Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Birth Order Excuse

When you enter the world of foster care and adoption, you start hearing a lot about birth order. If you should rearrange it, if you shouldn’t, not to take children older than your biologically oldest, etc. People love to say, “don’t bring any children into you home who aren’t younger than your youngest.” It’s a blanket statement, said in my opinion, in a kinda ignorant way.

I’m no expert on this subject, but I do have a few things to say about it, and I firmly believe that children should not be left waiting for homes simply because they’d mess up your family’s birth order.

My husband and I had pre-marital counseling before we were married, well, kinda.
Our pastor at the time was going to meet with us and guide us through issues that may arise in our marriage, or that was the plan anyways.

The first week he actually dove into a long soliloquy on birth order and what place you have in your family can determine what birth order a person you want to marry should have. John and I are both 2nd born, but I am the middle child and he is the youngest, I can’t really remember what that meant. Maybe it means we’re a bad fit (he he, I doubt it!).

He loaned us a book called “The Birth Order Connection” by Kevin Leman. To be honest, I think we kinda skimmed it and returned it, and I couldn’t tell you a thing I learned from it. I’m sure Mr. Leman spent years of research and developing theories and he’s probably a very intelligent man. I don’t mean to discredit what he says, I just don’t think it should distract from opening your home to children in need, and I think it might be a bunch of bologna.

Birth order is a weird thing, you have no control over it, and there is all this stuff that supposedly naturally goes along with your birth order and it’s supposed to have a huge impact on who you are as a person.

Recently John and I attended a meeting at an agency where we will Lord willing be adopting children through. During the breakout sessions the infamous comment was made “you don’t want to mess up your kids birth order….don’t take kids older than your biological kids”.

One of my first issues with this thinking is that WHO IS LOOKING OUT FOR THE ORPHAN? No one cares about messing up an orphan’s birth order. Always gotta look out for #1 right? Me and mine. Sigh. What about matching kids in families where their birth order is protected? If it’s such an important deal, why not consider the adopted child’s place?

Here’s what happened when our foster daughters came.
Our oldest was 3. Our middle was almost 2. Our youngest was 3 month old. Our oldest foster daughter was 7…she was the 2nd oldest in her family of 4 girls. The younger foster daughter was 4, she was the baby of her family and automatically became a big sis to 3 other kids. Our oldest became a middle child with 2 older siblings. How’s that for messing up birth order?

No matter what, you’re always messing up birth order. If you take children younger than your youngest, you’re taking away the “baby” status from your youngest child. Our younger foster daughter lost her holding as the baby in her family. No one cared about it, no one asked her if she wanted to be older than 3 other kids.

Our youngest is 2. He’s still the baby. We still call him the baby, but would his life be ruined if we had an infant come? Nope. But what’s interesting is that I think the ‘baby’ of the family would have a harder time losing that than an oldest would. There is something about being the baby. You get carried far beyond when you know how to walk, you get coddled and cooed at and everything you do is cute. When a younger child comes along through birth or adoption, all the sudden there is someone else who needs more attention. And what’s interesting is our foster daughter very much had the “baby” personality and was referred to as “the baby” by her other sisters, yet that was taken from her when she was placed with us.

A child who is the eldest supposedly learns maturity and how to care for the other children and has special responsibilities. If you add a child who is older, it doesn’t mean they can’t still do what an oldest would do. Having more helpers is awesome!

We went against the grain and did just what the “experts” say not to do. We took 2 children in who were older than our kids. And it worked wonderfully. Lord willing we’ll be messing it all up again when we adopt a sibling group.

Since the girls left, our oldest has had a hard time filling in his “oldest” child position. For almost 2 years, since before he can really remember even, he hasn’t been the oldest, he’s been the middle. He’s had someone to follow and shadow. I think he does better as a middle child, and I think his "birth order" was changed more when the girls left than when they came.

From where I stand, birth order is just one more excuse people use to not adopt, to not care for orphans. People say they have to wait to foster or adopt till their children are grown. And if they plan on having more biological kids then ever adopting or fostering is mostly a distant thought.

I’m a middle child, and I fit the bill, whatever that means. I think you are who you are, your life with your siblings does help define you. There are aspects to being the oldest, and being a middle child, and being a youngest, but I can’t shake the feeling that people make way too much out of it.

Sitting there at the meeting listening to the woman haphazardly state “don’t mess up your families birth order” made me cringe, and gave me a slight impulse to jump over the table and shake her by her shoulders and say “You can’t change someone’s birth order! They were born when they were born! There are huger issues to consider!” (Yes, I know huger isn’t a word.)

