Sunday, 22 April 2012

Older child adoption

It is a known fact that there are very few ethically available babies in Uganda to adopt.  Most children who need adoptive families in institutional care are the older children, special needs and sibling groups.  I am hearing more and more about people who are inter-country adopting older children here in Uganda. As somebody who has been walking this path for nearly 7 years, I would encourage you to perhaps pause before you proceed.

I once went to a seminar on how to help your traumatized adopted child.  The speaker spoke about older child adoption and likened it to an "extreme sport".  She wasn't been disrespectable but was trying to make the audience aware of what they were actually getting themselves involved in.  Older child adoption is generally not a walk in the park.  It will be highly likely that the older child will have attachment issues (which will probably never get fully resolved), educational difficulties, undiagnosed health issues and might have sadly, been abused.

As a parent of an older child you need to be dedicated, brave, strong and willing to sacrifice your life.  You need to be prepared that the child you think you are adopting, the child in the profile, probably will not be the child you end up parenting.  You need to remember that this is a responsibility until the child is 18 and they will be grafted into your family forever, whatever issues and challenges they bring with them.  This is a lifelong commitment and not just for Christmas!

I wish people had told me how difficult and traumatic our journey was going to be.  At least we could have been adequately prepared, but would I have listened back then, probably not:)  In hindsight I think it's better to be told the worst case scenario you might be faced with, so at least you can decide if that is something you could handle if it happened to you.

Older child adoption really is not for the faint hearted.  You have to be pretty tough to endure it.  A friend of mine was one of ten families who were internationally adopting at the same time.  They are now the only couple still married  four years later.  It's so sad, but international adoption can put a tremedous pressure on your family, so if your marriage isn't rock solid, maybe you should reconsider doing it.

I just read this article and it made me think about the realities of what children and their adoptive families go through.  Many people aren't adequately prepared and quite frankly probably shouldn't be approved to adopt.  It appears to be quite easy with some adoption agencies in America to get an approved home study, but perhaps they are passing families who just won't be able to cope with the pressures. Some families won't change and adapt for the internationally adopted child, they want the child to do all the changing and adapting and this is never going to work.  If you are going to do something as dramatic as transplanting a child from one country and culture to another,  don't you think its only fair that you both change and adapt?

Our lives have never been the same since we adopted our son.  We couldn't invite anybody over for dinner to our house for years and we had to live incredibly structured and predictable lives for a long time, because our son couldn't cope with any change at all. Our decision to adopt has also had an impact on the size of family because we have had to consider if we could all manage an extra child considering everyone’s needs.  
I recognise that there is a current hard sell in the Evangelical church to internationally adopt, but the truth is, it's a difficult journey and it really isn't for everybody. When people say if every Christian family adopted an "orphan" there would be no more orphans in the world this it is such a misleading statement.  Most people who internationally adopt, don't adopt "orphans", they adopt children who are often in the system due to poverty, lack of medical care, injustice, corruption and often because there is an international adoption programme in that particular babies home.  I think it would be more beneficial for the Christian church to consider promoting a movement to help strengthen families, communities, support organisations who are providing health care and social work to the poor and who are advocating for the rights of the vulnerable and exploited instead.

If you are considering internationally adopting an older child, I would  recommend that you speak to at least 4 or 5 families who have parented these children for at least 2 years.  Try and listen and REALLY listen.  Give them the freedom to share about the difficulties that they have experienced and try not to judge them, it's often a painful journey for all involved.


Ashlee said...

This is wonderful and so, so true. Our older adopted daughter is precious and wonderful but it has been the hardest thing we've ever done. EVERY day is hard for a long, long time. The part about the toll it can take on a marriage is something that definitely needed to be said too. I'm going to share more soon but our marriage recently went through a VERY rough patch and I think a lot of it was due to all of the changes in our family and not being 100% adequately prepared before our adoptions. It is so easy to lose track of your spouse's needs, your own needs and your other children's needs when you are trying to make up for years of a child's life spent in an institution.

Rileys in Uganda said...

Thanks for your honesty Ashlee - I am really looking forward to reading your blog post:) Speak to you soon

Anonymous said...

What an interseting article Keren, I knew how hard it was for you and will never forget when your son came to ours and ran round turning on all the light switches. You and your family are truely amazing, and you are the most generous person I know.
I do miss you an look forward to seeing you in the summer. andreaXX

Denise said...

Thank you so much for writing this! Our first adoption was a newborn baby girl, but our current one is a 2 year old little girl. We have been preparing ourselves as best we can for her arrival, knowing that she is still young... but there simply aren't any guarantees as to how she will adjust to family life after being in an orphanage for most of her life. Over and over I am trying to explain that it more than likely won't be all roses and joy when she comes home. Or even 6 years after she comes home for that matter. She probably won't (and shouldn't) thank us for "rescuing" her, or just adjust into our family and our schedule or our way of doing things over night... but that is the attitude most people have. I have been accused of not trusting God enough, and being negative when I tell people what and how we are preparing for her. But, that being said - I am excited to start this journey with our new daughter. I am also thankful for how you are shedding light on "the rest of the story" in regards to adoption and orphans. I am in touch with our first daughter's birth mother and I know that it is a wonderful yet painful thing for all involved.