Adopting and Parenting an Older Child

An Interview with Trish Maskew, Author of Our Own

Interview by Allison Martin

When my husband and I adopted our older kids, there wasn't much information available about older kids, their adjustments and the long term issues of adoptees. We constantly had questions that we could not find answers for. The information that was available tended to be one sided--either very negative information about all the problems these kids could have, or assurances that all the normal adjustments and issues would go away with love and a good home. Too often, the available books were filled with psychological jargon and seemed too clinical for the average parent. Also, none of the books that we found addressed international adoption at all.  I came to feel that what adoptive parents needed, and indeed what we needed, was a reader-friendly book that covered the broad range of topics that every parent of an older child should be informed about.

I think the most difficult thing for me as a parent has been the realization that I can't fix the scars of their earlier life. We spend a great deal of time addressing the "core issues" of abandonment and rejection, grief and loss, etc. and we have made a tremendous amount of progress. On the other hand, no matter how normal these feelings are and no matter how much progress we make in helping them understand why they feel the things they do, there is nothing we can do that will make the original pain and scars go away. They will always be there, and they will always affect their lives to some degree.

There have been so many rewarding things I couldn't possibly name them all. A couple that instantly come to mind:

o Watching our kids grow to love us and accept us as their parents.
o Knowing that we've made a difference in their lives.
o Seeing the tremendous progress that they have all made in understanding their lives.

Our kids have filled our lives with joy and happiness!

Questions should parents ask when they seek to adopt an older child? Do I have the qualities it will take to parent an older child--flexibility, commitment, perseverance, a sense of humor? Can I accept that my child had a life before me and that no matter how good of a home I provide, there will always be things they regret and long for? Can I understand, empathize, and support my child's right to know and embrace their birth culture?

Where has the child been living? Does the child have any behavioral or emotional problems that have made it difficult for them to find a home? How many times has the child been moved, including back and forth to the birthparents? Does the child want to be adopted?

My advice for parents who are have adopted older children? Read, read, read! Learn as much as you can about normal adjustment issues, the lifelong core issues that affect adoptees, and trauma.  Read things that are written from the perspective of the adoptee too! Talk to experienced adoptive parents and ask about their experiences.

If your child is misbehaving or continuing to react in the same way regardless of what you try, dig a little deeper. Much of the "misbehavior" common to kids adopted at an older age is really the child's way of expressing underlying emotion. The more educated you become, the more you will be able to help your child.

Trish Maskew worked for the Children's House International adoption agency and then US government on adoption. She is also the mother of three children, including two boys who were adopted at ages five and nine. She is the author of Our Own - Adopting and Parenting the Older Child, a practical guide to adoption of older children.