Open Adoption Roundtable #26: Talking about siblings in adoption

Brothers brothers brothers/Mama C and the Boys 2011

Because we are beginning to talk more and more about our upcoming trip to the West Coast to meet Sam’s first mom, siblings, and grandparents this Open Adoption Roundtable jumped out at me.

…talk about siblings in open adoption. It may be that birth parents are parenting older or younger siblings…What words do we use to talk about that? How do we frame it? What questions or issues have come up?

In our house, Sammy has known about his siblings, since before he could talk. He met them at the hospital before his first mom was discharged, and before he was placed into my strong and shaking arms, by her stronger and shaking arms!  He has seen many of the group shots from that day. We also have family portraits all over the house of her and her older children updated annually.

It wasn’t until he was developmentally ready to get that those beautiful brown kids who were her beautiful brown kids, were also his siblings. I remember the first time it came up, when he was newly five. It was accidental and semi perfect. He was looking at their picture, and asked me whose kids they were. I asked him who he thought they were, and before we knew it, Sam has big brothers and a sister. To him it was the jack pot. He asked over and over if it was true, and was he really their brother too?

I explained that since they shared the same first mom, that they all came from her tummy that they were all related as brothers and sisters. I gave examples of the word related in our family.  I explained that although she chose me to be his every day mommy, that didn’t change that they were still related. They would always be brothers and sister. They had different mommies, and the same mommy.  I think he had tuned me out by then.

Marcel did not join in on the conversation until months later. Here is an excerpt from that conversation in this post on the bog last year:

Sam: Mom, can I see a picture of my brothers and sister?

Me: (hesitant, since lights were already out, but considering that he has never asked before I oblige) Sure. (Hand him the picture which is in a frame right across from his bed on a shelf.)

Marcel: Who is Sammy’s brother?

Sam: I have three brothers [including you] Marcel, and a sister.

Marcel: Can I see?

Sam: (handing the picture to me to hand to Marcel in the bottom bunk) Yes. But just for a minute they are my brothers and sister, not yours.

Marcel (looking at the picture) Who are they?

Me: Those are Tea’s kids, (insert names here) who are Sam’s siblings too. They have the same first mommy as he does..

Marcel: Are you their Mommy?

Sam: NO! Tea is their mommy, and my mommy, and our mommy is our mommy too. But you only have one brother.

Marcel: I don’t want you to have these brothers and a sister without me! (Throws the picture on the bed.)

Me: You are Sammy’s only brother in our family, and his only younger brother.  That is very special. And you are the only little brother that Sam is growing up with everyday.  He loves you very much honey.

Marcel: Sammy I don’t want you to be looking at that picture anymore.(Kicking and thrashing at the sheets.)  I am not your best friend today.

Looking back at that, I see how far we have come, and yet how much work we have to do. My friend Pete, adopted transracially, said that the hardest thing for him was when his biological siblings used the pronoun “our” or “my” (mom)  to talk about the mother they shared. I am wondering how to navigate that piece when Sam meets his siblings in August. Perhaps it won’t come up now, but will another time. How do I, this stranger-lady-other-mother-of-your-little-brother- from-away introduce that request around this little fellow and his little brother who just show up out of thin air? How do I help Marcel feel included and safe in his extremely close relationship with his big brother?

The way I am trying to frame all of this for our family now, is that Tea and her family is going to feel like extended family to us. Playing in the hotel pool together, eating a meal, laughing, and then suddenly we’ll have to leave. We’ll have all these sweet new memories to carry home, and a new world of understanding to the word “brother and sister”. What are your experiences on this topic? Share them with the OAR, or leave your thoughts here!


Update: Although I am leaving next week for a few days with the family to an island without internet (can you imagine!) limited electricity (generators) and no cars (the four lobstermen trucks excluded) it is my intention to unveil the next Race, Ethnicity and Place vignette before that. Of course the first family overnight camping trip this weekend two days before we go might throw an iron peg in that plan. Might. The boys opened their “bags of summer happiness” last night. Sam’s big score was the new L.L. Beans fishing pole (thank you Alex and Jim!) and Marcel’s score was the new glue stick, the magnifying glass, and this adventurer’s vest in baby blue (thank you again Alex and Jim!)  for carrying around little friends (firemen, Ninjas and the like), and new found treasures. He wore it to bed.


Welcome to the two new subscribers to Mama C (bringing this week’s total new subscribers to nine!), and the two contributors to the West Coast fundraising campaign! I have reached 10% of my goal! Thank you!


  1. Oh goodness. I never even considered how Marcel might be affected by the notion of Sam having other siblings. I couldn’t help but find him too sweet for wanting his brother all to himself. I think that, maybe during the visit, once Marcel gets to see how nice the other siblings are, and how well received you’ll all be, maybe he’ll start to feel like Sam’s connection to them isn’t so bad. I think the notion of “extended family” is going to bridge that gap well. I’m excited for you all.

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