When we entered the world of adoption in 2013, my eyes were opened to older child adoption. To the reality of spending your entire life in an institution. To the tragedy of aging out children. We were in process to bring home our then five year old, and I remember thanking the Lord for people who were willing to pursue these older children. And if I’m 100% honest, I also secretly thanked him that we had not been called to that. It seemed very scary to me.
But… as we prepared to travel to bring home our daughter, I came across this face on our agency’s waiting child list.
I knew the minute I saw her picture she was ours. My oldest daughter who was 12 at the time advocated hard for this sweet girl to join our family. We came home in November of 2013 with our five year old, Sarah, and in February of 2014 we received PA for 12 year old Emily. This meant we were about to have virtual twin girls, both 13 years old, by the time we got home.
One of the training classes we went to during the process had a panel of adoptive parents and one of the families had also virtually twinned teenage girls. I asked her for her best advice and she just said, “Buckle up.” I was very nervous. My bio daughter was ecstatic about having a sister, but I knew that reality was not going to match her expectations.
In January of 2015 we traveled to bring Emily home. Each family and each child is completely different. The specifics of our family and situation look like this…. Emily’s special need is a significant neuromuscular disease called SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). She requires a significant amount of care for all her physical needs. From big things like bathing and toileting to small things like taking the top off a marker or opening a ziploc bag. She is a sweet natured child and while we’ve had our share of bad days, she does not rage and is not violent in any way.
In addition to our “twins,” we have a five year old with a cognitive disability and a 17 year old son. I tell you these things so you get a picture of what our family and daily life look like as we navigate twinning teens. These are a few things that have helped us tremendously.
Showering our bio daughter with attention. She has always loved one on one time with a parent. It is her love language. Much like adding a newborn baby to a family, a newly adopted child takes a lot of time and energy from the parents. It was all okay when it was the baby (as we call the now seven year old), but when it was someone her same age, it was not nearly as much fun. We have made a concentrated effort to spend time with just her, even if it is just running to the store. She and I sometimes like to run to Chick-fil-A for ice cream after the others are in bed. It gives us a little secret between just us. We also do not make them go to bed at the same time, allowing some time for her to be up without sisters around.
Not requiring our bio daughter to help. I know this may sound strange, and I don’t mean not help with anything at home. However, I discovered early on that their relationship was better if I didn’t ask her to help with needs regarding her sister. As I said before, Emily requires a lot of help and it would be easy to be constantly asking Jenny to do even small things for her to make things easier for me. It can be hard to resist the temptation do that, but it really does help. The less I require her to help, the more she willingly does small things that need to be done. It has been a joy to see her begin to recognize when her sister may need some help and willingly volunteer to be available. The last thing I want to do is breed resentment. She also really enjoys helping the baby of the family, and that in turns helps me. If I need an extra hand, it’s almost always better if I ask her to help with my youngest daughter.
Not treating them like twins. When we first came home Emily had almost nothing to her name. She came into a room that she would share with her sister that was full of earrings and nail polish and all the fun things most 13 year old girls love. We ended up needing to spend some money to get Emily a few items like her own nail polish and her own earrings. After a year home, if doesn’t look as uneven as it once did and Emily no longer asks to borrow Jenny’s things constantly. My bio daughter does like it if it is a gift-giving time, and they get the same thing. She does not like for them to be referred to as twins. Of all our children she has a given up the most when it comes to our adoptions. Two years ago she relished her place as the baby of our family. She has willingly given that place up twice over. The least I can do is respect these few things she has asked.
School Placement. One of the best things has been placing Emily a few years back in school, which allowed them to not only not be in the same grade but not be in the same school. This allows for there to be no comparison between them by teachers and gives a sense of birth order.
Speaking of birth order….. This adoption technically broke birth order. We had a 16 year old, a 13 year old and a 6 year old at the time of adoption. It seemed to work best for our family that we kept our biological birth order intact. I think it would have been a harder transition if Emily had been older than Jenny. Even though it’s just a few months, the fact that Jenny did remain the oldest sister made a big difference.
Patience upon patience. I’m sure anyone with more than one teenager can commiserate with the number of moods that can swing through our house on any given afternoon. Add in trauma. Adoption. And virtually twinning, and I’ll admit to being tired some days. I have to keep my eye on my ultimate goal for them. To love each other well. Just as our attachment takes time, so does theirs to each other. Ours has been slow but good. Two steps forward and one back some days, but I see progress every day. Jenny is volunteering at a special needs after school program that both sisters go to because Jenny feels like they need her there. She learned how to sit Emily up in her bed and practiced with her so that on Christmas morning they could chat before we got up. And unbeknownst to me for a long time, there are many, many nights Jenny gets up in the middle of the night to help Emily roll over because she is hurting and can’t move herself. She never complains or even tells me that she’s done it.
Adoption changes everyone involved – everyone here knows that. And change isn’t always pretty while it’s happening, but the changes I see every day in both my girls are beautiful.
– guest post by Stacy