for a couple of months. Lyssie became "Mama's buddy" and where I went, she went. If I was washing dishes, she was on the counter. If I was doing laundry, she was on top of the dryer. If I used the bathroom, I carried her along with me. I fed, dressed, and buckled her into the carseat. (When Brent came home, Alyssia wanted nothing to do with me again, so he took over the bedtime routine for awhile.)

It certainly would have been so much easier to allow Johanna to care for and occupy Alyssia, but I was afraid that both of them, in their needy state, would bond with each other and not find the need for Mama. Alyssia would reach for Johanna and cry for "jie jie" and it. was. hard. On all of us. For about two months.

Slowly but surely, our sweet beautiful Alyssia started to accept me (the whole "parent rejection" thing is another post altogether) and at the same time, we allowed Johanna to be with her more. They definitely feel something special for each other and it works out wonderfully, because Eliana (9) and Gabbey have a deep sisterly bond already, so both older girls have their baby. They are responsible for buckling each baby girl into their carseats and taking care of them in the van. Often, the older girls will bathe and/or dress the little girls, do their hair or take them to play. The buddy system works great now.

Communicating with the older child that "the little one needs to learn to love Mama first" can be hard, especially with the language barrier. We used google translate and lots of repetitive teaching to show Johanna that Alyssia would love her soon, but she needed to be patient and trust Daddy and Mama, even when it was very hard.

Alyssia's bond with me is just precious now. She is open, affectionate, and clearly prefers me to anyone (but Brent, of course!). She no longer exhibits the behaviors that were such clear warning signs in the beginning. We are confident that as time goes on, our attachment will grow even deeper.

In the end, I'm so thankful that Johanna and Alyssia can share this special love for each other. When Johanna is feeling insecure, sometimes she will scoop Alyssia up into her arms and have a good long snuggle. Perhaps she is a tangible reminder of all things China. Perhaps it just feels nice to know someone besides Daddy and Mama loves you unconditionally.

Perhaps it is just that no one can resist Alyssia's chubby cuteness, Johanna least of all. :) 


  1. Thank you so much. That definitely answers my curiosities about the bonding process. It is so nice to have someone share their experiences.
    Thank you!

  2. That is a nice story. We adopted a girl 10 and a 7 y.o. boy at the same time. They were told 21 days before we got to China they would be siblings and they were definitely bonded when we got there. However, they still treated me like the mom. I did notice the girl would watch that I did not treat her new brother badly. For the first 6 months home I would say that they liked one another much better than their other siblings. Eventually, though it all evened out and they don't play favorites.

  3. Selena, Thank you for posting this. As you know, we brought home two boys (both supposedly 14) about 4 months apart. While having Colin with me in China was a HUGE blessing for Cameron (our second) and for me, we have battled a few of those same behaviors also. We finally decided to put our oldest in school (8th grade) while we worked on bonding with the middle child during the day. Not only was he more comfortable going to his bigger, chinese brother for information and comfort, but their bond was costing our youngest son a lot too since our 7 year old does not speak Mandarin and the older two do. All in all, we have seen wonderful progress, especially as it relates to schoolwork and bonding during the day. I still have to remind our oldest that we are the parents and that he is not responsible for Cameron and needs to back off sometimes and allow us to give instructions and discipline. We have only been home with him since Christmas Eve, so it is still pretty early. Thanks for the insights. Angie


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