Introducing Adopted Cousin into Family

Updated on March 03, 2008
A.W. asks from Berlin, NH
20 answers

My sister and BIL have adopted a 2yo boy and my son is very excited to meet his new cousin, but he is confused how come he was not a baby. We have told him that he was a baby but that he was living with someone else then. That seemed to be ok, until recently when my other BIL and SIL had their son. He IS a baby and he is living with his mom & dad like he has his whole life. Now he thinks that maybe the 2yo is lost and his "real" mom & dad are looking for him, or that my sister stole him. I am not sure where this came from. He has never seen or heard any stories about kidnapping. Is it likely just his trying to fill in the blanks? My sister & BIL are keeping the adoption in the open with their son, but I am concerned that when we visit my son is going to wonder where and how they got him. He is very inquisitive and methodical, plus he is extremely sensitive. He will not understand that someone can just give away their child to strangers, or that the courts can take them away and give them to people. That will terrify him. Any ideas how we can ease his mind before he freaks out when we get to the first meeting? I want him to enjoy this great new friend, and be ok with how he joined our family.

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So What Happened?

Well, the visit with our adopted nephew went well after he got used to the idea and they played great together. My son did however have a few behavior issues just after the visit and still whenever the cousin is talked about at great length. We understand that and have reassured him that this is all new and he will get used to seeing him and that a new kid does not mean that anyone loves him less and he seems to be accepting that. He found the new baby to be quite boring and of now concern though. Because he knows the country of origin of their son, my son thinks that every person who has similar features must be adopted too and he has even asked if people from there eat macaroni and cheese or just pizza so it has opened up an opportunity to teach him about different cultures and foods. But he wont try those, that is a whole other topic in and of itself. Thanks for the help and suggestions!

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answers from New London on

I would simply explain that because some families are not able to have their own children, they choose to adopt. His cousin began his life with his 'First Family" and is now living with his "Forever Family". And sometimes First Families need someone else to love and care for their children because they can't, so they make an Adoption Plan to find just the right Forever Family.

My daughter had her First Family, Foster Family and now her Forever Family. It helps them distinguish a bit. Although, my daughter didn't need help in that respect. She was 5 1/2 when I adopted her. She's 11 now.



answers from Boston on

There are many books on adoption that explain to an adopted child how they came to live with there family. If he has questions about his cousin you could read one of these to him so that he understands that his cousin was meant to be with his new mom and dad. Both of my brothers were adopted. It is a beautiful gift for someone to give there baby to someone else that can take care and love them.

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answers from Boston on

Hi A.,
My husband and I adopted our daughter a few years ago. Like your sister, it has always been a matter-of-fact discussion around our house and among our extended family. With the young cousins, we focused on keeping the information age-appropriate and honest. Focus on the "age-appropriate." For instance, "there are lots of ways to make a family; adoption is one way" and "for some kids, the lady who carries them in her tummy is the same lady who is her mama; for other kids, they have a birth mother (the lady whose tummy the baby was in) and also a mama, the lady who loves and takes care of her forever." We've also found that, our worries notwithstanding, kids are often very matter-of-fact about adoption as well. In other words, they take their emotional cues from us. We don't offer details of the how/why because that is personal/family business and--as you say--not entirely appropriate for kids to know regardless. If they ask curious questions that we can't/don't want to answer, we just say, "that's family business" or we ask a question back to see what the kid is really asking. Oftentimes, curious questions from biological kids focus on their wondering if their family situation is permanent. Which is when we say, "I am G's mama forever, and your mama is your mama forever, no matter what." And definitely let him know that your sister IS his cousin's REAL mother just as you are his real mother, but his birth mother is the one who had him in her tummy.

I'm not sure how old your son is, but honestly, we've found that kids of all ages take their emotional cues from us. If you're matter of fact about it, he will be too. And if he asks questions that are not appropriate at the time or in front of the 2 year old, you can tell him you'll answer all his questions later. My advice is: don't worry too much. And don't give any type of legal/court-type detailed information. Just stay on message: kids come to families in a number of ways, and adoption is just one of those ways. So cousin's family is forever...and--OUR family is forever.
good luck! And email me any time if you have other questions!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Hi A.:

As a very new mom of adopted twins, I explained to my nieces and nephews that their new cousins had a birth mom and dad who weren't able to give the babies the care they needed to grow up big and strong like them. I also NEVER refer to my children as having been "given up" nor do I allow anyone to use that term about the twins. Instead I explain that the birth parents made a careful, thoughtful, loving plan for the childrens' placement with a family that could give them the care they needed.

Our family motto is that the babies were born from another mommy's tummy but were born into our arms, hearts and lives when we adopted them.

