When many people think about adoption, the first thing they might picture is a newborn baby born to a teenage mom. Hundreds of videos of adoptive moms and dads meeting their baby for the first time reinforce the idea that infant adoption is the best way to adopt. Sure, there are those that advocate for adopting older children, but the endorsements are few and far between. However, all but one of my children came to me when they were over the age of 3 (and the one that came as a baby was my foster daughter first). I can say, without a doubt, I would have missed out on something amazing if I had only adopted babies.
Here are some reasons that adopting older children is amazing
1. They can (usually) communicate their wants and needs clearly. This might not seem amazing. However, I was unaware of just how much a person not being able to communicate their needs could be hard for that child as well as the family. A memory I have of being the most frustrated in early motherhood was when the baby was crying and no matter what I did, I couldn’t figure out how to help. I felt like a failure and she felt miserable. Even though my big kids might struggle to use their words to explain, for example, why they hoarded Chef Boyardee cans under their pillow, they could definitely tell me when they were hungry, thirsty, or not feeling well. Even my then three-year-old could point to what she wanted or needed if she couldn’t think of the right word. I love, love, love that my big kids can communicate “I’m hungry, I’m tired, I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m frustrated.” I don’t always love the way they communicate it, but I feel so much better just knowing what is going on.
2. Older children are (again, usually) potty trained by the time they come to you. Even the three-year-old was wearing big girl panties when we met. Having spent thousands of dollars from infancy through toddlerhood, I was especially thankful that I did not need to spend more time and money changing one more stinky diaper. In fact, this was some of my husband’s reasoning while we were considering foster care and adoption. He was smitten with our littlest love, but he was very hesitant to be responsible for cleaning up the diaper mess. He did his part grudgingly and was very loud in his approval of everyone else successfully using the potty. I think he was happier than my daughter when she was finally potty trained, and she was getting a reward for her accomplishment. Not having to potty train all of the people that live in my home under the age of 20 has been a bonus I didn’t even know I’d appreciate until the baby had a blowout in Walmart. The magic of not having to change more poopy diapers at 3 am is not magic that is often recognized, but 6 years removed from the interrupted sleep and I finally feel like I might be well-rested.
3. You can have different adventures with older kids sooner. For example, my husband and I met our oldest boys when they were 8 and 9 years old. I would often stay home with the baby while they got to go out off-roading with friends, go biking, participate in day trips, and all sorts of other adventures. They learned to ride bikes, play ice hockey, and do gymnastics. They appreciated their birthday parties and were enthusiastic about trying new things. It was delightful to be able to actively do things with the kids. We bonded well with the baby but there was very little that she could do safely until she was older. The big kids were much older, so the gap was pretty large between “fun baby activities” and “fun big kid activities.” We all enjoyed the baby antics but we also really enjoyed being able to finally go biking as a family when she was big enough.
4. Mamas and Papas of little bitties back me up here. There is a unique joy of parenthood that can only really be appreciated after your two-year-old has emptied a bag of flour onto the dog while you rushed to the bathroom when you thought your child was watching Daniel Tiger (as a totally theoretical example…). Older children can typically be trusted to play in another room without accidentally hurting themselves. Well… this should be true. I once walked in on the boys and a very enthusiastic younger sister setting up a mini trampoline behind a couch, having already put all the cushions they could find on the playroom floor, they then took running starts, jumped on the trampoline, and vaulted over the back of the couch onto the pillows. I appreciated the fact they used pillows. I much less appreciated the fact they encouraged their four-year-old sister to try this daring feat. So, I guess, use caution, and perhaps an in-home surveillance system if you need to go switch the laundry over and use the bathroom for a few minutes. Or, alternatively, if you must, invest in gymnastic flooring.
5. They need and want just as much (if not more ) love than a newborn baby. There are so many children just waiting for someone to take a chance on them. Teenagers seem scary, but I actually enjoy substitute teaching the teens more than the little kids. The adoption will be different than if you had always known one another. However, these children need a soft place to launch from and land on as they are at the precipice of adulthood. Maybe you don’t have the emotional availability or time capacity to care for an infant or a toddler. But most kids over age 5 attend school and can play sports. I’m not saying it would be easy, but sometimes difficult things are good.
So there you have it. My life can be difficult, but it is also wonderful and I hope if you were on the fence you can choose to adopt an older child if it is right for your family.