Friday, July 18, 2014

The Myths and Truths of Older Child Adoption

From my point of view…

There are two different age groups of older child adoption (probably more).

There are those that are nearing aging out - that's the 10 yrs - 13yrs 364 days group.
the 5-9 yr old crowd.

I don't really think of the 3-4 yr old as an older child.
Yes, their brain has been fully formed through the first 3 yrs of the lives and from their past experiences. Compared to an infant and toddler they are older. 
Yes, they may have struggles but they are still "little" and easier to nurture and (gulp) easier to love. 

Our children came home at these ages-

1. Anna- 17 months

2. Sarah- 8yrs 9 month

3. Emma just turned 10 and Ellie just turned 8.
We think they were probably a year or two older than the age we were given.
Both girls had a full set of adult teeth.

4. Ava at 5 yrs 10 months and Sam at 4 years 6 months.

5. Abby at 5 yrs 10 months and Luke 
at 3 yrs old.

6. Mia was 11 yrs 3 months, Melissa was 7 yrs 2 months and Madeline was 6 yrs 3 months.

7. Ben came home at 7 yrs 7months and Joey at 5 yrs 5 months

For each one of them, I mourned the time we missed.
The time that they grew and experienced life (a not so good life) without us.

So, Anna came home as toddler. We loved it and so did the big kids!
It was the right time in our life to bring home a young child!
She has "grown up" with Johnny, who was 13 when she came home!
Mark was still at home too and he was 17 at the time.

Sarah and Ellie came home at the 8-9 yr old stage and Mia and Emma came home at the 10 and older.
I am including them in the older category because they were quite challenging.

That means 8 of our children came home at the 3yrs - almost 8yr stage.
We love this age group!
They are mobile, they are potty trained (unless that is their special need), they want to interact and play with you and the other kids. They watch the other kids and learn how we do things at our house and in the USA. You can reason with them and they usually desire to please.

Obviously the words above are a bit of an over simplification 
but the point is we like adopting in this age bracket.

Adopting Sarah, Mia, Emma and Ellie was much more challenging.
That does not mean I don't like adopting children a little older it just means that it came with more challenges.
Had they been even older, I am guessing it would have come with even more challenges.

Challenges are not bad
We grow from being challenged.
We rely on God(and less on ourselves) the more we are challenged.
So challenges are GOOD!

if you are adopting older 
meaning the 10 - 13 364/365th yr olds you need to be

So equip yourself and prepare yourself properly!
Don't jump out of the plane without your parachute!
And even with your parachute you will still experience surprises and challenges!

The truth is I love a challenge!
And I have not been a bit disappointed with the challenge of adopting older!
It makes me continuously work on...

I do not want to discourage anyone from adopting an older child.
There are many families that have successfully adopted older children and they are doing very well. 
If you feel God's call to adopt an older child- you should listen and act.
Because God will equip you to do what HE has asked you to do…

My Thoughts-

When adopting an older child do consider birth order and how this may change your family dynamics and the roles of each child in your home.
Discuss it with your social worker, other families that have adopted older and read books on this issue.

Our older birth kids where not effected by birth order. They were much older and we got the go ahead from each one of them!
(Johnny was the last one on board and he decided it would be much too quiet in our home after everyone but him left.)

Myth #1
I am saving this older child from an uncertain and horrible future.

And most likely they will have a better future with a family and people to love and support them.
But don't glorify yourself…
Don't think it's half God and half you doing this.
It's NOT…

Myth #2 
They will be happy that I saved them.

This is a tough one. 
Some kids are thrilled to leave China and let the past be the past while others
find it very difficult. Even though China may not have been good to them, it's still part of who they are. 
It comes home with them and the more you try to move them away from it the harder they may resist.
It depends on the child.

Myth #3 
They will think of me as their Mother and my husband as their Father.
I love them already!

You love a picture. 
You love the dream of what you think life will be like.
The older child does not always appreciate new parents wanting to "parent" them.
They have lived without parents for many years and they thought they were doing just fine.
So now, here you are trying to tell them what to do?
How do you think they are going to react?

With time they may think of you as their mother and father. 
But be prepared- your blessings may not happen for many many years.

Even with birth children the teen years are challenging.
We have found many of our blessings happen once they are into their mid twenties.
At that point you can share a mutually respectful relationship.

