Shila Ann Henderson is the mother of 10 children, five adopted through Holt, three of whom came home after the age of five. “Some people think it’s too late for older children to be adopted, especially kids who have always been waiting,” says Shila. “Some think children who have experienced a harsh life will never overcome the effects. Those people have never met our Lan Lan, adopted at the age of 11, our Ningjie, adopted at the age of 10, and our son, Vu, adopted from Vietnam at the age of five — the sweetest, most loving children in the whole world!”
By Shila Ann Henderson
Christmas is going to be extra exciting this year with our recent addition of 8-year-old Ningjie. She is already talking about what Santa might bring and I can imagine her huge eyes, filled with delight, seeing gifts surrounding the glimmering tree. Gifts with her name on them. My husband and I will marvel at our own gifts—ten children, including five adopted through Holt International, and three of them after the age of five.
Last year, I felt God calling us to adopt two children. As soon as we were matched with then 11-year-old Lan Lan, I kept coming across a Bible verse and felt an absolute certainty that God had two children for us to bring home (which in retrospect, proves, once again, that I have no future as a prophet!).
At that time, in June 2010, China’s Special Focus program hadn’t yet been instituted. China still had the ruling of adopting only one child, at one time, unless they were related. Our agency had the same rule.
And yet . . . I was so certain about two that my husband agreed to pursue the possibility. We had our social worker write our homestudy for two. She probably thought we were strange for this request, because as already stated, it wasn’t possible to adopt two at once, and we already knew Lan Lan didn’t have a biological sibling.
Over the course of our adoption of Lan Lan, we inquired about the possibility of adopting two older children. China began the Special Focus program in September, making it a possibility. We even reviewed the files of several children aging out, but always decided it wasn’t meant to be.
It was confusing.
But, we brought home Lan Lan and immersed ourselves in loving her and teaching her about unconditional love. It was an exhausting time. Our hearts and home were full.
And yet . . . so often, especially in the quiet of night, I wondered about that second child from China. Were we meant to bring another child home? Was there a missing face at our dinner table? I couldn’t shake the feeling there was. I had this unrelenting feeling about someone missing.
And yet . . .my husband thought our quiver was feeling rather full. He wasn’t saying no. But he wasn’t saying yes. He did say that if we were going to adopt again, it had to be a child who felt like a perfect match.
Over the course of the next few months, we kept talking. Praying. Wondering. Mostly, it was me doing the talking, praying, and wondering.
We looked at many beautiful faces. Boys. Girls. We narrowed our definition of a child that might fit into our family. Lan Lan only wanted a sister–she felt surrounded by brothers. And we knew that if we were to adopt a girl, Lan Lan would do best being the older sister.
Several times we inquired about the possibility of a child fitting the narrow age gap we were requesting. Fitting the special needs list that we felt comfortable with, especially hoping for an older child who might have a hard time finding a home. But there never seemed to be a match.
And yet . . . someone was missing. We began updating our homestudy, just in case . . . .
And then one night I clicked on Holt’s waiting child page.
And there she was.
I haven’t always recognized my children the moment I saw them–true of both birth and adopted children.
But this time? I can’t explain it. I just knew.
It was very late at night, so I couldn’t share with my husband until the next day. Honestly? I didn’t expect him to have the same reaction. I was really beginning to accept the fact that child number two was a figment of my imagination.
His reaction? Mirrored mine. Her soul-filled eyes. And the way the light came down on her hair. A little girl with several special needs we already had experience with. An older girl who had been waiting for a family a very, very long time.
We just knew. She was our Mei Mei.
My husband requested her file that very day. Soon we were matched.
And the rest, as they say, is history. We brought Ninjie home in March.
When people hear we have ten kids they first have to recover from the shock. Ten? Really? How’s that possible? How do you afford it? How big is your house?
Honestly, kids are as expensive as the lifestyles we choose, and while our current home has plenty of space, we think it’s good for kids to share a bedroom! Each child is truly unique; a gift from God. It is a blessing to see each child grow and learn, and it is especially rewarding to witness the blossoming of our children adopted at older ages. I wish more people would consider adopting an older child.
In many ways, adopting an older child is like raising any other child. All the “firsts” come quickly—first time riding a bike, first time celebrating a birthday, first time dressing up as a dragon slayer for Halloween. It’s an awesome experience to unearth buried treasure and watch our kids learn to play a board game, play the piano, or simply, play.
In other ways, adopting an older child is nothing like raising any other child—they never take for granted the food in the cupboards, the goodnight hugs, or the smiling faces surrounding the table. It’s humbling to teach a child to trust and to love. It’s a leap of faith.
Adding a child to the family always takes that leap of faith—whether that child comes through birth or adoption. Adopting an older child can take an even greater stretch. Our fears can overcome us as we worry about the effects of institutionalization, possible health and behavior issues, and our own ability to attach and love. Honestly, we fear how our lives will change. As parents, we know that fear! But we also know the victory of putting fear aside and listening to God. The joys of adoption are infinitely greater than the challenges, and there are so many older children just waiting for the chance to be loved!
When I see the faces of children, especially older children, waiting to be adopted, I glimpse their often challenging pasts, but I also see their potential! Each child has gifts just waiting to be released! I see the toddler just waiting to fill a loving home with shrieks of laughter and delight! I see the bashful 8-year-old just waiting to wow her mommy and daddy with her role as a flower fairy in the school play. I see the rambunctious 12-year-old boy just waiting for his chance to play team sports. Maybe he’ll be the star, or maybe only a benchwarmer, but regardless of his position he knows his parents will be in the grandstand, ready to cheer like crazy when he finally makes his debut.
And now it’s my turn to ask the questions. Have you ever considered adopting an older child? Is fear holding you back? Is one of the waiting children meant to be yours?
Some people think it’s too late for older children to be adopted. Especially kids who have always been waiting. And waiting. Some think children who have experienced a harsh life will never overcome the effects. Those people have never met our Lan Lan, adopted at the age of 11, our Ningjie adopted at the age of 10, and our son, Vu, adopted from Vietnam at the age of five — the sweetest, most loving children in the whole world!
I know that on Christmas morning, as we watch Ningjie, the newest addition to our family, grin from ear to ear, we will know she was meant to be ours. We will be so very thankful we took that leap of faith, high-jumped over our fears, dodged the questions about our sanity, and welcomed her with open arms into our lives. Now . . . and forever.
Helpful Resources for Adopting Older Children:
Listen to Archived Holt Webinars:
Listen to Archived webcasts from “Creating a Family”:
Brothers and Sisters in Adoption by Arleta James
Sibling Attachment and Older Child Adoption by Abbie Smith, MSW, Holt Director of Clinical Services
Stories from Families Who Have Been There: