Should I bring my other children to China when I travel for our adoption?

We hear this question all the time. It is a great question. A loving question. Kudos to you for asking!

Fortunately, I can speak from personally experience. We adopted our youngest child, Ella in 2014. We brought our four, yes, FOUR, biological siblings along for the ride, so we are well versed in the logistics of traveling with siblings. Our biological children were 10,8, 8, and 6 when we traveled.

12650699_10208457161054910_1123710444_nHonestly, the decision to bring our children was not hard for us. Frankly, initially the decision to take them was more of a selfish decision – I had panic attacks just THINKING about being so far from all my children. While I DO travel for business reasons, I felt the one or two nights away while they were home with dad, was child’s play compared to the idea of being CONTENIENTS away from them for weeks. I try really hard not to be a “helicopter mom” but here I was, terrified to leave my babies. Let me be clear – this is MY shortcoming. They probably would have LOVED being with Mema and Poppy for two weeks, and being spoiled rotten. I on the other hand was looking for a stiff drink and some medication just at the thought!

I also felt like it was important to become a family all at once. Do I honestly think, in the long term, it made a HUGE difference in the sibling bond or will be a defining factor in family relations? No. I really do not believe 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 12 years, later Ella remembers/will have a special bond with whoever came to China. Love is built over time. Love is built from experience. (And let’s face it love amongst siblings is more rooted in making fun of our parents over time than anything!) True love is not created over 2 weeks; It is erected in the memories made in those undocumented moments of life that happen over years.

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That being said, there ARE some benefits to bringing brothers and sister to China. Foremost, what bringing sibling to China, can do is break the ice for an adopted child.

Children in China are often being adopted often come from orphanages. This means they spend a vast majority of their time with many other children. In fact, I would venture to say it would be weird for them NOT to have children around. Additionally, even many of the children in “foster” care are also living with at least a small group of children. I often think, from their perspective, having spent most of their time with OTHER children, that there has to be a comfort level that comes with having other children around.

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My biological children certainly provided Ella with an IMMEDIATE sense of distraction, relief, and familiarity. I noticed, initially, she often looked at them for social cues. In those early hours, and days, when I really wanted to SHOWER her with love, and adoration and mommy gooey affection, she was not really ready. Having my biological children there gave me the opportunity to SHOW her a living example of what being a “mommy” was. I often hugged, kissed, held hands with, and cared for my other children in her presence. I think this was very helpful in showing her what a “mommy” is. It also helped my heart. I am not going to lie. Those initial days were hard (for me) when she was not sure if she should trust me. I savored having my other children close by to heal my own heart. I wanted so desperately to show her “See?? I am safe. I am good. THEY love me. YOU can too.” I hate to reduce my biological children to what would appear to be “crash test dummies” but they were wonderful examples of parent/child love. I am forever indebted to them for that.

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I am also indebted to them for the way they treated Ella. They realized she was scared. My 8 year old and 5 year old sons felt so much empathy for her when we met at on her receiving day, that THEIR eyes welled up with tears. My son, Michael, my “tough” one, turned to me in the first 20 minutes after we met, watching her cry and reject me with punches to the face, and said, “Mom, she is so scared…she is just so scared… I feel so bad for her.” Their hearts were softened to how very hard this is for their new sibling. With this insight, they stepped up. They blew bubbles. They shared lollipops. They read books. They played with each other (ignoring her) so she could join them on HER time. They took more baths than any child should (Ella loved water!). They helped her to feel safe because, they too were little and trusted me. They understood she needed to be shown little people look for their mamas and it was A-Okay to look for mommy for food, cuddles, safety, etc.

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The trip to China, and being a part of the adoption process, also helped THEM grow. Some of my family and friends (never one to bite their tongues) took great issue with the fact that I had my biological children join us in the tour of Ella’s orphanage. Many people accused me of intentionally “upsetting them”, “showing them things they should not have to see” and “exposing them to the horrors of the world.” I subscribe to the the theory that in order to become empowered, empathetic people that will change the world, my biological children need to be exposed to the aspects of the world that NEED change. While seeing children in an orphanage without parents, is not pleasant, sadly, it is a reality. It is the reality of countless other children. It is a reality, I hope, in their lifetime becomes a thing of the past, but that will only be possible if people open their eyes, help create the change and make it happen. This does not happen by ignoring it because it is not “pleasant”.

I wanted my children to see the realities of life for countless children, but for me, most importantly, it was their sister’s reality. They needed to see, understand and empathize with her life before us. We took her from her homeland, from her place of birth. I wanted every part of her life to be honored, respected, and cherished. From the darkened halls of her orphanage to the rich, vibrant reds found in the local temples, I wanted my children to understand her story BEFORE we were a part of it. Somehow, I feel, having stepped on the soil of her birthplace, we have all become more respectful, just a little more in love, just a little more a part of China…and respectfully, China has become a little more a part of us.