Myth #4
It will be beautiful. 
We will hang out together and do things together.
Watch movies, play catch, shop, or read together...

Early adolescents is the natural time for a child to try to break away from rules and parental controls.
They want to get their feet wet on their own so to speak.
They would rather fail themselves than have you tell them what to do (even if you are right).
And this may happen over and over and over again...

Myth #5
They will be friends with the children that are already in our home (bio, adopted, foster).
They will enjoy being a big brother or sister, a son or a daughter.

Maybe? And that would be great! 
But consider that they may have no interest at all in
"being friends"
with their new sibs.
Adolescents usually want to pick their own friends based on their own interests.
As far as being an older brother or sister-
 that may happen as they can find their "younger identity" in them and actually enjoy some time with younger sibs.
It can be freeing to an older adopted child that is torn between the biological age and their personal maturity.
But they may not want or appreciate the responsibility of being the older sib.

Myth #6
We can give them a good education!

If they are healthy, smart and play an instrument… you may want to reconsider…
Most likely they are not a "real orphan".
Do NOT be mad at your agency, your social worker, your husband or the prospective child.
Most likely you will never know or meet the person responsible for the gross misrepresentation.
It is sad but fraud does happen even in adoption. 
Be thankful that you found out in time and that this child can continue to stay near their biological family in China.
Then go quickly
and find the real orphan that is waiting patiently for YOU!
There are so many that wait.
Surely, your child is waiting among them...

Academically your child will come to you many years behind in their education.
It has been a struggle for many families.
And we are also challenged by this issue.
The schools want to place them in the grade according to their age, but they are no where near that grade emotionally.
Homeschooling could be a perfect fit…
except they are an older adoptee who really doesn't want to spend that much time with you (nor you with them) and may be a bit embarrassed at the lower educational level they are at.
Plus they are learning a new language which they may or may not want to learn.
Educating the older adoptee is prayer worthy…
It can be challenging.

Myth #7
Since they are older we will not have to deal with any of the "younger child stuff".

NOPE, They will come to you in a larger body with the mind of a 7 yr old.
They will have ingrained orphanage behaviors that will slowly drive you crazy.
You will do all that you can to purge these behaviors and then you will grow weary and decide to just pick your battles and while letting go of some of the behaviors that need correction 
because you can't correct them 
all. day. long...

But you will become more dependent on God.
You will ask him to take some of your more recent concerns and as long as you actually give them up…
HE will take them!
(and yes, I find myself praying through BKF as everyone is chomping and enjoying their cereal!)

Truths #1
Adoption is a beautiful thing.

Yes it is, in theory and in reality, but its hard work and will put you on your knees.
We are all adopted by God.
It's good to open our hearts and our homes to others in need.
This is pure truth…
BUT, that doesn't mean we are going to have the perfect happily ever after family…
It means we Love and trust you Lord.
We know you will not leave us alone.
You will be with us through the good times and the bad times...

Truth #2
This is tough

It is tough…
It may be the hardest thing you'll ever do…
But, if you are called to do it you know God will be with you every step of the way.
Sometimes we don't let God in and instead try to do it ourselves.
Don't do it alone- you need HIM!

There does come a time when you need to let you child do it on their own.
You cannot control, constantly look after or make their decisions for them.
You may need to free yourself from this and give it all to HIM.

Truth #3
Their dreams of what an American family is 
what it means to move to another country 
be part of a family- that they have just met… 
is completely different than yours and mine... 

Most likely their thoughts and dreams are completely inaccurate.
They have been told many untruths about America and families in America.
We will not buy them what ever they want, whenever they want it…

I don't know how to cook Chinese food and I'm not planning to learn how.
We have cereal in the morning 5 days a week and we love cheese!

Truth #4
Do NOT buy them an iPad or an iPod or a tablet or a computer, etc right away.

They lose themselves in those things and you may may not get them back…

I would love to insert another category here- so please add to my "do remember" list in the comment sections!

Do Remember #1
realize that even though things seem challenging they probably will grow up and be just fine.

Do Remember #2
God loves us unconditionally. Try to love your older adopted child as God loves us, unconditionally.

Do Remember #3
Give yourself a break. Do something special for you and give time and attention to your marital relationship. It has to be a priority in your life… if the parents are happy there is a greater chance that the children will be happy!

