What makes a family the right family for an older adopted child — meaning a child who will arrive home at 5 years or older? Two adoption experts weigh in on the characteristics they look for in families for older children …
Abbie Smith is a licensed clinical social worker whose specialty is working with adoptees and adoptive families. She has been working with adopted and fostered children and their families for 27 years. She is also the mother of a now 27-year-old whom she adopted at age 7.
- Flexibility is the number one characteristic I look for in a parent who would be successful parenting an older child. Parents of older children need to loosen up so they can bend and flow with whatever comes their way. They may also need to be able to stretch to keep their nose above water.
- I look for parents who can laugh at themselves and whatever life brings. In international adoption, bringing an older child into your family who speaks a different language, has a different religion, looks different, and doesn’t know how to use a fork and knife or a western toilet can provide some unique experiences. All of this will go down much easier with a hearty dose of laughter.
- Mindfulness is the ability to think about your feelings as you are feeling them. It’s also the ability to stay present and think about how to respond to your terrified, but belligerent, child — and not just simply react.
- Parents of older kids need to have a willingness to try new things — some of which you never thought you would do. This might be giving piggy back rides to your 14-year-old, singing lullabies to your 16-year-old or spoon feeding your 10-year-old. This might also look like celebrating his first English word, first bite of pizza, first time touching snow or first day of school.
- Creativity! Parents of older adopted kids need to use different parenting approaches with each of their kids. One size does not fit all! Try a lot of different approaches with each of your kids and note who responds to what. Don’t get complacent though! What works on Monday may be a disaster on Tuesday.
- Adoptive parents need to be good at relay races, or at least knowing when to pass the baton to their partner when their efforts are not effective. None of us can be on top of our game all the time, and good teamwork gets everyone further.
- I like lousy housekeepers! Older adoptive parents will need to value being with the kids over the sparkling appliances. Family movie night on Friday might look like a heap of blankets and snacks crumbs come Saturday morning because you were having too much fun spending time together to get everything cleaned up.
- Parents of older kids need to be playful, no matter what your child’s age. The wrestling, the snowball fights, swimming at the lake, tag and rolling in the leaves — these are all key to bonding.
- Parents need to be able to just be quiet and listen to your child’s breathing, or reach out and hug him for no reason.