6 Things You Need to Know About Adopting an Older Child


special needs adoptionIt’s hard to believe that in ten days, our family will have been together for one year. Adopting a teenager from Bulgaria was not part of our original plan. When we started on our adoption journey, we had intended to adopt an older child between the ages of 8-10. But, when we saw the picture of our daughter, one month before she turned 13, we knew she was the child we had prayed for.

We were excited and terrified at the same time. Most people want to send their kids to a foreign country when they become teenagers, and we were first time parents going to a foreign country to bring our teenage daughter home. Almost everyone thought we were crazy, even some of our family had doubts about our decision.

Our daughter was almost 14 years old when we brought her home. We realized quickly that we were in love the idea of this child, and she was in love with the idea of having parents, but we didn’t really know each other. Here are some truths about adopting an older child that we have learned in our first year as a family.
    1. It’s not about you. The hurtful things they say, the fighting, the defiance – it has nothing to do with you. As a parent, it’s difficult not to take their reactions personally, but you can’t. In the midst of their defiance, and acting out, you have to look beyond the behavior and understand the emotions behind those actions.
    2. Your child may be a teenager, but developmentally they are much, much younger. Socially they will be awkward around other children their age, because they do not know how to interact with a child of the same age who had been given the opportunity to develop normally. Their idea of hygiene, and yours, will not be the same. Be sensitive to that. Your child needs you to protect them, teach them, nurture them – not be embarrassed by their behaviors.
    3. Pick and choose your battles. Your child will probably like things you do not approve of, like revealing clothing, music, movies, smoking, etc. There are some things you may not approve of, like an explicit song, that they find comfort in. Initially, pick and choose your battles. Eventually, they will attach to you, and they will give you the opportunity to parent them. Be patient.
    4. Respect is a foreign concept for older children. Institutionalized children have to fight for most everything they get. Manipulation and triangulation are survival skills they have learned to perfect. Be consistent, and as parents, present a united front. They will find your weak spots, and use them.
    5. They will fight the thing they most want. Your child will push you away. They will not come to you for comfort, and if you try to comfort them, they will not let you. It will take time for them to learn to trust you. Everyone they have ever loved has hurt them, or abandoned them. Tell them that there is nothing they can do or say to make you stop loving them.
    6. Have a good support system. You’ll need it. Surround yourself with other people who have adopted children of a similar age, both in person and online. Reach out to them for support. You will have days where you feel like giving up, and are overwhelmed by the situation, and you need to have a support system to help you through those times.


Things will settle down. Over time, your child will stop fighting and start finding they are happy more often than angry. They will start to express sincere gratitude for their new life. They will begin to show you affection, and as they learn to trust you, they will come to you for comfort. There are times where you will reflect upon the past, as a family, and laugh at the things they did that used to make you cry. As you learn about their past and the pain they have endured, your heart will hurt because you were not there to protect your child. You will be amazed at their resiliency.

Adopting an older child has been painful, but also the most rewarding experience of our lives. Seeing our daughter become the person she was always meant to be, but never given the chance to become, is beautiful beyond words. She says it best – “Every child without a family wants to be adopted. Before you are adopted you have nothing. When you are adopted, you have everything”.

If you are interested in knowing more about our Special Needs adoption program, please contact info@mljadoptions.com.

Photo Credit: Pratham Books

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.