Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Adopt an Older child?

In China when a child turns 14 they are no longer eligible for adoption. There are so many “stories” about what happens to these children when they age out but one thing we all know for sure is that life without a family can be very difficult even for an adult. When you adopt an older child there will be no diapers, no daycare, no stroller and no crib. Older children will be able to dress themselves, bath themselves, feed themselves, and they probably will be able to tell you what they like and what they don’t like - even if they don’t speak English yet. Some of these children may have suffered from abuse or neglect, some may have had loving care givers and others may have come from foster homes. None of them would be available for adoption if they didn’t need a family. Most older children understand this and desperately want a family. They know that the orphanage will not allow them to stay past a certain age or that their foster families can no longer care for them. This is why they will understand and appreciate what you have done for them when you adopt them. Most older children will be grateful for the opportunity to have a family and a permanent home. Many will be grateful just for the opportunity to go to school. If adopted, children with medical needs will receive life altering medical attention and support that they would not have had access to in China.

Our family has adopted five children from China. Our first daughter was adopted through the NSN program when she was 3 years old. That was “old” according to the other families in our group. Our second daughter also adopted through the NSN program was 6 years old and again according to the other families in our group that was really old. Our third adoption was a huge leap of faith, a 13 year old waiting child. We saw her referral information in early January and we had to complete the entire adoption process in less than four months when she would turn 14 years old. Quite honestly I was so focused on the process/paper chase that I could not stress over every little thing that would happen when she came home. We did talk to the school, we did line up people who could translate for us and we purchased tools to help her learn English (Rosetta stone, dictionary, etc.). While we waited we sent our daughter letters, pictures and care packages to introduce our family to her. She even wrote us a very nice letter! This child has truly exceeded our expectations! She is an extraordinary person, kind, generous, intelligent, mature and optimistic. Today after 3.5 years she is a 17 year old junior in high school and doing very well with hopes of attending college when she graduates. Because her adoption was such a rewarding experience for our family, and we learned so much about the process of bringing an older child into our family, we went on to adopt 2 more older children (2 eleven year old daughters) and we have no regrets.

We are in no way implying that adopting older children is easy, it does require patience and perseverance. Every child is different and each child will handle their transition to your family and their new life differently. Some children will be well prepared and others will not be prepared at all. Overcoming the language/communication hurdle will be your first challenge. However this will improve quickly because your child will learn a little English everyday and your family will learn to communicate more with less language everyday. One of the questions we hear most often is what about school? All our girls go to public school and they all entered school right away, within weeks of arriving home from China. Most older children want to go to school as soon as possible. School gives their lives structure, it gives you and your child a break from each other, and it helps to develop their English language skills. Socializing with other children is a great incentive to learn English.

In the beginning the feeling will be awkward because essentially you are inviting a complete stranger into your family and your child is trying to be a part of a family they don’t know or understand. However, as you get to know your child and your child gets to know their new family the awkwardness will disappear and finally a day will come when you no longer remember your family without this child. As our family encourages others to adopt older children we know and understand what it feels like. We know that it is scary proposition and that it feels like you are taking a huge risk, but we also know that we have received so much for taking those risks that others weren’t willing to take. Some people without the experience of adopting older children may try to discourage you but I recommend that you do your research. Read books, read current articles, join yahoo groups, and visit family blogs. Most parents that have adopted older children are very willing to share their experience with you to help other older children find families. If you are considering adopting an older do your research, go into it with your eyes wide open and you will not be disappointed.

A Few Simple Words of Wisdom

Good – Watching older children experience “firsts” like holidays, family vacations, the beach, birthday celebrations, new clothes, new shoes, and making their own choices.

Biggest Adjustments – Food is probably the most difficult adjustment but they will slowly get used to American food. In the beginning they can eat Chinese take out and Ramen noodles. Learning English and learning American culture can take time, in the mean time watch out for conflicts or hurt feelings that develop from misunderstandings. Riding in a car can cause motion sickness for someone who might never or rarely have ridden in a car. The motion sickness will disappear as the child becomes accustomed to riding in a car.

Hardest Adjustments - Learning their place in the family and working out differences and conflicts with other family members. Again watch out for conflicts and hurt feelings caused by misunderstandings. Many times we find out that there really is no conflict just a misunderstanding. In other words everyone is in agreement, they just don’t know it. Learning age appropriate social protocol can be challenging too. Between the cultural differences and the child’s experience in China they may need a little extra coaching from you.

Adopting out of Birth Order – Often when a family adopts an older child it will be an out of birth order adoption. We have done it and it does present some unique challenges but in our opinion it is manageable. For example sometimes the older child may be jealous of the younger child because they were in the family first or the younger child may believe they can tell the older child what to do. Most 13 year olds will not appreciate a 6 year old ordering them around, but again with some coaching conflicts can be worked out.

1 comment:

  1. We have been home 2 weeks with a sweet, very talented (drummer/artist) from Guangdong who had his first (his 14th)birthday cake and "happy birthday" all to himself. He visited his first supermarket. We taught him how to swim. Took his first trip to a zoo (Guangzhou). He WANTS to interact (and us with him), so he pantomimes a lot. He motions to pick up our smart phones so he can say something on our google translate app or he grabs it if he doesn't understand. (conversely, through that app I discovered he'd called me the B word in Mandarin....)

    He can't stand pizza or salsa... I try to serve noodles or have noodles he can heat for himself in the fridge. I set out silverware and chopsticks and he alternates....

    He says Pweeeeeeeeeeeze and Zank you... waaary much! He tells me when he likes the food too. (Pork chops with creole seasoning).

    Our middle aged dogs (4 of them) now have a constant playmate. He sleeps with them. The Boston Terrier was evicted from his bed due to snoring though.

    We adore him.