When our son was four and a half years old, he went from being our only child, an adorable blond-haired, blue-eyed chip off his daddy’s DNA-strand, to The Invisible Boy. When we brought our daughter home from Ethiopia, everything changed.
At home, Elliott experienced many of the same things that biological siblings experience, except that his brand new sister was almost two years old and liked to scream at him, hit him in the face with toys, and shove him out of the way. They’ve been working out this sibling thing ever since, and at home, both of our kids are our favorite, completely amazing miracles from God. They get equal attention and equal love.
Take our family out in public, though, and our boy just can’t compete with his sister. Wherever we go, I have people come up, go ga-ga over her, and completely ignore Elliott. Many times, when I’ve introduced Elliott, too, they barely glance their eyes his direction before returning to Evie.
My heart breaks for him. And yet, God is shaping his character and growing him in ways that make me so proud. I want him to be as excited about adoption as we are. I don’t want him to feel like he’s growing up in his sister’s shadow, that somehow adoption is better than bio. Here are a few things that I’ve done to try to deal with this lop-sided public attention:
I always introduce my bio kid.
Sometimes it’s even been a little awkward, as I’ve cut off a stranger’s adoption gush-fest to finish introducing my family. If they still don’t get the hint, I’ll keep going, sharing his age, what an amazing big brother he is. If he still doesn’t get any gush, then I gush all over him. I talk about what a great big brother he is, how he’s such a good artist, how he loves science and swimming, and as I share, I see his shy little smile creep up the side of his mouth.
I’m so thankful for the people who get this right. They take the time to greet each of my children, and they ask Elliott about his life, about how he likes being a big brother, about school. They listen. And I try not to burst into tears and jump into their arms.
I encourage pride in his origin.
We love incorporating Evie’s Ethiopian culture and heritage into our family, and Elliott has fully embraced injera and tibs, Ethiopian music, and loves all things Africa. This year, I’ve begun talking with him about how he was born in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, and we can see him swell with pride when he tells people that he’s from D.C.
Just as we discuss the highlights of Evie’s adoption and our journey to her, we’ve started talking about how God used scientists and doctors in the miracle of Elliott’s making. Nothing too intensely sci-fi yet, but just, “Mommy couldn’t get pregnant, so the doctors helped put you in my belly.” Hey, it’s less traumatic than what most kids have to hear about their conception.
I help him dream about all the places God can take him.
He’s the only one of us who hasn’t been to Africa (yet!), and it would be easy for him to feel left out. We work geographical puzzles together and talk about all the places that God could send him. He’ll point to a country and ask if he could go there, and I always reply, “If God wants you to go there, then yes!” or “Maybe God will send you there!” We talk about him visiting Africa and meeting his friend, George, our sponsored boy who’s Elliott’s age. We show him photos of George, and Elliott has started drawing and sending him pictures.
I want him to feel the adventure and excitement of following God. It doesn’t matter where he’s from or where he’s been, what matters is where God’s leading him.
We want both our kids to feel secure in their identity and loved completely, that both of them are unique and celebrated. Because of our family’s continued pursuit of adoption and the extra public attention that’s placed on our daughter, we are learning to help our son navigate his place in the journey. He is anything but boring.