Worlds Apart: Adopting an Older Child

This is National Adoption Month and I want people to think about adopting older kids.  Practically everyone can envision themselves rescuing a baby Moses from the reeds but it’s a lot harder to become someone’s mother when you have to get them to agree to it.

It’s an entirely different proposition especially when you and the child speak different languages.  But that’s another story.  Let’s assume we’re talking about domestic adoptions. Maybe you’re interested in adopting and you’re thinking it would be better if you adopted a baby.  You’re probably right. (Didn’t expect that, did you?)

If you adopt a baby, first of all, you can carry the baby.  This is a very big deal.  Because if you are holding a baby – a lot – sooner or later, you’re going to develop the kind of physical ease and familiarity necessary to create the trust that leads to a bond.  (I know this because I used to read a lot of books about adoption and I also had this experience with two children adopted as toddlers – well, toddlers on paper, they were actually more like limp rags with faces.)

Trying to recreate this carrying thing with an older child can be difficult.

Awkward. And heavy.

So because you can’t use carrying the child around all the time as your primary bonding strategy, you have to come up with other ideas.

Here’s where the fun begins.

Becoming the parent of an older child is just very, very difficult.  Because the mindless ease of physical contact (the carrying) isn’t an option, a new parent has to stitch together the equivalent in words and actions in an intentional way.  The bonding process takes longer to be genuine.  There are many, many more setbacks – a lot of approach/avoidance – of the child, for example, wanting to be part of a new family but still consciously remembering and missing the old one.

Older children are also in an adoptive situation because something bad has happened and by this, I mean something much worse than simply being abandoned.  The trauma in their early lives hums and buzzes around them, the drone so low only they can hear it.  Because it’s so filmy and unarticulated, it’s very hard for adoptive parents to grasp how the trauma is affecting their child today.

I say all these cheery things by way of inviting people to think about taking on a bigger challenge in life.  The little girl in the picture – playing with the Barbee?  She’s sitting on the plane as it’s about to leave Managua, Nicaragua and fly to Miami. She’s buckled up and ready to go. Later her new mom will take her to the tiny bathroom where they’ll get stuck for 20 minutes while the little girl is entranced with the hot water coming out of the faucet.

Later, when she and her new mom are finally home in Milwaukee, she’ll lose the happy expression and become tired and worried.  She’ll be stiff in her new dad’s arms.

It will take a long time.

Admit it.  Doesn’t this sound a lot more interesting and challenging than adopting an infant?  Think about it.  There are certainly a lot of kids who need parents.  You could do it.

Check out the Facebook page for Red’s Wrap — a lot of resources are listed there.  It might start you thinking.

4 Comments on “Worlds Apart: Adopting an Older Child

  1. Adoption was finalized in-country on Thanksgiving Day 2016. 🙂 almost 2.5 years after hosting them for the first time!!!! 🙂 hard, yes! Worth it? Absolutely!!!!

  2. Love this! We are currently adopting sibling group of 5 internationally…they are 12, 9, 8, 5, and 3. We have hosted the three older ones twice now, for a total of 9 weeks (youngest were too young to host). Although I have never adopted an infant, I imagine it would be easier. However, I am passionate about these older children, children with delays, and sibling groups who get split up (mine are currently split) that get left in the dust…I was just speaking to these things in my post called “questions” because boy, do I get A LOT of questions (WHY would you do that?!) Thanks for sharing!

    • Congratulations on your pending adoption! It is wonderful for siblings to stay together and I bet they will help each other through the adjustment. Your life is going to be very interesting. Hope you chronicle all of it as you go forward. Going right now to follow your blog.

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