I think that every parent probably gets emotional about their kids becoming older siblings. Eli has always been an amazing big brother. When he first came home with me he was placed on an emergency basis through foster care. I was already matched with Julian for a waiting child adoption, and I can't lie, part of me was nervous to see how this opinionated teenage boy would cope with having a disabled younger brother.
I didn't need to worry. From the day that I walked off of the plane carrying Julian, Elijah was honestly the PERFECT big brother to him. He's understanding of the ways in which our family life is different now that we have a family member in a wheelchair. He's fiercely protective, quick to speak up in public when people give Julian the side eye for being loud, or just for simply being alive, existing in a disabled body. He opens doors for his brother while I push the wheelchair without being asked, and greets him with an exuberant "Heeeeyyyyyyy!" and a tickle whenever he walks into the room. Watching him be Julian's big brother makes me endlessly proud.
Raising a kid who has respect and empathy for the disabled community is one of my main parenting goals with Elijah, but in the end I didn't have to do anything to teach that, so I can't take credit: he's been amazing at seeing the value in those with disabilities since Day 1. When we decided to accept placement of our third child, who is also disabled, I knew that Elijah would continue to thrive in the big brother role, but Julian?
J was the baby of the family and had been since the day he came home. We were used to holding him constantly and responding immediately to any hint of a cry. He's our little prince, and he's also pretty significantly developmentally delayed. One of my common mistakes as a mom (and teacher!) that I'm trying to work on is that I frequently underestimate the disabled people in my life, especially those with significant differences like my son. I figured Julian might have trouble adjusting to sharing our attention. I definitely didn't think he'd be able to help in any way or have any sort of traditional "big brother role.
I was wrong.
Julian will never be a typical big brother, but in his own way, he has been supporting his baby brother, and us parents. He has always been the most easygoing person I know and that has been invaluable these days as he's been able to adjust seamlessly to the sudden changes in his routine. He LOVES loud noises, and during little man's tantrums he smiles and cheers, reminding us to lighten up and enjoy the "music"(screeches). His peaceful presence keeps me grounded as I weather the storm of complex, compounded trauma. I underestimated how much I would need to borrow his serenity. He's also the perfect brother for a disregulated little guy who is learning about gentle hands, because he loves physical roughhousing and is sensory seeking to the max. He's always quick to scratch, pull hair or whack somebody's face whenever they're in his personal bubble. This is teaching little man to give plenty of personal space and use gentle hands better than our verbal reminders and modeling ever could. Gotta love those natural consequences!
Peep these two peas in a pod, hammock hangin' and both sucking their left thumbs (this picture was taken very soon after our youngest babe arrived home).
Lots of people who ask us about foster care are worried about the effect it will have on the children they already have. I always tell them that that's the wrong thing to worry about. With our oldest for example, we could worry about his life being more challenging due to having two younger siblings with disabilities. We could worry about him getting less attention or less material things because of our time and resources being spread out more. But that's not what I'm worried about, and those things are not what you should worry about with your kids, either.
We need to worry about whether or not our kids know how to serve others, others who may never be able to pay them back. We need to worry about if our kids know how to be truly kind, truly giving. We need to worry about our kids learning how to stand up to a world that tells them that a person's worth lies in their accomplishments, their intelligence, their ability to blend in and be like everyone else. We need to worry about our children learning how to truly love and serve those who need them.
So, if you're considering taking the leap of adding a new family member through foster care or adoption but you're asking yourself "What if the kids we already have in our home have to make sacrifices and stretch themselves? What if this changes their lives forever?" I'm here to tell you that they will, and it will, in the very best way.
I am proud of both of our older children, and I don't worry that adding a third child will have a negative impact. I know that these big brothers are learning about the truly important things. When they interact with their littlest brother, it's like they're reaching down into the pit of complex trauma and extending a friendly, helping hand to this small, scared little person, saying to him "I know where you're at because I was there too. It's ok; it's safe up here. Follow me, I'll show you the way out."
And that's a beautiful thing to see.