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Risks And Joys Of Adopting Older Children

Joan Young By Joan Young on
Badge: Editor | Level: 34 | Dating, Relationships & Family Expertise:

As someone who has adopted three boys, two of whom were older than the baby/ toddler stage, I would like to share a couple of hints with you. We are not sorry that we did this, but we were young and very idealistic. There are some expectations we had which were not realistic.

First of all, it’s important to remember that love is not necessarily enough to fix every problem and overcome every obstacle. It is going to take a lot of really hard work.

Families who take in children with physical handicaps often get a lot of publicity and the children are happy and grateful. It may sometimes really work this way. However, the vast majority of older children who are adoptable have serious emotional problems, and often, behavioral issues as well.

Children are not like clay, able to be molded any way you want them to be. Any child over the age of five is going to have already made quite a few decisions about life, even though he or she can’t verbalize those personal philosophies. If there are multiple issues or behaviors that are not acceptable to you, you will probably need to choose the two or three that are the most important, and let many of the others go. Otherwise, you will find yourself constantly disciplining and correcting. You need to allow space and time for interacting positively. You can not change everything.

Older children will have less ability to bond with you than babies or toddlers. They have been hurt over and over, and no matter how much you love them, no matter how much they want to be loved, they will be wary. Some will never be able to trust people enough to form close relationships throughout their lives. This is not your fault. You may be able to bring them to the point where they trust you, and you may need to settle for this as the best expression of love they are capable of.

Remember that you are taking on a lifetime commitment whether the child grows into a productive, responsible adult or not. Are you prepared for this? It may mean providing physical or emotional support long after most kids are grown. It may mean living with some serious consequences of stupid or illegal actions on the part of these children. (Of course we get no guarantees with biological kids either, but many older children who have spent big portions of their lives without families are prone to making bad decisions.)

All adopted children, older or not, will have to deal with feelings of rejection by their birth parents at some point. ALL. Some will have a harder time with this than others, but it must be dealt with. You will need to understand this, and be accepting of their need to work through this. The teenage years can be particularly difficult. They may blame all their problems on you with fantasies of, “If only my real mom/ dad hadn’t left, everything would be all right.”

Unadopted children may have undesirable relatives in the wings who were unable to provide suitable homes for them, but who will remain as part of their lives whether you like it or not. You need to find ways to deal with this– personally, as a family, and perhaps even legally.

All of these things said, it can be very rewarding to see an unhappy child learn to smile. You may be able to guide a young man or woman to becoming a productive member of society and to reach goals that no one thought possible for them. It’s remotely possible that the child would adapt easily to your family and most of these difficulties will never come your way. But don’t count on it.

I would never tell someone who wants to adopt an older child that they should not do so. But you should go ahead with your eyes open as to some of the difficulties you may face.