Adopting Older Children

I do not have any great wisdom to impart in dealing with the particular issues parents face when they adopt an older child, because I haven’t been such a parent for very long. But I would like to make a pitch on behalf of older children needing parents.

First, ‘older children’ can be a bit of a misnomer. The sad truth is, if a child is not matched with a prospective couple by the time he or she is two or three… that child will probably never be adopted. Never. They’re done. Sure, it can happen, but so can winning the powerball lottery. Have you won forty million dollars lately? I didn’t think so.

There are a lot of (justified) complaints about how a woman over forty is no longer valued, but this is a class of people who are no longer valued when they might still need potty training.

It was easy for us to choose to adopt our child. She was five when we first saw her picture (and almost seven when we were finally able to adopt her), and we were in love instantly; we didn’t have any interest in any other children after that – younger, older, whatever… we knew who our daughter was.

But the circumstances that led us to her – to that photograph, at just the right time when it was available to be seen – were convoluted and unlikely. A butterfly sneezes in Latvia in 1989 and maybe everything transpires differently and we never see her.

And if we we hadn’t, the sad and terrible truth is, our beautiful, intelligent, loving child would almost certainly never be placed with adoptive parents. It feels shocking to say. Who would not want her?

Most prospective parents only want babies or toddlers. And I can understand that, but now I can also understand how terrible a bias that is. That an adopted child is not a replacement for a hypothetical biological child is one of the first lessons you learn, but by adopting mewling little one who still needs diapers changed, it is easier to pretend that he or she is a replacement. We cannot pretend that. It’s okay – because she is wonderful for who she is (and she is quickly and weirdly beginning to resemble both her parents). But we did have to shed an illusion that many adoptive parents would rather cling to.

Beyond how wonderful our child is, there is a moral calculus. Ultimately, adopting is a moral decision. A parent has already taken the first step to decide to take into their home, a child who needs a family.

So take an additional step and consider an older child. Most people won’t do that, so babies will always be more ‘valuable’ than other children. But adopting a child who is six year old is a more moral act than adopting a baby. People who adopt children over ten are saints.

You will miss out on things, but the child was in danger of missing out on nearly everything. You have to accept that it is not about you. But that is part of what being a parent is, I guess. I guess because I do not know anything yet.

But while I may not know much about parenting. But while I may turn out to be a really bad dad who messes everything up. For all that, I do know that some actions are better than others.

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