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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Birth Order in the Adoptive Family

First-born, middle child, baby. Many experts argue that children should never be adopted out of birth order. Some adoption agencies actually devise rules stating that all of their adoptees must be spaced in age at least 18 months apart, whether there is more than one adopted child, or whether mixing a new child with an existing bio child.

So, for instance, if your current child were 3.5 years old, you could not consider any referral in the 2.5 year old range. The child would need to be less than two years old, and never, ever, older than any existing child.

Probably the same specialists feel that a man should only marry a woman at least 18 months younger than himself. If the wording were changed from a wife 18 months younger to a wife 18 years younger, I’m sure there would be many male proponents in favor of such theories. (Although there’s not an age span like that for us, I’m sure Benedetto would agree that I look and behave like a young spring blossom. Right? Right???)

Let me say as my disclaimer: we never adopted out of birth order. Our first is still our oldest, and so forth, down the line. Petya, fiercely territorial, was quite elated over that.

“Mama,” he came to me one day, “I’ll always be the first-born, right?” His earnest face looked at me hopefully. I was surprised, never imagining that this might be a concern for him.

“Of course you’ll always be our #1 guy, Sweetie, why do you ask?” I wondered.

“Because the first-born gets all of the inheritance!” he replied.

“I see.” My life now hung in the balance, seesawing solely for the family jewels, coveted by a son who obviously had read one too many Biblical narratives. And anyway, it was not the entire inheritance, just the lion-sized portion, if we wanted to be technical.

“What if we adopted an older girl?” I tossed out the idea, not that it was anything we were considering. “You would still be the oldest boy. What would you think about that?”

He paused, mulling it over.

“As long as I could still boss her around.”

That’s my boy.

And this is what adoptive family observers always miss, but we in the trenches know all too well: the pecking order yet lives. Kids have a way of sorting out for themselves who’s going to be the Top Dog, the Head Honcho, the Big Cheese. (Personally, in our family, we have an overload of Big Baloney, but I digress.) Even doggies Misha and Grisha know their places and go by “The Great Zucchini” and “The Little Pickel” as their circus act wannabe personas.

Our boys have very rigid self-defined roles: the younger (only by two chronological months, yet by about 200 psychological months), tries to imitate and copy the elder. In terms of the girls, the older (by 2.5 years) insists that the younger function as her personal slave. That’s where clear and consistent parental intervention trumps any birth order bravado.

The youngest three often vie for their place and ranking in a variety of ways. It may be adding high drama to every aspect of life (*sigh*), or trying to obtain extra sympathy with a miniscule mosquito bite or bruise. They might, ever so graciously, point out all of another’s shortcomings and misbehaviors, holding themselves up as the standard of All Things Good, and therefore worthy of displacing their rival.

The experts propose that children spaced at least 18 months apart would not face such struggles.

To which I reply: Wrong-O.

Our youngest three have the most challenges amongst themselves and in terms of finding their places. They are spaced in exact stairstep order with 18 months inbetween #2, 3, and 4. (Not that we planned it that way.)

Face it, birth order is a tricky subject when it comes to adoption. We must take into account normal orphanage delays and the effects of institutionalism, frequently making an adopted child much younger than their chronological age. This shatters any formula. While a bio six-year-old may act his age, an adopted seven-year-old might think and behave more like a five-year-old.

If you started with the same bio six-year-old, and adopted a four-year-old, you might really be ending up with a child who seems closer to two years old.

Sometimes. How’s that for the powers of observation and rational thought? Aristotle, step aside.

“Artificial twinning” is another hot-button topic as far as birth order. We once received a 29-page fax from an agitated agency worker regarding the evils of fake twins (i.e., children spaced less than nine months apart, if not eighteen months apart (figure that one out). This then agitated me that they felt no qualms in using up my fax paper, as well as the idea that I was somehow pursuing fake anything. The utter stupidity of such dissertations and assertions was and is beyond me. Broad generalizations are helpful, but really, when adoption agencies begin to “forbid” such “harmful” adoptions, I think I’ll take my business elsewhere.

Better for the children to live in the orphanage with 20 or 30 kids their same age, than dare to be in a family with another child within 18 months of them. Are you following this brilliant reasoning?

Take our two oldest sons, spaced two months apart, as an example. They are technically within birth order (the oldest came first), but they are not spaced to such specialists’ liking. Silly us, but it never dawned on us that we should be comparing them non-stop and having them compete against each other. Their relationship tends to be more collaborative, with the older helping the younger, and the younger often trying to be like the older. The younger one, Pasha, spent four additional, brain-numbing years in the orphanage. His intellectual and emotional capacities are much younger than his age. So what? On the positive side, his Russian is much better than Petya’s and he can help him with that occasionally. Every child has his own challenges and strengths.

While we technically didn’t do it, we know of many families adopting out of birth order. They treat the kids as individuals, period. No biggie, unless you let it become a biggie.

In terms of schooling, it would probably not be wise to place two children from the same family in the same grade, or at least in the same class. That could lead to labelling the children (“She’s smart, he’s slow”), or other unfair comparisons. Yet, homeschoolers often work on similar materials, say, the Declaration of Independence, albeit at different comprehension levels. The more you can treat any child as an individual, the better.

We don’t need a 29-page dissertation to figure that one out.


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