Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Adopting an Older Child

Most of the time, when people think of adoption, they think of a new, sweet baby that they will bring home from the hospital. But with the cost of private adoptions soaring until they are out of reach of the average family, more people are looking towards foster adoption with the state.

It’s the rare child, though, that is adoptable from birth through the state. The birth parents usually have their child removed from them for good cause, and then they have a year or just more, depending on the state, to work the plan the state lays out to have their child returned to them. Once the parental rights are terminated, there is also an appeal period before the child is released for adoption. Here in Texas, that appeal period is 90 days. If you are a foster parent, as well as an adoptive parent, then you have a good chance of having a child in your home from the very beginning, but there are many, many children who become wards of the state as older children. They are needy, hurting, vulnerable children who need forever homes just as much as a newborn infant, but some are not as likely to find them as quickly as a newborn is. A look at the state websites for children eligible for adoption ( is one) will reveal thousands of children in need of homes. Most of the children on these websites are the harder to place children, because the healthy young ones are usually adopted by their foster parents, or there are already homes lined up to take them before they ever have a chance to be put on these sites.

Adopting an older child is different from adopting an infant, and has a unique set of challenges to it. Most of the time, these older children have lived at least part of their lives with their birth parents, and no matter whether they are treated well, or very, very badly, they have formed the bond that ALL children form with their parents, and will carry the lifelong trauma of being parted from them. This can be very hard for the new family to understand. They have sometimes waited many years to adopt, and they love the child and want nothing more than to give that child a wonderful happy life. They can’t understand why the child does not respond to that love and desire, and put the past behind them, and be happy in the present and future.
But if an older, adopted child is not allowed to release and verbalize their grief at losing their first family, they will internalize it, and it can make the child mentally unhealthy. The new family needs to understand that this is important, before they take on the challenge of this older child. They need to understand it as it is, and not be threatened by it. The fact that there were parents that are remembered before the new parents is the child’s truth. If the new parents can understand that, and meet the need of the child in allowing them to grieve, then the bond between the newly adopted child and new parents will grow stronger, and the adoptive parents will have done much in helping the child grow up mentally strong and healthy, which is one of the goals of parenting.

Sometimes the older child will talk about their ‘real’ family, and say their adopted family is not real. An adopted child in our own family did this once, when her full sibling birth brother came to live with us. She said he was her ‘real’ brother, and the rest of the boys in the family were not. I explained to her on her four year old level, that we were all ‘real’ and that none of us were made out of silly putty. I told her that families were made in many ways, and that her birth brother had more than one way of being her brother, because he had the same set of parents, and also, he had the same set of adoptive parents, and he was her real brother both ways. I told her the other five boys in our family were her brothers by adoption, so they were brothers to her one way and they were real too. I reminded her that she also has two half brothers that did not live with us, and those half brothers were also real. All these many boys were brothers to her in different ways, and all those brothers were real brothers. No one was silly putty. We were real people, related to her in real ways. She enjoyed that explanation very much, and she has never questioned it.

There are many terms that are popular to use when talking to adopted children. One is to tell them that their birth parents loved them so much, that they gave them up. That explanation can cause distress in the child, because how do they know that you will not someday love them enough to give them up too?
Another is to tell them they by being adopted, they were ‘chosen’ or picked out specially, and that other people who give birth have to just take whatever they get. I believe that explanation is faulty, too. Obviously, someone gave birth to this child too, and either choose not to keep them, for whatever reason, or they had them taken from them because of the life they chose to live. Someday, the child may well link those ideas. Also, every child is special, no matter how they come into a family, and I believe it’s wrong to lead a child to believe differently. It may cause a playground battle someday, when the adopted child tells a birth child that they themselves were ‘chosen’ while the parents of the birth child had to take what they got. The birth child may know something about adoption, and may throw it back at the ‘chosen’ child that someone, somewhere, gave them up, while they themselves were ‘kept’. A child should be raised to consider everyone of worth; rather they are in their family by birth or adoption.

An adopted child, especially one adopted from the foster care system, should be told as much information in age appropriate portions as you know. The older they get, the more they should be told, until by the age of 12, they have all their information. That way, they do not have to digest any new information during the unsettled teen years, while they are trying to pull away from their parents and become an adult. All information should be given truthfully. You should not make it better than it is, or worse than it is. It’s just the facts of their life, and not their fault. You should never say anything bad of your own opinion about their birth parents, as a child will always associate their self worth with the people who’s DNA they share. Tell the story, the true story, and maybe use it as a starting point to teach the child how to make the right choices as they grow up.

Try and reassure the child as they grow up, that if they want to meet their birth parents again some day, you will be right there beside them, so they will not feel like they are disloyal to you in the desire to do this. Try not to feel threatened by this desire, it’s natural, and if you have been a good parent, it is unlikely to cause the child to love you any less, in fact, they just may love you more, because this is yet another way you have loved them, supported them, and helped them in their lives. Your support will be invaluable to them, whether the reunion goes well or not. They will know that you are always there in good times or bad times to lean on.

Adoption of the older child is not for the faint of heart, but it is a worthy, fulfilling thing to do!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love your comments!