Should families adopt out of birth order? I hear adoptive parents discussing this a lot, and I know that many caseworkers are against it. For some families, the main concern with adopting a child older than those in the home is that the new child may sexually violate or bully one of the younger children. While this is a valid concern, it’s not really the reason that some social workers won’t allow families to adopt out of birth order. Their main issue is the psychological effect that adopting out of birth order has on the children and family as a whole.
Our social worker has helped bring home over 700 children from orphanages in Eastern Europe during her career and she assured us at our first meeting with her that, while anything is possible, the likelihood of an older adopted child (from this region at least) acting out sexually or physically on a younger child is extremely rare. She only knows of one case of sexually acting out that involved one of her families, and even that case was able to be worked out. When we adopted older children last year, we were vigilant about not leaving any of them unattended with our two-year-old until we knew in our souls that there were no dangers of abuse. We also paid close attention to the emotional state of everyone involved and were hyper-aware of the children’s interactions until we felt at peace. I’m sure we will be the same way in a few months when we bring our boys home, but from reading their descriptions and seeing their videos, we really don’t have any true concerns that this will be a problem.
I understand the psychology behind birth order placement and adoption In fact, Norman and I are raising four children who are all technically considered first-borns. Luke, age 10, is the oldest. Then there’s Gracie, age 9, and according to ‘the books’, the first child of the opposite sex will also carry first-born qualities (very true in her case!) Then, there’s Sara, age 8, who for most of her life, was really the oldest child of two, as she was separated from her older siblings until recently. Finally, there is David, almost 4, who was our only child until about a year ago. Plus, since there are 5, 6, and 7 years difference between him and the older children, ‘the books’ would say that he will also act like a first-born (and boy does he ever!!) Not to mention that both my husband and I are first-borns……it would appear that our family is a model for absolute disaster!!! As you can imagine, there is a whole lot of bossing around going on in this house!
I recognize the stress of a child being used to being the oldest in his family for his entire life and then having another child—a complete stranger—come into the family and “take over” as the oldest. But when it comes to adding children by adoption, I don’t necessarily see how adding a youngest child is any less stressful. Imagine you have a 4-year-old who is used to being the “baby” of the family. If his mom got pregnant with a new baby, he would have the benefit of seeing her belly grow, and then when the baby was born, s/he would be a tiny little newborn who mainly sleeps and eats. The 4-year-old might have some feelings of jealousy, but more often than not, he gets used to the little bundle of joy and grows an attachment for him or her. Contrast that to bringing a two or three-year-old ‘stranger’ into the family. This is not a tiny helpless infant, but a verbal, demanding, child who has a personality and a will of his own. All of a sudden, the “baby” of the family is thrown into complete turmoil by this new addition coming in and taking over his position as the youngest.
So, really, any way you look at it, adoption stretches the members of the family. It’s painful. It is not easy, and neither is walking the Christian life. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves and put aside our own desires and learn to serve others in humility. Now, I'm sure there are situations in which it is best not to disrupt birth order. There could be special needs involved, special circumstances, etc. So I'm not trying to say that it is always ok. But for many cases I believe that a big answer to “birth order” issues is to learn to walk in humility. This is not easy for children, or adults for that matter. Is your son or daughter used to being the boss, the smartest, the one with the physical advantages, the one with the psychological advantage?? Perhaps having an older sibling enter the scene would be beneficial to the development of this first child’s character. There may be personality conflicts at first but doesn’t Christ show us how we can get along with others?
I remember when we first decided to adopt again, early this year. Luke made it very clear that he wanted to remain the oldest! He wanted a brother “his age” but just a tiny bit younger than him so he could keep first-born status. Now, no matter how much we love and adore our children, when we boil it down, isn’t that just pride speaking? Why does he want to remain the oldest? Because he has a psychological advantage over the other children and he knows it? Because he’s the strongest and wins everything and he wants it to remain that way? Because he’s proud to say, “I’m the oldest”? Because he doesn’t want anyone “bossing him around”? I didn’t lecture Luke on his motives for wanting to stay the oldest. But I showed him profiles of many boys around 11 and 12 years old. I read their stories to him and how they keep getting overlooked because of their age and how each time parents come into the orphanage, they hope that they will be chosen, but they know that the parents want the little ones instead. Thankfully, this tugged at Luke’s heart and he quickly changed his mind and urged us to get a boy older than him (and we are in the process!)