Every time I hear someone say not to mess up your birth order it sounds like nails down a chalk board. SCHREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH! It’s not birth order you’re changing, it’s family placement, and I think kids can adapt.

Think of a sweet 10 year old boy being told “sorry, there’s no family for you, you’re too old.” He has a life time ahead of him, but he’s too old. Or a 14 year old girl ready to enter some of the most formative years of her life. Desperately needing a mom to help her with issues of self esteem, modesty and purity. Nope, she’s too old.

I’m sure there are people who can tell you horror stories of bringing in an older child or how messing up their kids birth order ruined their lives. Ok. But I believe that if you willingly submit to the plan God has, He’ll protect you. That doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen to your children, rather, your blessings will far exceed the trouble.

Of course it makes the family dynamic a bit more difficult when you add a new person who comes with likes, dislikes, a history, a personality that you had no part in forming. Sometimes though I think we’d be better off if we ignore the musings of psychologists and experts and simply be willing to love a child.


KT said...

Thank you for this! My husband and I are believers too, this is so encouraging! Our oldest is 3, our youngest 19 months. We have been debating the birth order issue and at this point we have pretty much concluded that we will strive to adopt a child/children the same age or less as our oldest but prayerfully maintaining openness to any child that God may have in store for us. Thank you for pointing out the needs of the adopted child too! God never calls us without empowering us!

Chris said...

AMEN!!! LOVED this post and wish there were more like this. I totally agree. We've adopted out of birth order many times, and older than our bio daughter. Plain and simple, kids need families, and IT'S NOT ABOUT US!!

Thanks so much for writing this!


Danielle Zigmont said...

Thank you for this post! My husband and I have considered option many times in many different ways over the years and that birth order argument is one I've heard so much, but never given much weight. Kevin Leman's books (all of his books, really) are extremely beneficial, well researched, and God-led, I believe. But I don't believe even he would discourage someone from adopting out of birth order, I think it's just a tool to help you better understand a child's thought process and feelings based on their place of birth. I know my three current biological sons fit their birth order places according to Leman almost to a T!

That being said, we're a Christian family seriously considering adopting a teenage boy 5 years older than our oldest. I imagine my oldest will have some issues suddenly gaining an older brother but the Lord gives each of us what we need to adapt and grow in every situation, of course that will be true in adoption! God commands those who believe in Him to care for orphans. That won't mean adoption to everyone but it should probably mean just that thing to a great many more Christians than it does!

Thanks again for this post! God bless and Happy Easter!


Moomama said...

Thanks for this article! I found it through another article I was reading. We have an almost 2 year old and are in the process of getting certified to foster to adopt. The ages we are comfortable with are 4 and younger...so the oldest would be older than our daughter, most likely. I LOVED the comment about who is thinking about the orphans in the situation..I think having conversations with people about adoption brings out their prejustices against the adopted child. If I hear one more time, "you don't know what the mother did while she was pregnant" I am going to scream! I am adopted myself and know for a fact my mother drank while she was pregnant with me- am I a second class citizen?? We need more people in the world to stick up for the orphans!!

icaskey said...

What an encouraging article!!! We are at the end of a homestudy process, and Lord-willing if we are approved we are about to "mess up the birth order" of at least our current children. . .if not our adopted child! Thank you for sharing your journey, you just gave me a little more of a clear, well-thought-out explanation as to WHY we are doing this!

Many many blessings!!

mama of four said...

This is so perfect! Thank you!! I've been searching for someone else who thinks this excuse of birth order is a load of junk. My dad has told us multiple times not to mess up our child's birth order, and I honestly thought he was joking...until I heard it from someone younger. Our son is 22 months old. We started fostering three siblings 7 months ago and are now hoping to adopt them (ages 10, 9 and soon to be 4). Our youngest son definitely has the personality of a firstborn, but that just means he gets to learn how to be a leader and a follower at the same time. I have a friend with 4 bio children. Their 3rd born has the personality of a firstborn, and it can be challenging, but they obviously aren't going to get rid of him simply bc his personality doesn't mesh well with his birth order.
There are too many children out there who never get adopted, who are aging out of the foster care system, who never gain a family to call their own...all because we're sitting around worried about this thing called birth order.
Our family follows Jesus. It's the reason we foster and hope to adopt. We are called to care for the orphan. Period. Not care for the orphan only if he fits well with your family, stays in proper birth order and doesn't mess with your bio child's feelings.