Do Remember #4
If God calls you to serve Him- do so!
HE has a reason, HE has a purpose- find out what it is!
BUT be patient.

Do Remember #5
Have a sense of humor! With them and with some of the issues you are facing!
Humor heals and smiles are contagious!

I am sure there are so many more Myths and Truths and Do Remembers to add in - 
 we all have our own bucket full.

I want to end this post with my personal TRUTHS…

Would we do it again?
I would, we would and we have had this conversation.

Are we challenged?
Yes, we are… and I have shared some of our challenges in the past and will be sharing more.

How are we coping?
I would say we are doing well.
We have a few challenging days but mostly there are good days.
We are good at discussing our challenges, working together and finding solutions/ options and opportunities.
We work with all of our children as a family unit to help the child that is struggling.
Our kids do much better with a known schedule- so we will be starting back to school as soon as possible.
This is bigger than us but not bigger than 

We do feel that having had 5 children go through adolescents has been helpful to us in parenting our new crew…
Our 5 older kiddos were great kids but they weren't perfect!
We had many challenging times with them too!
Now we can look back and laugh at some of those moments!
Someday you will be able to do that too!

Adolescent is filled with twists and turns whether it is your bio child or your adopted child.
They will try to take you on an emotional roller coaster.
Whatever you do… 
DON'T get on the roller coaster with them!
Stay peaceful and close to GOD and watch from a distance!
At some point they will want to join you in peacefulness!

Adolescent children/ teens will disappoint you, frustrate you, hurt your feelings, outsmart you and make you wish you could start the day over or give up and go to bed early…

BUT, the reward of having a child grow up into a well adjusted adult will make you forget all of those awful teen years…

This is why I would love to have mentors(parents with adopted adults in their 20's) that have made it into the adult years.
I'd like to know how are they doing?
What is their greatest challenge?
What would you do different if you could do it all over again?
What did you do, that you are glad you did, when raising your adopted child?

I believe that our older adopted children will grow up to be healthy productive adults.
I just think the path that some of them will take my be a bit different than the norm,
that's okay.

Worrying about our older adopted children is not helpful to us or to them.
Love them and give it to God!
(I know, easier said than done… but I'm still trying!)


Unknown said...

Jean, a great post and many things I could have written word for word. Thank you for pulling it all together for the rest of us. Keep on writing my friend:-)


Heather said...

Thank you, Jean! Your post is so honest and helpful.

ourchinagirls said...

I think Vicki said it very well on her blog;

I find yours says some of what she mentions but she goes into much more detail. The younger/older child is easier to catch up to school levels. One needs God to help them through the baggages a teen can bring...IF they want to be adopted.

Ms. Sigurdson said...

I took in a 15 yo girl from a very abusive background. I was a very inexperienced parent. It helped me to think generationally. I realized pretty quickly that what I did in a few short years might not change her short- term outcome very much. I worked on giving her skills and supports that would allow her to break patterns from her past. I was right about short- term. She had a baby at 17. However, she is now 23, married to her baby's father. They have 3 beautiful girls who have never spent a day in gov't care! They work, him full time, her part time, take care of their girls, and have a drug and alcohol free home. I am still providing more guidance and support than most parents do for a child in her 20s, but she wasn't parented when she should have been, so these are catch- up years. She now understands and appreciates that. Build trust. Don't worry about school. Build a relationship. Your child will need that later on.

Janet and Kevin said...

Jean - excellent post. I would include that all ages of children can be challenging as well! Our youngest daughter who just came home (at almost age 8) presents many of the challenges of older child adoption. From where we stand right now, we see a long road ahead of us in helping her grow to an emotionally healthy and independent adult. Good thing God has it in His control already! Loved your truths and things to remember points!

