Imagine the following scenario:
You are on the look out for a new partner. You find them online, read a bit about them, hear a little bit about their likes and dislikes and see their photo. You are pretty sure that you would make a great match and so you arrange to meet. You see each other for 2 weeks for a few hours every day, have dinner with them, go on a few outings and find out a bit more about them. After 2 weeks you decide that this is looking promising – so you move in together.
It just wouldn’t happen – but it happens with great regularity for adopting parents. When we discussed adoption with our social worker, we decided that not only would we look for a sibling group (which are harder to place), we would also consider adopting older children. In the world of adoption, a child over the age of 4 is considered to be an older child and much harder to place. Older children and siblings bring with them their own special challenges that babies and toddlers don’t (although these children obviously bring their own challenges too!)
More often than not, when considering adopting older children they have been on the for a significant period of time. This may mean that they have been to several foster homes and quite possibly have experienced a huge amount of change whilst they were with their birth families. This can affect them in so many ways.
They may find it hard to believe that they are truly going to stay with their adoptive families forever, and their behaviour may be challenging as they work where the boundaries lie in their new families and test their adoptive parents to see if they will give up on them.
There can also be issues around changing schools, friends leaving or moving house.
Our daughter is already anxious about us moving house and we have had to have a long build up in introducing the idea to her so she knows that we will all move together, we will take all of our belongings and we will be the same family unit just in a different house.
Although all children have their own personalities from birth, the older the child, the more entrenched their personality is. Personalities are often formed through nurture (or the lack of it) just as much as through nature – and so the longer a child is in a disruptive, disorganised, neglectful or abusive household, their personality forms around these environment.
This can be very challenging for adoptive parents when their adoptive child is sly or shy or angry or fearful as, although they have some idea of what the child might have gone through, they can not know everything which helped form their child’s personality.
The older the child, the harder it can be to reform their way of thinking about things and therefore allow their personalities to develop beyond these areas.
Having time and space to bond together as a new family is of the utmost importance, especially for an older child who may have had many caregivers or who may be reluctant to bond with a new family. The difficulty here in bonding with an older child is the lack of time to do it.
My daughter came home in the Summer of 2015 and started school 7 weeks later. 7 weeks is not even close to being long enough to form a good bond and attachment and it has taken us almost 15 months to be at the stage where we have a great bond and I can say she is attached. My son however was only in Nursery part time, so we bonded much quicker – within a few months.
Although schools can create a sense of stability for older children, the introduction of a school routine, homework and after school clubs can eat into the precious bonding time.
The challenges in adopting an older child can be difficult and require a whole lot of love, patience, understanding and time. However, the benefits can be huge.
My children delight me in so many different ways – their sense of humour is already formed and my son is definitely going to be a comedian as he gets older. They can talk about how they are feeling and what’s going on in their heads (even if that talk sometimes manifests itself in shouting, it is definitely words and much easier to understand than a non verbal infant). They have quite a long history already which makes it easier to understand how they have become the person they are, and they have their own thoughts and ideas about things which they are able to communicate, so there is always a starting point for a discussion.
I would always ask any prospective adopters to consider adopting older children and to consider a sibling group. Although we have had numerous challenges over the past 15 months, I wouldn’t change it for the world – and when I look at my two gorgeous children, playing happily together in a make believe world, or eating out with us in a restaurant, or going to the cinema and sitting through a 2 hour film beautifully, I am so glad we made this decision.
It was exactly the right decision for us!