In 2002, I began to chronicle my adoption journey and created Forever Parents, a supportive online community for adoptive and waiting parents. Over the next year, we grew our support forums to include an adoption shop and a blog. Forever Parents stayed active, helping thousands of people for over ten years. I’m in the process of updating and moving all the posts to this blog, in the Forever Parents section. This post was originally published on September 2, 2005.
Adopting older children can be very rewarding but it’s not for the faint of heart. These children will bring you every bad experience they’ve had and dump it right into your unsuspecting lap. I adopted not one, not two but three older children and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are five things to remember when adopting an older child.
Keep in mind, a child over the age of two years old is considered an older child. It may vary from state to state but that’s what it was when we adopted in Florida.
Realities of adopting an older child
1) Don’t freak out if you go out for dinner and they eat spaghetti with their hands (even though they 12 years old and know how to use a fork), or they pick their nose (and eat it) when you’re introducing them to your life long friends or wear the same clothes for six days in a row. Take a deep breath and stay calm.
If they know they can shock you, they will. If they think you can’t handle the small issues (yes, those are small), they’ll have a hard time learning to trust you. Stay focused on the big picture. Pick and choose your “battles”.
2) Like the Beatles song goes “Can’t Buy Me Love”. Don’t make the mistake of buying them a lot of things because you’re trying to make up for the things they never had. Start building your bond with them based on trust and respect, not what you can give them. Instead use that money for family day trips and activities, where everyone in the family can participate and create memories.
To many times children in foster care are given ‘things’ by well-meaning people as a way to make them happy. I believe this sets up a pattern of thinking that material things are the path to happiness. There’s time for that later after you’ve started bonding with them and those material things are just a bonus, not a replacement for love.
3) Routine, routine, routine. One of the ways you can help them feel safe is to provide routine to their days. They’ll relax more when they know what to expect. Try to keep mealtimes and bedtimes consistent. Have a morning and evening routine. Do allow for flexibility though.
Tips for adopting an older child
4) You will be tested beyond your wildest imagination. As they become adjusted to their new family, they will learn how much they can push and what rules they can break before you get angry. They may try to use this to come between two parents. Most times they are trying to see how long it takes before you “give them back”. This may be especially true if your child has had multiple placements before living with you. Learn to practice deep breathing, yoga or whatever it takes to stay calm.
5) Keep connections with their foster parents and siblings if at all possible. Many foster children move from home to home while in care, deepening any attachment issues they may already face. You can try and break this cycle by keeping as many old connections as possible (except of course with abusive biological family members).
We have a relationship with the last foster parents my children had before we adopted them. My kids lived with them for three years so they all had bonded with each other and I felt it was important to maintain them.
As the parents of three children, all adopted at an older age through foster care, I can tell you from experience that it’s not easy, but I believe these children are worth it.