Posted by: Kristin W | September 5, 2011

On the Nightstand – Brothers and Sisters in Adoption

Book Review – Brothers and Sisters in Adoption: Helping Children Navigate Relationships When New Kids Join the Family by Arleta James

What It’s About:  I’m not really sure.  Here’s my theory.  The author really wanted to write a general book on adoption, but that market is already flooded.  So, she concocted a plan to title the book about siblings, then write a book about parenting a child with severe emotional issues.  In order to sell it to the publisher, she had to throw in information about the “typically developing children” in the home.  So, basically, this book tells the story of many children and families who she has counseled (she is an attachment therapist), and has very little to do with helping the older kids in the family adjust to a new sibling.

What You Need to Know:  To me, the most important lesson learned from this book had to do with setting realistic expectations.  She has several examples where children expected their adopted sibling to be an instant playmate and to be thankful to be a part of the family.  Then, when the child arrived, didn’t speak the language, was developmentally unprepared for play, or with anger, tantrums or rage, the older kids were unprepared.  This has led us to have some conversations with our kids about how our adopted kids may be upset.  We’ve talked to them about how even though here they will get three meals a day, they may still be sad and miss their family and culture from Ethiopia.  This is a hard concept for them to grasp.  If she had included some helpful tips in the book, it would have been nice, but she mostly just made the point that we need to lower their expectations.

Other than that, this book covers a lot of the downsides of adoption – attachment issues, previous abuse, grief, and more.  If you have a good social worker and attended any kind of good pre-adoption training, then you have covered most of this already, albeit not with the examples from Ms. James’ private practice.

Would I Recommend It:  This book sucked.  This book was more exciting to me than any other adoption title I’ve picked up, but it was a huge disappointment.  As a parent of two elementary-school-aged children, I recognize that this adoption will affect the way our entire family functions.  I want to make sure that my “typically developing children” adapt to their new siblings and our new life as a family of six.  But there was very little in this book that will help accomplish that.  Every time I’d think she was about to get to something good, she’d abruptly end the topic and say, “we’ll discuss that further in Chapter 10.”  Boy was I looking forward to Chapter 10.  Then it was a complete letdown.  Oh, and did I mention that she’s not a very good writer?  So even the anecdotes from her practice were hard to read.  I’d have to say pass on this one, unless you really want to read some firsthand accounts of horrifying adoption stories with no solid information about how to avoid those same situations.

I still think this is a great topic, though, and hope that another author would address it in a more helpful way.  If you know of any other resources on this topic, please let me know.




  1. How disappointing! The only thing I can recommend along these lines is I know John Raible has done some writing about how transracial adoption affects the white siblings…not sure that’s what you’re looking for though…

  2. That sounds very disappointing. I hadn’t thought about it, but I can’t recall any adoption books I’ve seen that discuss relationships with siblings already in the home in any kind of depth. If I see anything I will let you know.

  3. Well that stinks. I guess we’ll have to write the sibling book ourselves.

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