I have a friend who is adopting three children, all older children, and I was just sitting here pondering all the challenges she is going to face.
I cannot tell you how much unsolicited advice I got from parents when I adopted my daughter, parents who had never adopted a child from an orphanage. They were correct about 2% of the time. The rest of the time they totally missed the mark. They meant well, but they just didn't understand.
My daughter was 13 physically and about 8 emotionally, as a result of severe neglect and abuse. I was astonished the first day home when I found her playing with some antique dolls that I had collected. We went to Walmart and bought her some barbies immediately.
That's just one example of the issues we faced.
Anytime you take a child out of the only world they've ever known -- whether it's an orphanage or foster care, or even an abusive birth home -- there will be a period of adjustment. The most loved and nurtured child will have some issues, I know from experience. When my family moved from Augusta to Knoxville in 1971, I was 8 years old. I was so freaked out I wore the same clothes every day for a week. I was too scared to talk to the other kids because they made fun of my accent. Everything was strange. I remembered that trauma when I brought home my kids - plus my kids had to get used to a new family, new language, new culture.
A few years ago I wrote a page here, Tips for Parents Adopting Older Children. There's a lot of good advice there, much of it because I lived through so much.
I've heard about several adoptions of older kids that failed, and one huge reason is because the parents expected their children to be grateful, and eager to please. Adopted kids usually have a brief "honeymoon" period where they are grateful and eager to please, but nobody can keep that up 24/7 for years. It's not fair to the child. They need to be able to relax and just be a normal kid, allowed to make mistakes.
Another huge issue is that a lot of times parents of older kids get them home and stick them right in school. That rarely has a happy result. Kids from another country need to have their world kept very small at first. They need to bond with their parents, just like babies have to bond. A mama or daddy who stays at home, at least for the first few months or even a year, usually works best.
When I brought my daughter home, I had no choice but to return to work within a couple of weeks. I had just started a new full-time job. We never did bond that well. With Michael, I was able to stay home for a couple of months and it made a huge difference.
I also with I had started my daughter in therapy the day we got home, while she still spoke only Russian. She had so much unprocessed trauma and grief and I had NO IDEA of it. We did get to a therapist a few years later, but there was only so much she could do by then. Alesia had forgotten a lot of her Russian and her English was still not great, because of her Auditory Processing Disorder.
Little things often overwhelm older kids. My son still has trouble when presented with a lot of choices. For the first ten years of his life he had virtually NO choices - he couldn't even choose what clothes to wear or what to eat. His whole life was about survival.
My friend Cindy Bodie writes so well about adopted children and their issues. I wish all potential adoptive parents would take a few hours and just pore over her blog. After 38 adoptions she has seen it all.
On November 14th I will be facing the ten year anniversary of a Russian judge telling me my daughter's adoption in Russia was granted. It's been a very tough period of my life, trying desperately to be a good mom and to help her, and often falling short. Right now she's not speaking to me and I don't even have contact information for her. I wish so much that I could have a "do-over" with her, based on all my hard-won knowledge. Then again, a lot of birth children rebel and go through tough times with their parents. I have faith that one day she will come back around..