Adopting The Older Child #3 – Friends and peers

This week’s WASO (weeky adoption shout out) theme is “Friends”. I have two posts on the topic of friends. The first was a post to celebrate my best friend, who is a rock of support, and you can read that here. This is the second. I want to continue my post series on Adopting The Older Child, and talk about some friendship issues which come up when adopting the older child, which may not come up when adopting a younger child.

There are two friendship issues I want to address in this post. These issues are ones which I think relate specifically to older children. All adopted children can experience issues with relating to their peers, making and keeping friends, but there are some things which older children and their parents face, that other adopted children won’t or are much less likely to.

1. Friends from foster care

This is the first friendship issue that parents of older children might face. If you see the profile of a child aged say 6+, it may say something like “Phoebe is popular at school and gets invitations to lots of birthday parties” or “Tom enjoys school, where he has several close friends”

Now, it’s great they have good friends, but sadly adoption means the child will be leaving that school and not be seeing these friends daily any more. Adoptive parents who want to adopt these children, usually question whether they should be keeping in touch with these close friends post adoption. Advice varies, but here is my experience:

Rhea had several school friends she was close to. She attended the same school in her final foster care placement that she did whilst in her first adoptive home, and therefore she and her friends had known each other for quite a long time. Her best friend I will call Jasmine.

I hadn’t even considered this issue prior to adopting Rhea, but as soon as the social worker told me happily that Rhea was getting on well in school and had a best friend, I was thinking ‘Oh goodness, does Rhea have to lose her best friend as well as all the other things she will leave behind when she moves in with me?’

So I began thinking about how they could maintain their friendship post adoption. This was 1996, before all girls aged 9-12 up had mobile phones, and Skype etc obviously didn’t exist. If Rhea was to keep in contact with Jasmine and her other friends, it would be by actual visits and ‘playdates’ or by good old fashioned letters.

The social worker and foster carer thought this was good, and Rhea was very happy that she could keep seeing her friends, although sadly as I lived well over an hour from Jasmine and the other friends, they wouldn’t be able to see each other often.

What happened was this – Rhea started out writing letters, and so did Jasmine. We met up a few times in the first year, then a couple of times after that. They had fun and Rhea looked forward to the visits especially the first few.

But as time went on, and the girls grew up, they slowly grew apart. In the second year of placement, Rhea and Jasmine met for the last time. About 9 months later, the final letters were exchanged. They never stopped liking each other, but they no longer knew what to say. They had new friends they saw every day. Their friendship simply came to it’s natural end.

With Kestrel, much the same thing happened, except that the contact lasted much less time, and had ceased within the first year. Without the day to day/nearly daily contact, the friendships didn’t last.

I think I knew that that would happen all along. Nevertheless, I am very glad that I helped the girls maintain their friendships until they no longer wanted/needed them. Some parents would simply not consider it and expect close friendships to end just like that. I am of the opinion that if your older child wants to keep contact with their friends (bring it up with them early, or bring it up with the FC/SW) then you should seriously consider facilitating it. That way they do not lose so much when they move, or at least they won’t simply be taken away from everyone they know with no ‘closure’ or real chance to say goodbye. If they don’t see their friends often, then 99 times out of 100 the friendships will end. But it may well be better to let the friendship end at it’s own pace over time, rather than just cut it when the child moves. Of course, how much contact you can help facilitate is very dependent on how far you live from the FC’s. If you live hours away then you may have to help your child understand that they won’t be able to visit X any more – but is Skype/email/letters an option?

It’s something to consider if you want to adopt an older child

2. Questions from their new friends

Whilst a young child will start school along with all other children, your older child may well start a new school partway through the year. Inevitably, their new school peers/friends/neighbours kids/kids at clubs etc will have questions. “Did you just move here?”, “Where do you come from?”, “How come you’re starting this school in May?”. Adoptive parents have to help their child navigate these questions and find answers.

Of course the big question is – How much to reveal? Should you let yor child say whatever, should you discuss privacy with them and encourge them to hold back, and how do we empower our kids to refuse to answer questions that make them feel uncomfortable?

Your child may be very excited that they are being adopted, and they may want to tell the world. On the other hand, they may want to keep it very private. Either way, they may not be anticipating fielding certain questions

So what approach to take? It’s very individual, and depends on the family.

I personally let my kids tell their whole class if they wanted (Kestrel did this), but I talked to them about what they might like to say if people made comments or asked questions about it. I told them they never had to answer questions, not did they have to tell the whole story.

Some example questions and answers

“Why are you starting school in May”

Answer 1 – Because we just moved here. Answer 2 – That’s private. Answer 3 – I just moved here to live with my new mum, I’m being adopted!”

Now, as a parent, you can role play these questions with your child and help them understand what responses these answers (or any others) might get. For example, for all the above answers the response might be ‘oh!…do you want to go play tig?”, but it might not be. Answer 1 might generate “you moved house? Where did you used to live?”, and Answer 3 might generate “What does being adopted mean?”.

Another sample question

“Where do you come from?”

Answer 1 – From Bristol, I just moved house to here. Answer 2 – That’s private

“Why did you move house?”

Answer 1 – That’s private. Answer 2 – Because I’m being adopted. Answer 3 – <walk away>. Answer 4 – Because my mum wants to live here now

Again, different answers, and your child can tell as much or as little as they like

But whatever your childs opinion, and indeed whatever you feel, this is a discussion you should have quite early on with your older child, so they are prepared before the questionning begins. I recommend roleplay as an aid to help tham, and also talk to your childs teacher about it. maybe your child can use their teacher as a safe base if other kids start throwing unwelcome questions/comments their way?

So that wraps up my friends topic for now, but I’m sure I’ll touch on the topic again, because my children have had a LOT of friendship issues between them!

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