Lessons from Adopting an Older Child

 First, let me say Happy Birthday to my youngest son, Richard, who I have been blessed to have as a son for 3 years now.

Tomorrow not only marks my youngest son’s 12th birthday but also the 2nd anniversary of his official adoption. Before 3 years ago (he lived with us a year before being legally adopted), I already knew that parenting taught a person more than almost any other experience in life, and I already knew that being a parent helped create a fuller understanding of how God feels about His children.

But not until we adopted our son two years ago did I begin to grasp the idea of what adoption really means. You can read more about this in How to… Celebrate Adoption.

Adopting and raising an older child has also taught me many life lessons, and that is where we focus for today’s post. With that, the following 6 lessons stand out from the past 3 years.

  1. There will always be baggage. Even after forgiveness, consequences can linger. Communication is necessary for working through and managing the impact of these consequences.
  2. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. One caseworker after another kept telling me to be consistent, and they were right on the money. Consistency helped my son heal from his past and embrace his future.
  3. Baggage often needs repacked. At various stages of growth, we need to address our son’s past and help him to understand it as much as is possible. This often means re-explaining something to fit his social, mental and spiritual maturity.
  4. Love really is a choice. Loving my oldest son comes naturally because I gave birth to him. Loving my youngest son, while just as strong, comes through choosing to do so no matter what. Before we even met him, we committed to loving him as if he was our biological son. God gives us grace abundantly to help us do just that each and every day.
  5. Patterns provide clues. When he first came to live with us, patterns of lying and stealing were cries for help. They were clues telling us that he needed security and consistency. These and other clues still pop up from time to time, and we talk about them and help create self-awareness. We try to always consider and deal with the root cause when this happens.
  6. Your child needs you to be an advocate. This doesn’t mean agreeing with bad behavior and poor choices. It means making sure your child receives the best chance at a successful future. For our youngest son, this requires regular contact with teachers and other authority as well as addressing any problem areas before they get out of control. Being an advocate means giving extra help where necessary and realizing that you know your child better than anyone, and you need to fight for what he needs to grow and mature in a positive way.

With each of these lessons, not only has my relationship with my son grown, but my relationship with God has as well. God has used this process to stretch and refine me in profound ways, and I would never trade it for the world even though it’s also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

I realize that challenges lie ahead in the teenage years, but I also am confident that God will guard and keep my son in Christ Jesus. So, I have faith and release my son to God, but I also stand guard. Just as Jesus continues to pray and advocate for me, I will continue to do so for my son as well.

DISCUSSION: How has God used parenting to show you more about Him?

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18 thoughts on “Lessons from Adopting an Older Child

  1. God has used parenting to help me understand how much He loves us and how much He must suffer when He watches us go astray. It has helped me see what an incredible sacrifice it must have been to give us the gift of free will.

  2. Congratulations and Happy Birthday to your son! I like what you say about baggage. We should never assume it is no longer lingering for most likely it is. To address it with compassion and grace helps everyone deal with it better so the bags get less heavy to carry. I have always been a strong advocate for my children and even continue as they move out of their teens. It becomes more me transferring my advocacy to them and helping them to stand.

  3. You know my views on adoption of children…God has the greatest love for us as His adopted children. Gal 4:4-6; Rom 8:14-16… There are many parents who have given birth to a son or daughter, but they never really "adopted their own children" as God expresses His love to us as adopted children. God bless your view on this…

  4. My daughter will turn 30 something this month. And yes, there is baggage from her childhood that still impacts her and her children, and our relationship. But what a blessing parenting is. How thankful I am for God, the perfect parent, whose unconditional love has made it possible for me to love my daughter through those good days and those horrible ones. Happy Birthday to both your sons and may you all have a wonderful weekend! They are blessed to have you for a mom Kari!

    • Thank you, Mary. All kids have baggage, even ones from "normal" families (whatever that means). I love that God allows this baggage to draw us closer to Him if we'll allow it to happen.

  5. We had a failed adoption because we couldn't work through the issues of adopting an older child. We weren't prepared for the weight of the emotional baggage that came with an 8-year-old Russian girl. From that perspective, I can appreciate the wisdom you share in this post and applaud your efforts in adopting an older child.

    • So sorry to hear that Tom. Our son actually had a family turn down adopting him after they met him. Just wasn't a fit for their family. I don't know that there's ever a way to truly be prepared for adopting a child of any age, but an older child definitely comes with more baggage and issues than most younger children. No way we could have this love for our son without constant surrender to God's will.

      • Tanya moved in with another missionary before we left the country. We fought through red tape for 2-1/2 years before we came to the conclusion we couldn't go any further. Ellen and I were emotionally spent.

        • There are definitely a lot more challenges, at least initially, with international adoption than domestic adoption. We considered international adoption but felt led to adopt locally instead. On another but somewhat related note, I heard recently that if someone from every church in Michigan (that's where I live) adopted a child, there would be no more children in the system. Wow!

  6. Great post, Keri. Sweet to see your love for him.
    Through parenting, God has shown me what he feels when he looks at us and when he looks at Christ. The depths of that type of love are amazing.

  7. Beautiful post and he's a beautiful boy. If I weren't a parent, I know I'd still be a very immature Christian. It's a constant remembrance that it's not about us. Kids are happy to remind us!

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