She hid her dimpled smile behind her 5-year-old hand, though that act could not conceal the smile in her dancing, green eyes. Then she called me Papa. Sarah wasn't our first adopted child; she was the first who was old enough to understand what was going on. She wouldn't be the last. My wife and I have adopted children between the ages of one month and 15 years. And there is something magical that happens when a child who realizes what they have been missing gets a family, against all odds. Here are my seven favorite things about adopting older children.
1. The child gets to be a part of the decisions that will form their future.
Having their own cares and concerns understood and considered in the new family formation lets them know that they are important and not just an object to be possessed or traded.
2. Adults are helping a little person who truly needs them as much as the parents need the child.
Though it shouldn't have been, it was difficult for me when I realized that the babies would be fine. There are far more qualified -- even exceptional -- parents who want to adopt babies than there are babies available for adoption. But when I came to see the older children whose first families weren't coming back, who realized that they were not in the family setting that nature had instinctually informed them was correct, I found my place in the world. Relationships between people are always best when both sides understand how much they need the other, as well as how much they are needed.
3. More history is typically available.
Truth is closer. Questions have more answers. While open adoption has helped to curb many of these concerns when babies are adopted, infants placed through closed adoptions can be left famished when trying to feed the hunger of knowing where they came from. When children enter "systems" after a time in first families that failed, they at least have an understanding of historical events, whether they agree with them or not. This puts them one step closer to rebuilding their life.
4. Trust is built gradually and voluntarily by both parents and children. Adoptees are not "broadsided" and left feeling like they decided to trust a parent figure without knowing all the pieces of their identity.
5. Older children understand what they are missing.
Basic human instinct tells us that we belong in our own families. School-aged and older kids usually understand the logic of situations where first parents aren't coming back. Sometimes, even if they have been through a period of waiting for first parents to meet minimal conditions for reunification, children grow tired of waiting. Almost always, when courts have finally reached the point of allowing these children to be permanently placed in other family settings, they are more than ready to make the move.
6. Parents are already putting the child's needs above their own desires. This is definitely starting with the right foot forward. When prospective parents can put their desires -- even instinctual urges -- to parent a newborn aside, realizing that the need of an older child to have a home is the greater good, they are demonstrating an ability to put their child's needs before their own. All good parents eventually need to learn this lesson anyway.
7. Adopting an older child is repairing a wrong that might not have been fixed in any other way, or by any other person.
Many older children are denied the right to have their own families. And when prospective parents decide to give them their family, it is literally changing the world.
Adopting and older child is not an easy task. That same statement could be made about almost any worthwhile effort. Even so, if it is done with unwavering commitment, for the right reasons, older child adoption can rewrite fate.
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