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Older Child Adoption: Changing Your Life & Theirs

Adoptive mom Sarah Kay shares about her experience adopting three older siblings from Taiwan. 

Exciting, challenging, scary, amazing, a growing experience, unique… I would use all these words and more to describe what it is like to adopt older children. Five years ago, we adopted three siblings from Taiwan. My son was 9, my daughter was 8, and my youngest daughter was 5. If you had asked my younger self a few years before if I would fly halfway across the world to bring home three children I had barely even met, I would have looked at you like you were crazy!

I didn’t get married until my mid-30s, to a man who was divorced with four children from his previous marriage. I have always loved children and we wanted to add to our family. We decided to try adoption. My older stepdaughter was adopted as a baby from Korea so we thought we would look into adoption from an Asian country. We contacted the adoption agency my husband had used before and I started looking at pictures and reading the stories about children who needed homes.

So I looked and prayed and read a lot of bios about children who I thought would be a good fit for our family.

I had the thought that an infant would be nice, but there were so many older children who needed a family. It was a bit overwhelming to see the need for homes and families for older children, and I couldn’t deny a child who had no family to love and care for them just to wait for an infant.

Falling in Love and Facing Reality

One day I received an email with the pictures of three children — siblings living in an orphanage in Taiwan who needed a family. As we read their story, my husband and I felt strongly that these were our kids and that we could give them a loving home and family, and the opportunity for a good life. It was a good thing that we had that strong feeling to help us wade through the mountains of paperwork and the months of waiting. All the workers were very kind, but the process seemed so slow. After four months we were approved by the agency in Taiwan to adopt them, after nine months we got to talk with them on a video chat, and after 16 months we were able to fly to Taiwan to meet the children.

I was so anticipating that first meeting! It’s amazing how you can learn to love someone even before you meet them. But then reality came crashing in… 

I was so anticipating that first meeting! It’s amazing how you can learn to love someone even before you meet them. But then reality came crashing in… 

The individual meetings with each of the kids went very well, but when we got all three of them together, it was another story. The kids were respectful and nice enough to my husband, but horrible to me. They would make fun of me in Chinese and I have never been sworn at in English more in my life. Obviously, they had been taught some English, but not the words or gestures that would make them any friends. I think you can guess what I mean. I was so shocked and unsure of our decision.

I can remember calling my sister at the airport as we waited to fly home, thinking I was crazy and had made a mistake. I am so grateful for God’s influence and mercy.  At this difficult time, I was reminded of my initial feelings and how I had known this was right. I clung to that as we flew back four months later to bring our new children home.

Now, lest you think everything was roses and we skipped merrily through the next few years, let me bring you back to reality. The first night we brought them to the hotel involved continuous reminders that swearing at me was not OK. We had many sleepless nights that first week, with crying children. It was so hard not to have the language to explain to my sad children that life would get better, and they would be happy again, more so than ever…

Adopting older children is in some ways just like raising any children. I have now had newborns and babies to raise, as well as our three kids from Taiwan, and I can say that when you add children to your life you are in for the most exciting, crazy, heartbreaking, exhilarating ride. No three-minute roller coaster can compare!

But be prepared to commit yourself and give a lot of TIME. That is the key to forming bonds with these older kids who have missed out on the love and affection of parents during their early years.

Build Bonds and Becoming a Family

One of the best things we did was that I chose to homeschool my kids. My children came home not speaking much English. Some of you might think that might be my biggest concern, but it wasn’t the biggest. I was more concerned about how to teach them to be part of a family.

It was a special experience to be the one who taught each of my three children to read in English. But in the process of doing that — and working on math and how to write a grammatically correct sentence in English — doing school at home allowed us time together to develop a bond that has grown in the last five years.

Teaching our children to be part of a family involved them learning how to relate to each other as siblings and how to relate to us as their parents.  They also had to learn that as their parents, they could trust us to meet their needs and that we would give them love and guidance daily.

No matter their age, children will challenge you, delight you and make you cry with joy at times, with sadness and frustration at other times. But they are so worth it!  If I were to give any advice to those of you thinking of adopting an older child — do it!  It will change your life and theirs. 

I have learned a few things in adopting my older children — first is that parenting requires love not DNA. And second, that the more time spent together, the more the bonds of love form. We still work on issues; they are kids and still make mistakes. I still need lots of love and patience with them (as they do with me), but we work on it every day as we have committed to be a family!

And if you’re wondering… That boy, who swore at me when we first met, is now a tall 15-year-old who gives me a kiss goodnight and sometimes smiles when he says, “Love you mom.” (He is a teenager after all, so I’ll take what I can get (wink)). We still have work to do, but our relationship progresses every day, as does my bond with my girls.

Whether you start your parenting life with your children as babies, or they join you later, building the parent-child relationship, I think, is like any other relationship. It takes daily time and effort. I once heard someone compare adopting older children to an arranged marriage. You must learn to love each other, and I have found that to be very true. And sometimes, just like any relationship, your bond with your adopted child will be tenuous. But having parented teenagers, I can say that sometimes relationships are just hard. They take time and effort and change as your child grows.

I have now lived my parenting life in reverse. When I was first married, I was an instant stepmom to a teenager, and three other children, then we adopted our three in the middle childhood years. A few years ago, we decided to become foster parents and our first foster children were a 3-month-old and a 6-year-old. Finally, last year, my journey was completed by a surprise call to take in a 3-day-old newborn baby girl. I feel like I have had a variety of parenting experiences — and still do, on a daily basis — that challenge me to love children of all ages, stages and from a variety of circumstances.

On our one-year anniversary home, my daughter — who cried herself to sleep every night the first week begging to return to Taiwan — wrote on our message board, “One year home and we’re happy.”

I have learned, and am still learning, that as you serve and care for a child, you learn to love them. It doesn’t matter if they come to you when they are newborn or 9 or 12 or whenever, sometimes that child is so easy to love and sometimes he/she is a challenge. But committing to parenthood and building the relationship with that child will make all the difference.

A crying newborn at 3 a.m., or a 2-year-old screaming and hitting, or a teenager getting mad because of the curfew and yelling at you, it’s all hard. But then you get those incredible moments when you are reminded why you do what you do — the thrill of seeing the first smile, the first moment when he/she learns to ride a bike on his/her own, the first time you get a real hug, or hear “I love you Mom, I love you Dad.” In those moments you realize that parenting at any age can be hard, but it is also the most important, unique and amazing work that you will ever do!

Sarah Kay | Adoptive Mom

smiling adoptive parents holding son adopted from thailand and baby girl

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