Adopting an older child can be an experience full of joy and strife. But if you prepare for this journey with your eyes wide open and with realistic expectations, it can be more rewarding than imagined. Here are a few things to know about older child adoption.
1. A person’s experiences shape their outlook on the world.
The child who has been hurt by adults will struggle to feel secure in life, therefore causing lifelong difficulties. Ask questions about the child’s history. Know the details of their traumas, successes, strengths, and weaknesses. Once the adoption is closed, you will no longer have the opportunity to speak with people who know your adoptee best. In addition, ask for as many resources as possible to support your adoptee through the next stages of life. When we adopted our daughter at the age of 14 months, we had no idea she was going to need mental health supports when she turned 15. Thirteen years after later, it was too late to request additional supports.
2. Be true to the older adoptee’s birth family.
Regardless of the abuse or neglect the adoptee has experienced from them, these people have played significant roles in your adoptee’s life. In addition, be as honest as possible; nothing builds trust more than honesty. Adoptees need to feel safe to form secure attachments to their caregivers. In some cases, adoptive parents withhold birth family information to protect the child. Depending on the information, keeping secrets might cause the adoptee to have unnecessary issues in the future. As an adoption therapist, I have encountered children who had significant behaviors simply because they felt they were lied to by their adoptive parents. Once the truth was revealed, negative behaviors diminished considerably.
In situations an open adoption is available, take it. Know as much as possible about the birth parents because this information is going to be needed at some point. As the adoptive parent you decide when contact will be made.
3. Older adoptees come with fully established personalities and that can’t be changed.
All you can do is work with them to establish household rules and expectations. It will be necessary to hold them accountable and prepare them for adulthood as best as possible. Some foster kids go to college, but many are not ready when they turn eighteen. Sometimes the older adoptee is simply counting the days until they turn 18 and plan to leave your home as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean they will be gone forever; they need to spread their wings and feel the freedom they have not experienced while living in an orphanage or foster care. In situations where adoptive families have provided safe, secure, consistent homes, it is possible the adoptee will want to come home.
4. There are no guarantees the older adoptee is going to love you or appreciate you.
It can take many years of living and adjusting to their new life before they are going to feel secure enough to trust. The longer a child has been involved in the system the more difficult it is going to be for them to trust adults trying to make decisions about their life. After years of being moved without notice, told everything is going to be okay, then losing all sense of felt safety, it is no wonder they are reluctant to trust.
5. Understand most of their behaviors stem from anger and hurt.
As you begin to build a relationship with your older adopted child, there will be times when they will lash out at you for no reason. This often happens when things are going well and can be confusing for the inexperienced adoptive parent. Older adopted children sometimes start panicking when things are going good and fear they will lose your home like past homes. That doesn’t mean you should withhold consequences for poor behavior, but understand they are self- sabotaging to control their situation. Reassure them of their security in your home and help them learn sabotaging behaviors are not helpful.
Older child adoption becomes enjoyable when the child begins to no longer see you as a threat and implements the life lessons you try to teach them. As they mature, they begin to see how their previous life affected them. My oldest son, who was adopted when he was 12 years old, is now 26. He continues to struggle with poor choices, but he finally accepts how we have been consistently there for him and guiding him toward a happy life. After 15 years, he can sincerely tell us he loves us and how grateful he is for what we have given him. That alone made all of our struggles worth every minute we invested in him.
What other advice do you have about older child adoption? Let us know in the comments!