We pursued older child adoption for over a year. After over a year of trying to adopt a newborn independently, I began to question my motives. I realized that newborns were much more “sought-after” than older children, and I wondered if we couldn’t adopt an older child.
I made a list of pros and cons for both newborn and older child adoption. I thought of the loss of sleep and regular crying that naturally comes with parenting a newborn baby. As much as I loved cuddling wee-babies and getting a whiff of their new-baby-scent, my patience runs thin in the face of noise, especially when sleep-deprived. I managed to get through the Army’s basic training on irregular and minimal sleep and incessant order-barking, but did I really want to recapture that aspect of my past when it came to parenting?
Plus, what I really looked forward to when I thought of parenting was the conversations, the shared experiences, the imparting of wisdom. I didn’t need to adopt the child at birth for this.
In my ignorance, I romanticized the idea of older-child adoption. I pictured a child of my same temperament – shy, polite, quiet. My husband and I started frequenting online photolistings of children in foster care who were awaiting adoption.
I wanted to adopt a sibling set of Hispanic kids. My husband is Latino, and we both speak Spanish, so I thought we’d be able to provide a smooth transition to these kids. I didn’t take into consideration that many Latino kids live with non-Spanish speaking foster parents, or that they may actually associate the language with their birth parents, which may not conjure up a warm-and-fuzzy feeling at all.
I think the only factor that I nailed was that siblings should stay together whenever possible. Otherwise, I was completely clueless regarding the unique needs of children who have experienced neglect or abuse, who have been shuffled from foster home to foster home, or who have simply lived long enough to have already developed a personality strong enough to not be so easily molded by adoptive parents.
All these practical points aside, I still remember the first set of brothers we found on a photolisting. They were 3 and 5 years old. We nicknamed them the “M & Ms”. I visualized what their room would look like, based on the information in their profile. There would be fire-trucks, car-beds, bright red and blue decorations… I let my imagination run wild as we waited to hear back from their social worker. When we finally did, we were disappointed to learn that, in spite of there being no mention of this in their profile, they wanted to place the boys in their own state.
We also attended a couple of Heart Gallery events. We walked around a building whose hallways were covered with large photos of older children awaiting adoption, next to which there were tiny blurbs about them. We noted the kids that caught our attention, and we followed up at home.
The oldest child we inquired about was a 14 year old girl, yet after speaking at length with her social worker, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to take the leap of faith. There were things that were brought up regarding her behavior that, on the one hand, could be a simple description of normal teenaged behavior, but on the other hand, could be signs of serious issues such as an attachment disorder. We wanted to meet her, because we were sure that was the only way to gauge appropriately if we may be a good match, but we were not allowed to do so prior to committing to the adoption.
In spite of the option of so-called match-parties organized by social services where older children and potential adoptive parents mingle, specifically with the intention of there being a spark between a given child and parents, it seems that this is not nearly as popular a networking tool as I’d expect. Instead, older child adoption operates very much like an arranged marriage, decided on by someone who really doesn’t completely know the parents or the children.
The inability to meet them may have been what ended up keeping us from adopting an older child. Perhaps this worked out for the best, as I now see the specialized skills and personality traits that go into parenting a child adopted at an older age. Yet I still wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have taken a leap of faith with one of the kids. I didn’t have this kind of faith before, but now I know that God wouldn’t let us adopt a child we couldn’t handle.