Unknown said...

very useful post ! i adopted boys at 8.5,7and 5 and my daughter at 3 now they are 17 ,16,13 and 10 daughter was and still is very challenging child as well as my second son both have FAS , youngest son is mentally retarded but is so much easier to parent ,the oldest son is smart , athletic , hardworking I think it all depends on genetics ,exposure to substances , character of the child , time spent in orphanage and a whole bunch of other factors ) and its very hard to predict adoption outcome )
in our family adopting out of birth order worked out just fine my bio daughter is 1 year younger than my oldest and 4 months younger than second oldest never had problems and right now i am planning to adopt older girls aged 15,14,12 and everyone is looking forward to it ) Congratulations on your soon to become daughter! and since you go to China again why not to adopt two kids? ;)

ZetteLolo said...

thank you so much for your post. I adopted an older child, aged 7 &1/2 when she arrived... she is a wonderful girl, sometimes she's like a baby, sometimes like a 3 year old kid and sometimes, she 's speaking and thinking like and older one (almost adult!). It's a all-days- challenge but a wonderful one, and my husband and I are waiting for another older SN kid from China.
No regret of a younger one, a real choice.
Thank you so much to have shared


Leah Spring said...

I think its important to say that this ONLY applies if you are adopting what you believe to be cognitively typical kids! Otherwise most of what you said is completely inaccurate. And really, all of my adoptive parent friends aren't seeing ANY of this with their "healthy" adopted kids. All my adopted kids have Down syndrome, so I'm not taking them into consideration when responding to this post. (however, they are all high functioning kids who, if born here would have been capable of doing close to grade level work. Their problems don't come from having DS, but from their lives in the institution.)

I can't even count the number of adoptive parent friends who are haven't come even CLOSE to what you get to experience with your kids. Kids home 3, 4, 5 years who are still in the toddler stage at 8, 10, 11 years old who are supposedly cognitively typical kids but the institutional damage done is too great. Of the people I know in real life, I would say you are in the minority. Those who struggle are mostly doing so silently, or with very closed circles of friends who are in the same trench. When their lives aren't going as well as someone like you, they don't reach out for help. Instead the draw inward, feeling inadequate and somehow that they're doing something wrong. They're not. They just have kids with different damage.

Adoptive parents need to understand that when you sign up for international adoption you are signing your name to accepting ANY possibility. Too many disruptions happen because adoptive parents have this vision in their head of what their new child will be like, and when that doesn't come to be they cannot accept it. International adoption is a lot like getting a prenatal diagnosis. You know what the child HAS, but you have no way of knowing how it will affect his or her future. To say "they will probably grow up and be just fine" is doing a disservice to those parents who have kids who WILL NOT but they expect them to!

My sister has four adopted kids (sib group) They were adopted at ages, 7, 8, 11, and 12. Born and raised in the US, lived most of their lives in one foster home prior to adoption. One will be in jail for the rest of his life. He is certainly not "fine", nor is society fine with his dangerous self walking the streets. One has 6 babies at 26 years old with three different fathers. She is far from "fine". The next abusive man she latches onto may be the one who kills her. Another works like crazy, holding three jobs She is doing the best of all of them, if you don't count what stress has done to her mental health. And the last has a severe eating disorder as a result of their time prior to adoption. That is just one family. There is no "fine", and these kids don't have any diagnosis. They are "typical" kids who suffered abandonment and abuse. They could be any kids adopted from ANYWHERE. God can do anything, but just because a parent wants that fix for their kid doesn't mean it will happen.

Adoptive parents need to understand some things you cannot fix. You cannot fix what happened in the womb. You cannot fix ALL of the damage done by institutional life prior to adoption or by abandonment. My sister could not fix her kids. That is what I see adoptive parents struggling with the most…the fact they can't fix it all.

Leah Spring said...

I do have one quick question: Most of your adopted kids haven't hit their teens yet. As an experienced mom of kids (bio) with significant mental health issues, I can tell you mental illness doesn't usually rear its ugly head until around ages 14-16. Sometimes later. How can you assume they will be "fine"? My sisters kids were 'fine" when they came to her. Mental illness, sexual acting out, violent deviant behavior, eating disorder…none of it showed up until after age 15 with ALL of the kids. I absolutely hope all of your kids are fine as adults. I wouldn't wish mental illness on any child or parent. Yep, God was (is) with me through all if it, but that doesn't make it easy to deal with.

shayneswife said...

I think although you pen, "In My Opinion" your really hwavy on negative info. I adopted out of birth order and my adoptrd are now my two oldest. Maybe I missed it, but you need to tell your audience that every child is different and every family is different. My oldest loves to be punished. She craves negative attention. And as much as people want to believe an infant adopted or a toddler, as you claim, are easier.... there are simply no guarantees. Adoptive kids have bonding issues and trust issues that don't show until adulthood. My husband has his own set of big issues just because his dad left when he was four.