What to Expect When You're Expecting an Older Child


When two people get married, they tend to bring past baggage into that marriage. In all the excitement of planning the wedding, some baggage may have been overlooked. But after the wedding flowers are wilted, reality set in. While this can complicate some marriages, most couples learn to deal with their partner’s baggage; they learn to connect, communicate and make it work.

An older child will also bring with them a life of “baggage”. Although they most likely did not possess any material goods, they possess a past, often filled with trauma, abuse or neglect and definitely loss. Adoptive parents need to be prepared to deal with a child’s past and not expect them to immediately fit into a family like a lost puzzle piece.

Some parents adopt an older child because they want a playmate for their biological child, they don’t want to experience the diaper stage again, or they want to save a child and families for older children are harder to find. While these reasons work for some, I urge you to consider adoption not as a humanitarian effort, but as a way to build your family. Adopt to parent a child, not to save the world. Many parents have expectations that a child will be grateful to have a family and will become a member of that family effortlessly. That is rarely the case.

Bringing a child from a hard place into your home takes preparation, commitment, and time. A new child will need intense attention, a holistic, focused, nurturing yet structured environment. This will take every ounce of energy and all you have to give. Give your child, and yourself, time to adjust.

Positive aspects also abound when becoming a forever family for an older child. Depending on their ages, older children are able to play games, roller-blade, and throw a football. And, unlike children adopted as babies or toddlers, older children are able to teach their new parents. An older child can share a piece of their past lives: their memories, important people, and in the cases of international adoption, their culture (although all of what the child says may not be accurate, it is important to listen to your child and allow them to share their memories). Take the time to learn from your child.

“Be aware, too, that a child’s behavior in an orphanage setting is not necessarily the behavior you will see in a home setting. It is almost impossible to predict and fully evaluate a child who has learned to cope in an institutional setting. Educate yourself. Learn about the types of problems associated with institutionalization. Know what you can handle emotionally, financially and physically. Make your decision on what you can handle – adoption is a lifelong commitment – so make it a decision based on fact, not on emotion” (from Parent Network for the Post Institutionalized Child (www.pnpic.org).

At MLJ Adoptions, we want adoptive parents to be prepared, not discouraged. Adopting an older child can be a wonderful, rewarding journey. We want parents to know that we will provide resources and support to help ease your transition. Adoption is filled with challenges and intense emotion, and also filled with joys and immeasurable love.

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