Adoptive parents may experience profound personal growth as a result of adopting and parenting an older child. Adoptive parents become staunch advocates for their child’s learning, development, and health care and they develop new leadership and social networking skills. Their compassion for and understanding of other people’s struggles and pain may also grow as a result of the adoption experience. Parents who adopt transracially and/or transculturally may experience shifts in how they view other cultures or societies. Some adoptive parents end up becoming advocates for abused children, children in foster care or orphanages, and/or children living in poverty. Adoption changes parents for the better come to view the world through their children’s eyes. It is not unheard of for parents to feel such a profound sense of purpose from adopting that they end up adopting, three, four, or even ten more children!
This guest blogger is a mother of two adopted boys, maternal brothers who were bounced around to four foster care providers and one failed foster-to-adopt family before she and her husband adopted them at age 3 and 5.5 years. Resilience, humor, and self-care help her manage the day-to-day struggles of parenting children who suffered neglect, likely abuse and have biological parent(s) with mental illness.
Every day is a challenge from the moment our kids wake to the moment they fall asleep – yelling, opposition, aggression, swearing, hitting, chasing, scary moments. Yes, you may have support (or maybe not) from family, friends or an adoption group, but primarily, the world is full of “typical” families who likely have no idea of your day-to-day. I can relate to this, and have, after telling a friend about an incident, wished I hadn’t said anything, because while I’ll get nods or words of concern, they really have no sense of what I’m going through. So after years of trying to make better outside connections and mostly failing, I’ve turned inward to remain positive in a negative atmosphere. This is what works for me, my character and personality, and I’m sure you know yourself well-enough to figure out what can help you. Mostly, it’s giving yourself the permission to put yourself first – before your kid(s), your husband/wife/partner, your to-do list. And, you don’t have to do all these suggestions – it’s like dating: go out with one or more, and ignore the ones that don’t treat you right.
Exercise – I know it may be a bummer to see this first, but exercise doesn’t have to mean anything more than a twenty minute walk if not every day then every other day. You’ll be amazed how it will free your mind to help resolve a nagging issue, trim your body a bit, give you more stamina, and allow you that dessert or other calorific treat you may avoid.
Bad News – I’m interested in local, national and world news, but when there’s a lot of reporting on horrific things, I choose to turn it off. Negativity breeds negativity and if you’re already down about something, other bad news won’t help. So don’t watch/listen for a couple of days or whatever it takes, or get your news from a Daily Show format which informs, but will make you laugh too.
Laugh – You’re tired at the end of the day, during the day, when you wake up (let’s admit it) and may not watch any TV/internet comedies. Take the five minutes/day (or whatever you can spare) to laugh. The Tonight Show is a personal favorite, (praise be to youtube since I haven’t seen 11:30pm for years) but I’m sure you can find someone you like. It’s true – laughter is the best medicine.
Be kinda rotten – watch other’s parenting techniques and pat yourself on the back for how much you know how to handle tough situations that others cannot. A tantrum in a store? – please. This is nothing for us. Your kid isn’t doing well in school? Well try managing an IEP since kindergarten, and being two years behind academically. Get over it. You’re kid’s acting up on the bus? How would you like a suspended kid and it’s only October? We are strong and smart and those other parents really have to stop whining, (we say in our heads while we nod and offer words of encouragement.)
Shut the door – I can’t remember when I’ve really enjoyed dinner. Combat begins as soon as we sit down. So, occasionally, I leave the table with my plate and go to my room and shut the door. It makes the kids think. My partner can deal with it. And I don’t feel guilty.
Do something that you like – and can feel satisfied by that is not child-related. Because I don’t see much improvement on a day-to-day basis, I do home improvement. Painting a room gives me an immediate sense of accomplishment and makes me feel good about myself – look what I did! I am good at this! Ach, that yellow really looks like pee.
Find a friend – maybe your lifelong friend doesn’t fit the bill b/c they can’t wrap their head around what you’re saying. “Your kid did that, really?” So it’s time to find a new friend, probably someone with kids like yours, who will listen and share. Maybe it’s an adoption group, someone a street over, or on-line. Being able to express, (and I mean express in every possible way – I swear a lot more now than I ever did) using shorthand and all the acronyms associated with our kids is not only a time-saver, but a great relief too. I, for the first time since I was five, used the words, “I would like you to be my friend.” Fortunately, she accepted and we meet once or twice a month to laugh, cry, discuss, share and always end with a hug. (She often wears her husband’s deodorant and smells really handsome – which we also laugh about.)
So ends my first ever blog entry. I’ve never been keen on advice stuff, and I don’t see this entry as that. It’s a reminder to do what we know we should to make the days a little easier. I’ve been at this adoption journey since 2011, and like the President of the US, I look a lot older than when I started…but not as handsome.
It is critical that prospective adoptive parents evaluate their formal and informal support systems before adopting an older child. Adoptive parents need the support and understanding of family, friends, community members and professionals. They need to surround themselves with people who understand and support their decision to adopt and who respect their child. Adoptive parents of older children are incredibly resourceful. They find support and understanding in online or in-person adoptive family support groups and develop nurturing relationships with other adoptive families in the community. Adoptive parents of older child automatically become part of a very special community of parents who share many of the same challenges, joys and hopes.
The answer is probably you, if you are a caring mature adult who wants to open your heart and home to a waiting child. The AdoptUsKids public service announcements say it best, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.” Adoptive parents of older children, adopted from another country or domestically include people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, single persons, same-sex couples (whether married or un-married), persons and couples over the age of fifty, and lower income singles and couples. Although it is easier to adopt an older child as compared to an infant, there continue to be some barriers to adoption for some people. For example, many countries prohibit foreign same-sex couples from adopting, although the U.S. is not one of them, and some agencies still prohibit same-sex couples from adopting domestically. Transracial adoption, typically involving a white parent adopting a Latino or African-American child, has become more common in the U.S. Prospective parents considering transracial or transcultural (e.g. an older child adopted internationally) adoption should think about the diversity and openness of their community before adopting a child of different race or culture. It is important prospective parents ask prospective agencies who is eligible to adopt through their program.
In the following video clip, Stephanie and Gloria discuss why many older adults are deciding to adopt older children and whether older child adoption is a good idea for prospective parents interested in skipping the “baby stage.”