Brothers and Sisters in Adoption

This was originally found in Adoption Today Magazine

The relationship between siblings is unique, and for those of us lucky enough to have someone to call brother or sister, these are bonds that many of us relish. It may take some time to get to the point of appreciating what the sibling relationship brings to our life, but once we get past the years of rivalry, teasing, and pranks, we realize how empty our lives would be without this very special connection. A sibling is someone we talk to about things we often can’t go to a parent with, yet we take their wisdom as though it comes from a place of authority that is oft reserved for the ‘adults’ in our lives. We complain when they want to tag along when we’re kids, and we hate to admit we look up to them, but ultimately they become our best friends…just like mom or dad said they would, as we rolled our eyes and wished we were an ‘only’.

When we lose a sibling, it leaves a pang of loneliness that will never be fully assuaged, even in the largest of crowds and biggest of families.

For people who are adopted, particularly those of us from the ‘closed’ generation, there are siblings that exist that we may not know. For those of us who ultimately decide to search for birth family members, many of us desire to know not just a birth parent but also siblings we may have. Some of us may even locate a birth parent who does not wish to have a relationship, but in this pain we learn there are siblings who do wish to know us. There is solace in that, a healing that occurs even with the pain of feeling rejected by the person or people who created us. Our siblings help us construct aspects of our identities that a parent cannot fulfill. It is indeed an identity to be Amy’s little sister or Charlie’s big brother, and even if we are raised alone, and do not know these brothers or sisters, there is a feeling in your soul that there are those who have come before or after you.

In the news recently there have been an abundance of stories surrounding search and reunion. Perhaps the holidays, with its focus on family togetherness, inspire these stories. Although traditionally when we think of search and reunion we conjure the image of the adopted person or birth parent seeking knowledge and connection with one another. But increasingly these days we read of stories that illustrate the beauty, and the sadness, of brothers and sisters who were lost to each other over time because of a closed adoption system and yet have found each other as adults.

These days, when we talk adoption, the word openness is at the forefront of conversation. According to research conducted by the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), 95% of agencies offer open adoption today and the vast majority of adoption contain some level of openness. This practice of openness replaced the secret system that shadowed adoption for many years when the damage of the closed era became apparent. Although many continue to question how ‘open’ the system really is, we know that greater openness in adoption does exist when compared with adoption from decades ago; with that openness comes increased knowledge of family connections as well as a push to ensure siblings remain together if family preservation cannot be achieved. In fact, some states are pushing new laws that set guidelines for child welfare systems to make every effort to keep siblings in foster care connected with one another. Similarly, there are regulations that exist to ensure visitation between siblings separated in foster care even in the absence of being able to visit with a biological parent. These are valuable policies that require our continued advocacy on behalf of vulnerable children who know solace in remaining with and knowing siblings when their family has become fractured.

Many times, when children become separated from their families due to abuse and neglect, parents through adoption question openness and whether or not it is appropriate. Yet a holistic view of openness leads one to think outside the box and explore the many family connections a child has, family that is now, for better or for worse, connected to the adopted family as a whole. Often you may find other siblings with whom you and your child can develop and sustain relationships with over time. This can have a profound impact on your family’s adoption experience in many ways.

The reality of our sibling relationships is that in many ways they resemble friendships. These relationships surpass the bloodline, yet, the biological connection, if it exists, must not be devalued. In many ways, adopted people form continued family relationships with their brothers and sisters in adoption, people whom they may or may not share a biological connection to. These are the people we share with in support groups. They are the people we advocate alongside in our quest for our original birth certificates. These are the people we long for in our search for knowledge of our origins…and the people we share our joys and heartaches with even in the absence of any original connection. We are raised with them and alongside them. They are important to us, our brothers and sister in adoption.

NBC news recently did a story on a family from New York that was seeking to locate three children placed for adoption in the early 1970’s. The birth mother is utilizing social media among other sources to search for these children…triplets, born to an unwed mother in 1972 and separated from her through adoption in many ways due to the stigma that surrounded single motherhood during that era. Ironically, she and the children’s birth father ultimately married and went on to bear more children whom they parented. This is a most bittersweet story; the miracle of a multiple birth, the sadness of these children being separated from their young mother because of stigma and stereotype, the joy they brought to a couple who likely wouldn’t know parenthood were it not for adoption.

The journalist shares in this story that the mother stressed after the children were born that they must be raised together…if they couldn’t be with her, she wanted them to be with one another and have each other. Because this is important…having brothers and sisters is important.

She learns though in her search that the children were likely separated…making her and her family’s quest for wholeness even more difficult.

It is critical that we learn from the sadness of days past and ensure that family connections remain at the forefront of adoption conversations. Even today we know that siblings, even twins, are separated from each other in adoption. This is a practice that must be replaced with a new understanding of the adoption experience. Brothers and sisters are important, however we come to know these people in our lives. They tease us, but they are the first to defend us when we are teased by others. They know the family lore, and roll their eyes alongside us when the same stories are brought out during times of family togetherness. They know us in a way we may not even know ourselves. We feel them, even when we do not know them.

We all deserve to know these relationships in our lives. Even in the largest of families, there is always room for another brother or sister. We must always remember this in adoption.



DAI posts news articles and commentary in areas relevant to adoption and foster care adoption as a way to aggregate information for members of our community. Links to the original article and publication source are included in each post. The views expressed in the articles posted on our News and Views section do not necessarily represent those of DAI, our staff, agents or affiliates. If you wish to read original commentary by DAI, check the blogs on our website as well as at the Huffington Post.