What We Learned From Adopting an Older Child

Our Journey with Justin

We’ve got a spare room…

My wife and I began to explore the idea of adoption in 2003. We had no other children, having experience only with pets, nieces, nephews, and neighborhood children. We looked at the physical requirements (about 60sq. feet per child; two exits from the bedroom; a real bed, and a dresser) and determined that we could handle up to 1.4 children according to an online calculator we found. Now we just needed 1.4 children.

Then we looked at our financial and emotional resources and determined that it was possible – but was it a GOOD decision? For that, there was no calculable answer. Ultimately, it came down to a ‘leap of faith’. We had prepared and informed ourselves as best we could and realized that we couldn’t control the outcome no matter what preparations we made. In that, we were in the same situation as birth parents. For me, that realization – that we had the same chances for success as anyone else – sealed the deal, and we began our ‘Adoption Journey’.

Initially we were looking for a boy aged 6-12, and were surprised to be matched with a boy who had just turned 13. We learned more about him, and began with short supervised visits at the group home he lived. The visits grew longer and more frequent over time, and he was placed in our home as a foster child and adopted at age 15. At the time of this writing, our son is 19, fairly well adjusted, a High School graduate, and working several part-time jobs.

Looking Back: Some Things We Learned

Expect Some Delays
Be prepared for a 13 year old who may act 7 at times; a 19-year-old who acts 14. Your child has lost some growing up years due to disruption at home. Would you really expect a 3rd grader to be able to keep up with his peers while his family falls apart, or he is put into state care? This doesn’t mean that it is forever–they will catch up. But it may take a few years to do so once they are in a stable home. We’ve read that there are many stages to growing up, and your child will need to go through all of them. It will seem odd for a 16 year old to play with the toys of a 7 year old,  but they NEED to go through that phase and will grow out of it soon enough.

Recently, when our son was acting goofy (in a juvenile fashion), we called him on it. He told us that he knew he was acting like a little kid, but that he knew how to act 19 in public, so why couldn’t he act like a little kid in private with his family once in a while? We decided that that was ok, as long as he knew the difference, and when to act his proper age. To us, this was a sign of him growing up and taking control of his behavior.

Some Kids Need Parents, Some Need Staff
Looking back, we realize how lucky were to end up with such a great son. He was worth the wait, the frustrations, and the months of disappointments during the matching process. We were matched with him because social workers took the time to get the match right. We have learned that while all kids want parents – sadly some kids need staff, not parents. Their background, trauma, and issues need more than the loving home and firm guidance that good parents can provide.

It is worth it.
Absolutely. Our son is a great blessing, and we are proud to learn how to be good parents from him. As the years pass by, I realize that I am losing many of the details: the IEP meetings at school, hiring a tutor to bring his handwriting and reading up to grade level, spending a day bailing out the basement during extensive rains–the details of these stories and dozens of others are not the important part of our adoption journey.

The important part is the young man who taught me more about being a family and about being a dad than I ever expected. And more about Pokemon than I ever wanted to know! I feel that we have already had a tremendous reward in our lives being able to raise such a wonderful son. He has been as great for our life, as we have been for his.

Tom & Renee A.


About the Family
We met our (future) Son, Justin in October 2004 in DCF care at age 13. He moved in Aug. 2005, and the adoption was finalized Nov. 2006.  During this time, we also became a family resource for Justin’s roommate in state care, Alex, who became our unofficial son.  Today our sons are 24 & 25 and make us very proud of how far they have come, and what truly nice people they are.  We work in technology, and are active in community events, Toastmasters, Cat Rescue, Politics and Foster/Adoption outreach.  Our two cats, and one gerbil were acquired from shelters.  We also have a thriving goldfish that was rescued from a drainage ditch!   Recently, we were approved to adopt again, and are beginning this journey anew. 

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