Updated: Sep 16, 2018
I never was one who pined for having babies. Actually, I had virtually no desire and it actually often worried me. Was I broken of faulty in some way? What was wrong with me? Doesn’t everyone want a baby? When I finally aligned my life in such a way that I could move forward with my long time desire to adopt, I was relieved when I was told that as a single mother adopting from India, that I had practically zero chance at an infant. I was completely at peace with an older baby or toddler. I had stated eyeing the adorable little sizes such as 12 months and 2-3T with stars in my eyes and my heart aflutter so when a referral came for 5 year old little girl who 15 months later would become my daughter, I was completely taken off guard.
As I moved through the process and grappled with other things that were also changing from what I had planned on, I had to move through feelings of loss, fear and anxiety. In the end of course, it turned out that there was absolutely nothing that could have been better for me and I am now a HUGE advocate for adopting older children! I want to share with you some of the good and maybe not so good about about adopting an older child with a hope that I may help expand your views of older child adoption any maybe even help bring a child who desperately needs to find a family, home to their forever family!
First, some common misconceptions. The first is that older children are somehow “damaged”- possibly beyond repair. When it comes down to it, no matter what the circumstances were that brought a child into care and needing adoption, trauma was involved. Yes, there are clearly cases where horrible things happen to children either before or during their time living in the care of others (first family issues, foster care, orphanage etc…). Yes, the chances of there being more horrible things happen increases as time goes by without a family for a child. What it comes down to though is that you simply never know. You could adopt an infant who still ended up having traumatic circumstances during the pregnancy and /or birth leading to trauma behaviors later or adopt an older child who has somehow managed to escape some of the more intense trauma events. Regardless, it just means that no matter at what age you adopt, there is no guarantee that a child will or will not have certain issues. Although I have not had a child biologically, I imagine the same is true there too!
Another misconception is about birth order. I only have one child and it is likely to stay that way. I was also an only child so I am a bit out of my league writing about this but, what I do know is that it seems as though some programs are relaxing the rules on birth order in order to find forever homes for kids. My take on it is if you are interested in adopting an older child, don’t let birth order hang you up. Ask and maybe even push as it seems that often rules are more like guidelines when it comes to the world of adoption.
In order to pursue the adoption of an older child, you may be giving up on a particular dream. For me , it was the little toddler clothes, the mommy and me dresses, getting to experience so many milestones. It was giving up on all of the “cuteness” (even though my girl sure was cute and still is) that comes with the smaller kiddos.
You have to deal with FEAR, and this is real. Despite what I said above about all adopted kids possibly experiencing trauma no matter what the age, it would be ignorant of me to not realize that there may be more unknowns when adopting an older child as there is more time for them to have life events. Regardless of age adopted, we all have similar questions.
What happened that brought them into care?
How long have they been in care?
Have they experienced being cognisant of a loss of loved ones?
Were they relinquished or abandoned and if abandoned, what were the circumstances?
How have they been raised since being in care? Has it been a loving and healthy environment?
The truth is, we may never know all of the answers. In our case, I now know some of those answers. Some help me understand my daughter better. Some make me sad and, in all honesty, there are some that make me angry. Yes, my daughter was almost 7 years old when she came home and yes, I missed SO MUCH of her life. It hurts sometimes to realize what I missed, but it also helped form her into the amazing human she is now and is becoming.
I had to focus on the negative first in order for the positive to truly shine through. And shine it does. My daughter will always remember the day we met. It was not perfect, but it is our story and we will always have that. I was able to visit her before her coming home and we have shared memories from those visits that are absolutely amazing. Not only that, my daughter learned early on that I could be trusted. Yes, I did have to leave (twice, which was outrageously painful), but I came back, just as I said I would. She was old enough to understand this and I think it gave us a tremendous platform to build from once we became a forever family.
She also had time and ability to process what was coming and happening. My visits along with preparation from the orphanage and her ability to understand had her very well prepared for what was to come. She had never had a family before and so of course, there was a huge learning curve, but she had the idea and knew completely who I was and what that meant. Again, of course there was fear and loss, but I know that this had to be far less terrifying than what a younger child must go through as they leave all they know and are suddenly in a whole new world with brand new people.
Internationally adopted older kids will likely still not come with your home language, however, they likely do have language skills. This will make learning a new language easier and give them the ability to express themselves more as they acquire their new language. An added bonus is that if you can find access to someone who speaks their first language (even Google Translate can help), you have the chance to truly communicate about needs,fears, joy and love. I loved that from the start, even though we were not speaking the same language or were speaking a crazy hybrid, that we could find ways to express ourselves. Even if it was to express frustration, it allowed us to know where each other was coming from and avoid the issues that can come from not being able to communicate.
There are two super practical things that may also be worth considering. I was adopting as a sole parent with a demanding job. By adopting a child who was school aged, I was able to place her in school vs. daycare after my maternity leave was up. Not only was there an obvious cost savings (especially important as a single parent), but it also allowed me to have her in a place where I knew she would be safe and start getting the stimulus of being around other kids while also gaining valuable skills she would need for adjusting to her new life.
The second practical reason and perhaps to some, the number one reason to adopt an older child...NO DIAPERS or potty training! I say that tongue in cheek but I will also say that my daughter as already decided she will be adopting and she will also only do older children as she never wants to change a “potty diaper.” Does this make up for missing the first almost 7 years of my daughter’s life? NO WAY. Is is an added bonus? Pretty sure it was!
Older child adoption may not be for everyone, in fact I am sure it is not. That being said, it is also a beautiful and unique experience. All kids deserve families...even if they have a special need or disability. For some, those disabilities keep them from having the families they deserve. For others, their “special need” simply is that they were older and thus were passed over for the younger, “less damaged” and “cuter” ones.
I never necessarily wanted an infant. I also never imagined walking my child into kindergarten just months after becoming a mom. The one thing you can plan on with adoption is that your plans will likely never be what you originally envision. All I can say is that adoption is a leap of faith and journey through fear, grief and joy for all involved. Doing it with my daughter at an older age where we both can remember the process and feelings has been crucial to our relationship and story and I would not ever have it any other way. For those of you on the fence, consider it. It is a different ride, but an absolutely amazing one!