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Because the truth is WE ALL left changed. We know what China is. It is not just a picture in a textbook. Ella’s entire family knows the sights, the smells, the tastes, the people. We have embraced social cultures, holidays and traditions. We all now have memories of this sacred place where our daughter was born…we left China, but we brought a piece of it home.

And in turn, Ella has a story that bridges the two worlds. She has pictures of her entire family, in her place of birth. She may not remember (she was only 2.5 when adopted) but she has a memory book that shows her life story where her siblings are in her place of birth. She has an adoption story that builds a bridge. We have photos of where she was born, where she was found, where she lived as she waited for a permanent family, and pictures that show when she became a forever daughter….a special rebirth… that include images of all of her siblings.

Furthermore, the benefits of bringing Ella were two fold. Foremost, we created family memories with her siblings that inspired a transition and a love of her heritage. Secondly, I think having our children there to “break the ice” and be a living example of children with parents helped her to trust us a bit sooner.

I know. It sounds magical. It is a no brainer. FULL STEAM AHEAD on bringing the siblings!! However, as always at Red Thread we try to always show both sides of a coin. So, with this in mind, what were the drawbacks to bringing siblings?

Well, foremost, cost. Boy oh boy did that financial cost hurt! We nearly tripled (yes TRIPLED) the cost of air travel. Of course, our TA (travel approval) came so we could travel just in time for the most EXPENSIVE time of year. Instead of a $2,500 bill (for my husband and I) to travel to China we had a $8,000+ bill for all of us. We ended up needing a larger room in our hotel. There were more “guide” fees to accommodate our kids in cars, trains, and planes in country. There was more food to be purchased, and I assure you far more “souvenirs” than could ever be needed. Bringing siblings along is not easy on the bank account, and I will never say different. I would venture to say if you have IN COUNTRY travel it can increase the cost of your trip overall by about 30%. From a cost perspective it is not for the faint of heart.

The other issue we often are asked about is childcare during the appointments. Many parents about to travel for their child ask if they need to worry about childcare for their other children while in country given the amount of appointments scheduled. We brought my parents as well. (I know, I am a glutton for punishment). HOWEVER, my father’s lifelong dream was to travel to China…it was really not even a question…bucket list, guys. Bucket. List. Okay, so we brought my parents. While this may seem crazy it helps me answer the question “ Do you need help with childcare IN country?”.

The easy answer is NO.

Our kids ended up coming on most of the “official” appointments anyway. It was not really that big of a deal. Medical appointments and all, I assure you, there is typically a waiting room, a place to stay, an area that at least one parent can hang with kids and execute things “switch off” style. I LOVED having my parents with me, but it was not a necessity for the adoption or sibling care. It was more a matter of making a wonderful memory with my own parents. It can be helpful but do NOT make or break your decision to bring siblings based on the need for childcare in country.
12665864_10208457161214914_48173116_n Secondly, the other drawback I could potentially see is bonding. I know, I know. I just told you how GREAT it was to have siblings break the ice, and now here I am telling you that you can bond faster with you than others. But …alas the truth is always more complex than we would like it.

While I would say I loved the ability for Ella to look for her siblings for social cues, I DID find most of her progress was made during our one-on-one time. Her first giggle was at bubbles when I had sent Dad and kids off to lunch. She clung to me and not the children. She loved being held, swaddled and cared for only by me. She wanted to play in the pool…but just with mommy. No kids allowed. She CRIED at night when the children continued to play but SHE had to go to bed with me. She sobbed. Literally, sobbed her eyes out when she felt she was being left out. That would not have happened without siblings. Her bond, despite the children being there was mostly with me. She loved the kids. They helped her adjust a bit…. but her main focus? Always her Mama.

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In sum, the ability to bring siblings is a wonderful gift. If you can financially afford it, it truly is wonderful. I am not sure if the family, (siblings) benefit more from the opportunity to learn, love and honor the birth culture of their new sibling, or if the new sibling “wins” because they have an entire family to greet them on their Family Day. The wonderful news is you truly can not make a wrong choice. IF you choice to bring your entire family, wonderful memories and moments will emerge that you will treasure for a lifetime. If bringing siblings is NOT possible, that is okay too! You will have MORE time to focus on the one-on-one attention so many adoptive children crave. The greatest move, the most important decision, the BEST decision, is that you have chosen to adopt…and that right there friends is the making of a beautiful journey ahead no matter who joins the initial phases…