Join Angela, Axel, Abel and Asher as they welcome their new sibling home.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Adopting Older Kids: Our Experience Pt 1

Adopting older kids is not easy. I'm not talking three or four year olds. I'm talking kids who are nearing puberty. Kids who, in the blink of an eye, would no longer be eligible for international adoption. We know darned well that we've had it "easy" compared to what many have gone through.

But "easy" is a relative term. You can read about my first evening with Axel here. Axel was 10 years old at the time of his adoption. Although he was the size of a 4 year old he was extremely strong. He'd had many years in the institutions of Subotica and Kulina. In both facilities, "survival of the fittest" is the rule, not the exception, and Axel was clearly fit. He knew how to protect himself, and I am guessing, by the time he came to me, he felt the need to protect himself from everything and everyone. Not only was there the obvious physical and psychological neglect, but there was the emotional neglect as well. Never having had the opportunity to form bonds, Axel was not about to trust anyone. Lets not forget the language difference. Axel  had no idea what I was saying. How confusing for this little boy to be sequestered with yet another person he couldn't communicate with.

Any child, raised in a stable environment for 10 years, would have trouble coping when placed with someone he can't understand. Axel didn't have the benefit of that stable environment. He knew nothing but pain, rejection and neglect. When he finally had let his guard down, living two years with a foster family, I came and ripped him away from all that.  Parenting a child like Axel wasn't going to be easy.  I had read everything I could get my hands on related to parenting a child traumatized in the way Axel had been, parenting a child who doesn't speak your language, parenting a child who didn't want to be parented. There isn't much out there!!  No amount of reading could 100% prepare me for that first meeting because there was no way to know all that Axel had experienced. I could only guess based on the lack of information I had prior to his adoption.

I had just nine days to get Axel from "feral child" to functioning at a level where he could tolerate airports and crowds. Imagine, if you have a child with autism who doesn't do crowds or loud noises, having just 9 days to fix the problem.

Every day I thank god for the behavioral tools He had so carefully placed in my belt through years of dealing with Angela's severely aggressive behavior. He allowed us the opportunity to work with a behavioral specialist who helped us understand the causes of various behaviors, or to look carefully for a cause - things such as fear, frustration, communication, anger, overstimulation - and address them accordingly. I never could have done what I did in nine short days, by myself, without anyone to give me a break had it not been for those opportunities.

Still, reading back on my account of that day, I made it sound "easy" compared to what it really was. If only you could have been in my head that day, as I sat on the bed with Axel in front of me, using my body to restrain him as I begged God for direction and clarity. If only you could have seen the tears streaming down my face as I sang "Jesus Loves Me" because if was the only thing my mind could come up with in the moment. If only you could have seen the bruises and bite marks I carried with me for the next week. If only you could feel my fear, wondering how we would survive the next several days together, how I would get him home alone, and how Dean and I would manage once we got there.

Looking for support, I skyped with another mom who had adopted older kids. She laughed. She offered no assistance or support what-so-ever other than to say, "I could have told you it would be hard."  I realized, then, she'd never adopted kids this old, or with a background such as Axel's. Actually, at the time I didn't personally know anyone who had. I was on my own.

In the end, Axel DID turn his behavior around. With firm limits put into place (no gray areas!) he was actually a delight to travel with. I knew upon arrival home Axel would present the same behaviors with Dean...yet another new person. The difference was I now knew some of what made Axel tick. I'd discovered some things that made him happy and things he was afraid of.

Go here to read "Adopting Older Kids: Our Experience Pt 2...Asher"


  1. Just a remark: The magic age of 16 doesn't make children unavailable for international adoption. The USA refuses to allow adoption of children older than 16. Friends here adopted a 16-year-old from a blind referral from Ukraine, not attached to any siblings.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Leah. And we adopted at 5.5 and 6.5 and even with the 5.5 year old . . she hit, kicked, bit, hair pulled, tried to strip our clothing off, when that failed, pulled all hers off and kicked it around the room, pitched 3 and 4 hour long temper tantrums and what not. Getting her home was a night-mare of gigantic proportions. We weren't even totally sure we would be able to get her home alive. NOTHING we had read or all the parenting classes we had taken prepared us for this level of issues before even getting home! The good news was that within 6 weeks of getting her home, things started to improve considerably, and continued to improve over the next number of years. She's now a delightful child most of the time. As to the 6.5 year old, it took about 8 weeks at home before we started to see improvements, but we were a trifle more prepared and educated the second time around, and had a bit better in real life support system. I can't imagine our life without either girl. Adoption of a hurt child is HARD work, and requires a lot of stamina, but the end results are sooo worth it.