Adult adoptee Ying Lamb, now 22, shares her advice for children who come home at older ages, and for the families who adopt them.
Living in China, as a 13-year-old orphan about to be adopted, was a difficult feeling. My whole life — the hard times, and the good times — were about to be left behind. In China, children in orphanages are often looked down on, and not treated with full human respect, so I did want a family, and a chance to have a different life. My life had not been all bad, though, and it is terrifying looking into a future with everything unknown.
And my life so far had been full of many disappointments, so what if this was no different?
When I first met my adoptive family, I was surprised that so many of them came! My mom, dad, two brothers and two sisters all came to meet me. I was nervous and excited to meet them, but also full of sadness at leaving the only people I’d ever known, and even felt like hiding from them so much of the time. One of the most overwhelming things was that my family moved to a new state as soon as we returned to the States, and I was enrolled in public school immediately. I had not known either of those changes were coming and it was so overwhelming to adjust to all the changes, and to not have a language in common to figure them out. I think, now, that more preparation about the details of my new family’s life and routine would have been reassuring and helpful. It also would have been nice to have more opportunities for a translator to smooth the way once I got home.
One thing I’m very grateful for are the relationships I’ve maintained in China, even as my relationships with my new American family grew. With FaceTime and Skype, I have talked regularly with old friends and foster parents, and those relationships are precious to me. I have also been able to maintain my Mandarin, which is something I’m so glad to have. My family has been supportive of those friendships and instead of feeling jealous, my mom always says, “The more people that love you, the better.”
If you are considering adopting an older child, I think you should be sure to have Asian food around! (Or food from the child’s home country.) My mom sought out Asian food stores for me, and has always allowed and encouraged me to cook foods that I’m comfortable eating. That was and is so important to me.
I would also encourage you to respect your child, and their preferences, and give them input into decisions. Older kids and teenagers have their own plans, ideas and preferences, and sometimes people are tempted to treat them as very young children, especially when they do not understand English. Also, please be prepared to have extra patience and kindness towards them. So many frustrating things can occur when the same language and culture are not shared.
I would tell both parents and adopted children to treat each other like somebody they love, even if they do not know each other yet; remember that this person is someone you will love very much. I would also encourage parents to allow their child to continue relationships in their home country, through FaceTime, email or Skype. It is so hard to leave an entire life behind, and some continuation of older relationships can be so comforting.
If you are an older child, about to be adopted, I would tell you that it will be hard, but try to trust the decisions your new parents make for you. You will get hugs and affection that you have never had before, and relationships like you have never had before. Things will be different than they were at the orphanage.
Your new family may not speak the same language as you, and communication might be difficult, but have hope that it will get better. It is okay if you do not feel love for your family at first; it is okay to give yourself some time. Be kind, and patient with your new family, even if you do not feel the feelings of love at first — those will grow with time. It is good to treat your new family with kindness and be prepared to get to know them. If your new family does not feel comfortable letting you talk to old friends, consider that they might be trying to protect you. It is all new for them too, and once you speak a common language, and have built a relationship, things will become easier to explain and work through. If you are discouraged, and scared, and feel like running away, I understand. I have felt that way too. Do not give into that feeling.
You are wanted, and you are loved, and things will get better.
Myself and many others I know have been adopted as older children, and you are not alone, and you can feel hopeful for your future.
Ying Lamb | Adult Adoptee