As a separate matter, there is a family therapist in Medfield who specializes in adoption counseling for parents who are placing children and those who are adopting children. His name is Damon Blank. If you keep it simple for your son by explaining you don't know all of the circumstances (unless you do) but the birth parents loved his new cousin so much and wanted so much for him they knew deep in their hearts that this other couple would be much able to take care of him the way they wished they could have. Remind him, the birth parents did not give up the child - they planned for his future. I hope this helps.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

My daughter was adopted a year ago, and many children have questions about how our family was created. I try to just answer their question, without giving more information than what they ask. Giving more info than what they ask can just confuse them and lead to more question. Let him take the lead in what he wants to know.

One idea is to read him books about different families. Look in your local library or online for books about adoptive families. There are many great books available on the subject.



answers from Bangor on

hi there you set him down and tell him that the mother went to heaven and your sister is the baby new mother or you tell that the baby didnot have a mom anymore and that your sister is the new mom



answers from Boston on

Try watching the Robinsons, just out on DVD. It is a happy story of adoption, and being choosen. I would check the library, and find some other children's books, I know I have seen some.
Congratulations to your cousin!



answers from New London on

Hi There A.,
I work with Foster and Adoptive families and have a great friend who was adopted and this question is loaded with emotion. It makes a lot of sense that your , as you said, sensitive son wants to know. I have worked with people who are more unaware then your son. They simply think that the child is lucky to be in a better environment and dont really take into account that the child's loss of biological mom. So, your aware son's feelings and questions really speak to the normal worry and stress of about being adopted. How profound. I think that when you respond to him it would be good if you make your answer short, non-judgmental and to the point. For example, your new cousin had a different birth mother. Some times that happens. Your cousin's birhtparents could not care for him and your Auntie and Uncle can, so that's why your cousin is with them now. See if you make ajugdement about the birth mother, like she was sick, he may get scared that when you are sick then he'll be adopted. I hope this was helpful.



answers from Springfield on

Hi there - Congratulations on the new family members! Sounds like your son needs to know that parents can't just give their kids away to strangers - that adoption includes a lot of careful planning and work - different from a pregnancy, but with as much time and care involved. Perhaps getting some kids books on adoption from the library would help - your librarian should be able to find appropriate ones.

It also sounds like your son needs reassurance that you will always be his parents. While it's true that sometimes parents are too sick or otherwise unable to take care of their kids, and make plan for someone else to adopt their kids, that won't happen to him.

If this wasn't the case with his new cousin - if he was abandoned or if Social Services did separate him from his birth parents...well, that's a very scarey thing for kids to learn about...and it's real. Your son would just need even more reasurrance...and help understanding that that's not going to happen in your family. Everyone is healthy, you have lots of friends and family to help you...sometimes that isn't the case in other families, but it is true in yours. And be prepared to offer this reassurance for as long as needed.

As hard as it is, it's a great opportunity for your son to learn about different families.

Best of luck.



answers from Boston on

We have one child whom we adopted after she was a foster child in our home since three days of age. We continue to foster and I am sure that one day we will have to explain why all these kids come and go from our home.

It is my opinion that you can successfully explain to your son that his cousin has a mom and dad that gave birth to him but that they were not able to take good care of him the way his new mommy and daddy do and the way you take care of your children.

Because his birth mom and dad wanted him to have a good life, they decided it would be best if he had a new mom and dad. That his new mom and dad are a gift that was given him.

There are some excellent books about adoption that I am sure you can find at your local library.

The key is to put adoption in a positive light rather than in one that may make your son afraid or insecure and I think that putting it to him that his cousin came to your in laws because he needed a really good home is a reasonable way to explain it.

Good luck, hope that helps!



answers from Burlington on

How wonderful that your sister's family welcomed a child into their home. Congratulations!

Looks like a lot of people had good advice.

Some people suggested books. I know of one such book that might make a nice present for your nephew and that could probably be shared with your son too. I haven't read it but it sounds like a very loving story about an adoption.



answers from Boston on

I know a lot of people have suggested various books and videos, if you have an adoption agency in your area that would be a good place to look. Perhaps a counselor there could help, the counselor who dealt with your sister's case would be particularly useful. Thankfully, adoptive parents today are usually taught how to deal with situations like these...have you discussed your concerns with your sister? Also, you say that your son "will not understand that someone can just give their child away to strangers". First of all, most birth mothers (I am one, I placed my daughter in an adoptive home almost 6 years ago. I am also pregnant with my husband's and my first child) do not "just give their child away to strangers". I don't know the specifics of your sister's case, but since they are keeping everything open I would assume that there was some relationship or at least a meeting prior to the adoption. Placing a child (I, too, abhore the phrase "giving up") in an adoptive home is a heartbreaking decision, one that is made with thought, love and foresight. If you let your child know that the birth parents knew that they were doing the right thing when they decided to place his cousin with your sister's family, that may help lessen any fears he may have about him being taken away or you giving him to someone else. His cousin was purposely placed with a family who can love and support him forever, his birth parents loved him so much that they wanted him to have the things that they were unable to give him and now he is a part of your family. I think the most important thing is to only answer what he asks, and not to read too much into his questions. Sometimes there really is a simple answer. I do think that it's important to not (intentionally or unintentionally) demonize or judge the birth parents by saying that they gave their child away to strangers or that they didn't want him or anything that could be construed as such. Adoption is a wonderful process that has created many families all over the world, positive education about the reality of these situations can help even more families come together.



answers from Providence on


My brother and sister-in-law adopted a little boy from Guatemala two years ago. My four children were very curious about it all. We explained that Charlie's parents were not able to take care of Charlie, so Uncle Tom and Aunt Audrey were going to be their Mommy and Daddy from now on. We explained that this was not going to happen to them or to their other cousins, because we ARE able to take care of them, but that we were all so lucky to have Charlie join our family. They love him like crazy and never really questioned it again...



answers from Hartford on

Hi A.,
Honesty is the best policy I think. Maybe you can explain to him that his birth parents love him alot and wanted him to have even better parents so they asked your sister and BIL to be the new parents. Of course his little mind will think that you may do the same thing BUT you can reassure him that you think they were really smart and brave to do that and that his Aunt & Uncle and your family are really lucky to have a new member in the family.
Best of luck



answers from Boston on

Since your son is sensitive perhaps you could put the situation in the most positive and say something like "his other mommy and daddy loved their son soo much that they made the heartbreaking choice to give him to people that could give your cousin what he needs, when they were not able to".

I am sure that this will open up a time for discussion. It usually does. Just be honest with him, if he asks about his own situation simply explain that as long as you live you will be there for him, if something should happen to you explain that you made a will or whatever he understands, that says he goes to live with _____ or _____ as a backup.

I would only do that if he asks. However I strongly recommend that you do make arrangements so the boy goes where you want him to not the state:)

I know that is a touchy subject but it may help put insecurities to rest.

Congratulations to your family on both new members.




answers from Boston on

Hi, A.,

I'm a mom with 2 adopted daughters who joined our family when they were infants. In my experience with adoption, I would suggest that you be as truthful as possible in answering your son's questions about how his cousin joined his new family. Answer only what he asks you, but stress that his aunt and uncle love him very much. Sometimes kids get overwhelmed when you give them too much information. It also might be helpful to get a couple of adoption story books that you can read with your son before the first meeting. This will give him some experience in asking questions and you some experience in answering them. I know it feels awkward, but if you can be open to all comments and questions from your son, it will only build a stronger bonds between everyone.



answers from Boston on

My first thought is to tell your son that his new cousin didn't have a mommy and daddy, and that your sister and BIL adopted him to give him a loving home. Don't know how that will go over, since he is so inquisitive and methodical (my son is too so I know exactly what you mean!).

Best Wishes!

L. F



answers from Boston on

There must be a book at the library that deals with adoption in a simplistic manner that wouldn't instill fear. My son was/is just like yours...has to reason everything out and ask a ton of questions. We used to call him our little man because he was so inquisitive.

Maybe your sister could talk to him and tell him that his other family couldn't properly care for their son, so they are helping them out...especially because it is an open adoption which the birth mother will be on the scene in the future.



answers from Barnstable on

i am an adult adoptee (46), a mother of 2 adopted children (ages6 & 10) and also a birth mother.
my children understand that some children have 2 moms, one i call the "belly mommy" and one i call the "forever" mommy. i explain that the belly mommy was just not able to take care of the child in terms they understand... basic things like food, toys, blankets. As they grow the answers can be more detailed. little people need less answers than we think!!
Very few children are just "given" away and every situation is painful. there are a ton of books for big people and little people that help explain things like adoption, fostering etc.
my advice is to just love your little one and open your heart to the new one, everyone else will too.. i am also a retired psychotherapist
by the way, i am also a retired psychotherapist



answers from Boston on

I think the best thing to do is tell them a story:
Explain: babies come from a Mommy's tummy. Like when you were little and in Mommy's tummy. (Or another example.) And are born because Mommy and Daddy decieded to have them, and share their love with them. Other babies (like your new cousin) come from their Mommy's and Daddy's heart. They were loved and wanted so much that their Mommy's and Daddy's love for them brought them together. So when they were a baby they were taken good care of by someone else, until the Mommy's and Daddy's heart was so full of love and want for them. That they finally got to be together, and become a family to share all that love with eveyone around them. (Especially you)

I think it's a simple story that you can use to explain his new family member without really getting detailed about adoption. All kids just need to know is that they are loved, and wanted. And that his new cousin is just that loved and wanted. And you could also explain how everyone is different (give an example)like some people like ketchup on their frenchfries, and others don't. And instead of coming to the family as a baby, he came older.
I hope this helps.

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