So, I've been writing about adoption, mine anyhow, for awhile. Reading about it for longer.
There is so much out there. When I was considering adopting that first time, over 12 years ago, I hunted for books on adoption. Then the second and third time, I was pretty set, had a few shelves of books already, knew what I was doing (for the most part...). The fourth adoption was a whole new deal: International, Ethiopian, and a toddler. So, a new research set. Fun! In a way. Then we came to this last adoption, my Marta, an older child, a teen from Ethiopia.
**I know, I drone on about this topic a lot. What can I say? I think about this stuff, constantly...I'm living it and it's a big deal around here.**
And as I went into my standard compulsive research mode, I found.....almost nothing. Trying to wrestle with the decision to move forward in bringing this girl home, to intellectually get a handle on if we could or should; all those "what if's" that crowd my brain when I feel that nudge nudge nudge toward another adoption.....I searched high and low for, um, anything, that addressed older child adoption. I found precious little. I found some really scary books (which I now use but aren't nearly so scary...) on hurt children and therapeutic parenting. There were a few on international adoption with a chapter or two on "older children"...but those typically meant five year olds, not teens. I even went so far as to stalk blogs and then cold call (with a quick explanation that I wasn't a stalker for real) other families who had adopted older teens, girls, from Ethiopia. (Thank you again to any of you who talked to me, if you read this!)
Lately, I have gotten a number of emails asking me about adoption and specifically older child adoption. I am happy to answer any email I get, and do and will.
But it's kinda hard....in that they ask, "What can you tell me about adopting _____________ (fill in the blank: older boy, older girl, toddler, etc etc). "
That question always stumps me a bit.
Because I hardly know where to begin.
But I do know where to end it.
Adopting an older child is not all rainbows and pink pony's, it's not a fairy tale or fantasy.
I know you know that...mostly, but it is so easy to kind of slip over to that view, because, well...it's a really great view from there.
But this is where you need to stand and gaze and consider things.
No one ever told me and I didn't read it anywhere except maybe in the harder books, but buried in the therapeutic reports. So, for any of you in the process of adoption, especially that of an older child, or considering it....I'm distilling the countless calm conversations and gulping dismayed discussions between Tom and I (Coffeedad and messy me), here.
It comes down to a very important, easy to dismiss, oh so easy to forget, basic:
Adopt an older child because you are ready and willing to PARENT them.
You can hope to add a child to your family.
You can hope to love them with that fierce mama love.
You can hope to have them love you back.
You can hope for instant bonding.
You can hope for eventual bonding.
You can hope to grow into family.
But it's not about the luv....
(I know! I struggle -still - with this too, you all know this...)
They might not be able to love, anyone, much less you.
They might well want to fit in but can't figure out how.
They might want to love but not really know how to get there.
They might want to trust but simply utterly NOT be able to.
They might be so hurt or angry that they don't even know how to process it all.
They might simply just not have learned the tools yet.
They may have tools, finely honed, that don't work here, now.
They might simply need to learn what it feels like to be safe, for real, again or ever.
But they do need, are desperate for, a parent.
Every child, even the hardest, needs a parent, preferably two.
(**Disclaimer here, I am not not not addressing the adoptions that disrupt due to RAD or other such hard hard things. I am not in their shoes, and I will never ever ever judge that as I can't imagine the difficulty, I am too busy surfing through our own and failing too often even there. And even parents who end up disrupting and finding a more therapeutic home, they are parenting to the best of their abilities...sometimes a kid needs more skills or resources than a family has. Sometimes it does take a village of sorts.)
But the point I want to make is that the 'LOVE" is gravy.
The love is what we ALL crave and fantasize about.
Oh boy, do I!!!!!
The trust is years, maybe decades, in the making. Only with real trust can come real love.
But the DOING of love is the parenting.
And that is the love these kids need.
Especially kids from hard places (to co-opt Dr. Purvis' term); they need to be parented.
So. That is the foundation, the bottom line.
Older child adoption (from anywhere), means taking on the job of parent.
That is not a job for sissies.
Let me repeat that and please, really really think about it: they need parents.
It is NOT a job for sissies.
It is the hardest work you will ever do.
If you get anything else: love, cuddles, soaring mama bear feelings, all those wonderful hallmark feelings: it's gravy.
And you can do the happy dance.
Heck, I'll do one for you.
But in the meantime, you're on the job.
You're the parent. You're the mama.
And that kid? The one who is glaring at you when you weren't expecting it, when they should be happy sitting on the beach or out to dinner? Pulling away from everyone when they are just overwhelmed? Sometimes they just need some time. But, ever......well, they need you (even if you're just giving them space).
This is the bottom line though, that you should know about older child adoption.
It's the parents.
They need them.
More than you know.
More than they know.
So if you are investigating older child adoption...please keep this in mind.
If you're already doing it: good job, well done, keep running this race.
And know this: you're not alone, I'm running right next to you.