Many prospective adoptive parents hesitate to adopt children age 6+, who are at higher risk of languishing in shelters for a longer time. But, as many parents who already adopted an older child know, it is the start of an amazing and special bond. WAIC recently held pre-adoption counselling with a group of PAPs in Telengana who are considering older child adoption, along with the support of Telengana CWC. We asked our trainer, Meera Marthi, about her thoughts on older child adoption.
“When I think of older children’s adoption, I cannot but remember the movie “The Blindside” starring Sandra Bullock. An unforgettable true story of inclusion, love, family, and home for someone as old as 17-18, maybe with a tinge of creative liberty taken by the writer nevertheless an inspiring one. It set me to think, why is it that we are so hesitant to adopt children older than six years in India. Having done counselling sessions, I found that there are a few reasons:
- Parents may feel only younger children are easy to bond with: Parents are under the misconception that they can only connect with younger children. Firstly, parenting by itself is hard work. If we are not ready for it, we are not prepared to be a parent. Bonding with every child takes time, effort, patience, and presence. Every child is unique. Within the family, two children are never similar. We need to give the child some space to adjust and adapt. Children thrive in a family environment.
- Parents may feel older children will gang up on them and trouble them: Ganging up is common among children. Children are devious by nature, especially in the teenage years. They will find ways to gang up on the parents. How often haven’t siblings at home ganged up against their parents? That does not mean it is terrible. It just means as parents; we need to find different ways to deal with it.
- Parents may feel older children will not be able to integrate with the family: Not necessarily true. Again, it depends on how one handles the child after the child comes home. What are some of the things one does to make the child integrate? The integration is not in the hands of the child; it is in the hands of the parent. Space, time, attention, perseverance, patience is some of the virtues we need as parents anyways. We will need to apply it differently for a child who comes home when they are a little older. Integration and inclusion mean doing simple things with the child, asking to help around, assigning chores to the child, talking about your likes and dislikes, and asking the same about the child. It is about keeping things regular but not normalizing the child’s feelings. The parents’ comfort with the child will be directly proportional to the way things settle down with the child. Yes, it will take time. Yes, it will take effort, which is directly proportional to how patient the parent is. It is always about remembering that the child comes first, not the parent.
- Parents may feel older children are difficult to handle: This is not an adopting an older child issue; this is a parenting issue. Every phase of any child has different challenges different issues to address. An older child through adoption might bring similar challenges in another form. If there are rules in the household, take time to explain them clearly and be okay if the child cannot remember them initially. Not insisting every rule be followed or punishing the child when it is not. The insecurity of a new environment makes even adults uncertain and unsure about themselves, so why do we expect a child to be any different. As a parent and as adults, how we handle it is in our hands.
- Learning milestones and academics: I have mentioned this the last, but specifically, in an Indian context, this is the most important one. Parents need to look at academics not to improve the child’s academics but by giving the child the space and time to discover their learning potential. It is not unusual that a child in an institution is behind in academics or below par with the learning milestones. Parents who bring home a child above six years need to be cognizant. The immediate focus cannot be academics. Enrolling the child in a school as soon as the parents bring them home, insisting that they catch up with their age group in learning, and insisting on various benchmarks around academics cannot be at the parents’ pace; it must be at the speed of the child. If necessary, home-schooling the child for an academic year to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the child makes sense. Many parents might disagree with me here, but academics should take a back seat when adopting a child older than six years. It should be attended to and given its due importance once the child has integrated into the family.
A child above six years presents a unique opportunity for the parents to grow in more ways than one. There will be challenges, and each challenge is an opportunity to make the adoption count. From the child’s point of view, imagine the child is in an institution for even 2-3 years; the child will come with a history that might be challenging to shed. Helping the child offload that baggage is the parent’s responsibility, and it will take time, effort, love, care, and attention.
Please remember that this is about the child, not the parent. Every child needs and has the right to a family and a home they can call their own.