I mean, if every family had to adhere to the “not adopting out of birth order” guidelines that some adoption agencies set up, there would be very little hope for the older waiting children to be chosen. The only families who would be able to adopt them would be those with teen-aged or older children. These days, many parents in their 40s, and even 50s still have young children at home…..and these are the perfect families for taking the older children.
When we as parents are learning to walk in humility ourselves…..when we model it to our children by getting along with our spouse; by not getting easily offended; by not insisting on our own way; by submitting to one another in love—then we can teach the same virtue of humility to our children. We can teach them to consider their siblings before they consider themselves. To not need to have the last word; to not need to be the best, or the smartest; or the funniest; or the center of attention. Face it—it’s not easy getting along with another human being 24/7. Birth-order conflicts might make things even harder, but shouldn’t we as Christians be able to follow Christ’s example and learn to get along with anyone—especially a member of our family?
Jesus showed the ultimate level of humility when he left his THRONE in heaven, and left, in a sense, his status as GOD to come live on this earth as a human being. Then he served and he served and he served! He washed his disciples’ feet. He told them that he did not come to earth to be served but to serve. And he told them to do the same to one another. I cannot imagine that he makes exceptions for those who conflict due to birth order.
The birth-order books have validity. I don’t dispute that what they say is correct. But they aren’t written from Jesus’ perspective. They are pure psychology. The books warn us that when choosing a mate, two first-borns make the rockiest relationship and will have the most trouble. Apparently, when an oldest and a youngest marry, they have the highest rate of success. And I guess when two “babies” marry, they just get absolutely nothing done and have a whole lot of fun! But I don’t think Jesus would tell us to choose our mate based on birth order. He would tell us to read Phillipians 2:3-8: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”
So—this call to humility….is this something that is only for the adults? Are children too young to be expected to act humbly? Is their nature simply to be “self-centered” without much hope of learning humility until they grow older? I personally think that the younger we can teach humility to our children, the better! I mean, if you think about it, ALL sin stems from pride. Think about a sin that a person might struggle with, and then imagine a true spirit of humility taking over that person’s life….wouldn’t it be way harder to continue sinning? Not a day goes by in our home that we aren’t talking to our children about growing in humility and what that means practically. And not a half-day goes by that we as the parents aren’t confronted with following after Christ’s example of humility. It isn’t easy. Norman and I both have very strong (first-born) personalities. Gosh, sometimes it feels downright humiliating to keep my mouth shut and smile and overlook a perceived injustice. And the same goes for him! So we know how our children feel when we're asking them to do the same thing. And I know that when our two new boys, ages 12 and 9 (and possibly a 6-year-old boy as well) enter the scene, there are going to be a lot of personality conflicts and a lot of jostling for position. But little by little, all of our children (including our newest additions) will learn, by God’s grace, that the lowest position is the easiest to find and the one that comes with the greatest blessing! “But many who are first will be last and the last ones will be the first.” Matt. 19:30 This is the meaning behind “The Great Reversal” (the name we use for our music).
I’m not saying everyone needs to adopt an older child. Just because that’s where we feel God leading us doesn’t mean that’s where God is leading others. Some people adopt little ones (and older ones as well) with very severe needs—these are the parents who truly amaze me! They are completely laying down their lives for "the least of these." I would never suggest that adopting an older child is more valuable than adopting one of these little ones. I only want to say that if your heart is towards the older children like ours are, but you have a social worker screaming warnings at you not to adopt out of birth order, go to the Scriptures and follow what the Spirit would tell you, rather than the modern day psychologists. These older children need loving parents and siblings too--and they are a huge blessing!! In the end, I just pray that all of the children will find families and that the Church would rise up and open their eyes to the need, and heed the call of God to care for the orphans. Be blessedJ