When we first began the adoption process for kiddo number two, we knew without a doubt that we wanted to adopt an older, waiting child. After our first adoption, it had become painfully evident that the overwhelming majority of those highly touted “147 million” orphans were indeed older, waiting children, many of whom have special needs. Hubby and I vowed that we would never again “wait” for a child to come along when there are literally millions of kids waiting for a family this very instant. The problem was that due to Little Man’s young age, we didn’t want to bring home a child that was much older than him, but instead we wanted a child more similar in age. In the adoption world, that created a very complex situation.
This situation is known as artificial twinning, pseudo twinning or virtual twinning. Officially, this happens when two children who are not biologically related, but are within nine months of age, are raised together. The children can be adopted at the same time, close in time, or it can happen as it did in our family…..one child was home for nearly 2.5 years before the other, older child joined the family. Our boys are seven months apart. Our younger son came home at 11 months. Our older son came home at 4 years of age. So what is the big deal? you might ask. Well, whenever birth order is disrupted, it is a big deal. Adopting “out of order” is usually a big no-no in the world of adoption. And sometimes for good reason….think about it, Little Man went from being the “oldest,” only child to having a big brother. In essence, he had been demoted in his very own family. You can imagine the distress this could create in even the most well-adjusted child.
So we did both; we created virtual twins while adopting out of birth order. So were we crazy and careless, or calculated and informed? I’d like to think the latter. In this post I will be weaving the issues of artificial twinning and birth order disruption together, although they both indeed stand alone and present their own unique challenges. In our case, these issues overlap and I tend to lump them together as one challenging unit.
OK, let me also be clear here: This post does not apply to people who domestically adopt two unrelated infants/newborns at the same time and raise them as true “twins.” I believe that is an entirely different situation altogether, and I personally don’t agree with it. I actually never even knew that existed until I did some research for this post! So if you landed here for that discussion…sorry, this post is not for you.
When we first decided to pursue adopting big brother I scoured every crevice of the internet to find any information or resources available for this complex and highly controversial topic. And you know what I found? Not much. I found a few personal stories of how artificial twinning had gone horribly wrong and a few stories of how it had gone right. I heard a child psychologist speak on the matter (which was very encouraging, btw) and I read a few blog posts, spoke to our agency and that was about it. If you know me, then you know I like to have a lot more to go on. I knew there were many families out there in our situation, but I truly wanted to know more…in gritty detail….about how to parent my virtual twins in a way that wouldn’t mess them up. My analytical brain was not satisfied with only a few sources of information. So, I decided a long time ago to write this post in hope that it could help someone else. I wanted to wait until I was at a point when I could feel confident that my opinion was meaningful, Now that we have reached the six month home mark with big brother, I feel it is time.
I will be the first to admit that I believe artificial twinning can be a slippery slope to navigate. Let me also say that it has been successful for us and these are the reasons why:
1) Although my children are seven months apart in age, chronologically speaking, they are not twins in terms of mental age. Little man is almost 4 years old right now. He is advanced for his age and I would even dare to say that mentally he is closer to 5 in some areas. Big brother is 4.5 years old right now and is significantly delayed. Mentally he is at the 2-3 year old level, at best.
2) Due to number 1 above, we have a vast difference in maturity levels, and therefore responsibilities and privileges look very different for my two boys.
3) Little man was already home and securely attached before big brother came along.
4) Little man was involved in each step of the adoption of big brother, and he understood much of what was happening.
I realize that my four points above are very unique to our situation, and that most who find themselves with artificial twins have situations that look very, very different. In our case, the effects of twinning are not evident. Little man assumes the role as big brother although he is technically younger. Therefore, it is as if birth order has not been disrupted. That, I believe, has been the single most important factor for our success story. Will it always look this way in our home? I don’t know. There are some complications because Big Brother is now beginning to realize that he doesn’t get to do all the things that Little Man does. Little Man has more repsonsibilites and he also gets to function a more independantly when out in public. Even though Big Brother is physically capable of doing things that Little Man does, he is not allowed due to his maturity level or lack of comprehension. It gets…sticky, sometimes. There is frustration for Big Brother and a lack of understanding for Little Man on why there are differences in the first plase. We are very much a work in progress and I find myself re-evaluating my parenting tactics on a continual basis.
I have seen a lot of families adopt their pseudo twins together (or close together) and I have to say that I have a new found respect for them. I believe that it can be a wonderful, positive way to build a family as long as you know the risks involved, and as long as you know that a lot of hard work will be required to help everyone navigate their place in the family (not to mention that you double the initial adjustment “load” once home, which is pretty significant). I am not against it in any way, although I can see how it can become an extremely difficult situation if not handled appropriately. I also think families need to be aware that pseudo twinning makes the complicated process of attachment even more difficult.
My advice? Parent each child individually. Take power away from the terms of “big” or “little” (or even “twin” which we don’t use, btw) by creating an environment where responsibilities and privileges are based on maturity level and not chronological age. Help each child find their place in the family, remembering that things can and do change over time. Make sure–and I mean really make sure— that you spend quality one-on-one time with each child, each day. Parent them where they are. Celebrate their strengths. Sounds like good old fashioned parenting, right? It is, but with a deeper awareness of how birth order and sense of birth order affect family dynamics. In our case, Big Brother’s special needs play a larger role in our dynamics than birth order confusion. But it is still important to consider and remember.
It is my hope that if you were hesitant to pursue adoption of a waiting or special needs child based on fear of birth order disruption, that you will now revisit the idea. Please consider speaking to a child psychologist or adoption specialist and weigh the pros and cons carefully. I, for one, can say that it worked for us. In fact, I believe that Big Brother has greatly benefitted from having a brother who is chronologically close in age. It’s not all roses and sunshine, but it works…wonderfully. What about you guys out there? For those in similar situations, what’s your greatest piece of advice for making it work?