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At Our Age--Older Parents Adopting

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No matter what the age, everyone seems to be in a hurry. Kids can't wait to drive and date, young adults can't wait to finish school and join the company payroll. Newlyweds can't wait to secure their first mortgage and start building a fence to keep their future children safe, and our emerging crop of baby boomers can't wait to put all this activity behind them and settle down to watch the grass grow. So why would any sensible adult approaching the half-century mark want to assume the long-term responsibility of parenting--a task (or treasure) normally reserved for young adults in their childbearing years?

In discussing this "why" question with other seasoned parent prospects, I found that attitude, not age, had much to do with their decision to adopt. For myself, parenting became a destination, a culmination of love and commitment to a dream of being a family. Today, I am living my dream. Everyday is a celebration of life, starting off with a greeting of hugs, kisses, and a chorus of "Good morning, Daddy!" from my two daughters. I believe the reason why many adults my age question our decision to adopt is because they may have forgotten how to dream. It's easy to set aside your dreams, when the stress of keeping up with the Jones is a dominant priority in life.

Depending upon the audience, trying to explain your personal logic behind this advanced parenting decision is not always an easy assignment. As described by Marcia Norwood and husband Ed,

It's easy to explain to the little children in our family why Ed and I want to adopt a child A.O.A. (At our age). I shared with our grandchildren, nieces and nephews, 'Some children in our world do not have enough to eat. They don't have a mommy or daddy to love them like you do. They don't have toys or clothes of their own. We have enough room in our hearts and our home for another child. We want another son or daughter.' They understand. Our adult friends, on the other hand, seem to have a predetermined idea of what Ed and I should be doing at our age. We just weren't aware of it...until now.

Another prospective parent, Lynette Campbell, also had this following observation about their attitude toward age and adoption:

Society today has a tendency to categorize people as senior citizens starting at 50. People are made to feel old when their lives may only be half over. Now, instead of feeling our lives are on the downward spiral toward the end and that we have done it all, we feel we are on an upward spiral to a new beginning. Our future daughter makes us look at everything differently now.

Then, how old is too old? When do the positive attributes of being older begin to become deficits in our ability to parent? The baseline for this age question is best determined on an individual basis, for in reality, you may be a 50-year-old in better shape physically and mentally than your 40-year-old neighbor.

There will also be a great deal of emotion and excitement generated by the prospects of a new child in the family. This is the time when a parent needs to temporarily corral their emotions and approach the age question with both short and long-term thinking. For example, adopting an infant at age 50 means you will be 65 and parenting a teenager, and paying for college out of your Social Security check. Many of the countries allowing intercountry adoption also take this into consideration by placing limits on the allowed age difference between a parent and a child. Also, there are many older children available, who may perfectly fit into your dream family puzzle. Discussing this option with your adoption agency or caseworker is the best place to start your planning.

Now, let us explore some of the questionable outcomes of adopting A.O.A.

Will I live long enough to see my children grown, independent and self-supporting?

If any of us knew the hour and the day we will be called home, most would definitely plan ahead. Unless you have a family history of major medical problems, average life expectancy should be anticipated if you maintain a proper diet, exercise regularly, and get regular physical examinations. From an optimist in the group, Sharon Kaufman, a single mom to the lively Rebecca Joy claims, "I feel like I've found the Fountain of Youth! I really do feel younger and more relaxed about parenting."

Will my children be forced to take care of me in my old age?

Only if you don't establish a plan for your long-term care, taking into consideration your financial, medical and personal care requirements before you actually need them. However, the reality is that no matter when and how a family is formed, usually a child has to take care of a parent(s) sometime in their lives. Although taking care of a parent or other loved one never seems to fit a schedule of convenience for any children, it's part of the natural process common all over the world. For example, in your dream child's mother country, it may be the custom to have your children take care of you as you get older. Three generations under one roof is the way of life. In countries where Confucianism presides, the eldest son is responsible for taking care of his parents, an honor not shared by siblings. Interestingly, this is a contributing factor to the disproportionate number of girls made available for adoption in those countries.

Will I be physically able to participate or mentally "connect" with my child despite our age difference?

When I asked my grandchildren when they considered a person to be old, the response was anyone at least 20! Anyone over 20 was just plain old! So, in the eyes of your child, you will be old at any age and the ability to "connect" will be a decision they'll make regardless of how young you may act. A solution may be to build a support team. Use the skills you have learned through education and work experience to plan and manage your new parenting project. For example, participating in physically demanding activities may best be left to younger members of your support team, while you handle the snugly, nurturing side of parenthood. In addition to the various difficulties normally encountered during adolescence and the teen years, your child may also have to deal with personal issues relating to adoption and cultural identity. There are many resources available to help your child "connect" and you will need to be the cheerleader and advocate for your child during these difficult times.

On the plus side of adopting A.O.A., we have life experience, greater financial stability and have better ability to provide quality time in the parenting of our children. As she describes her and her husband's decision to adopt, Lynette Campbell states:

We are doing this in reverse order age wise, but we are so much better prepared for a child emotionally, financially and in every other way. We definitely have more time and patience than we would have had in our 20's or 30's. Our priorities are different now and we want to share our lives with a little girl we can nurture and love. Our adopting this little girl may not change the world, but it will change our three lives. Our holidays and trips together will take on new meaning, when viewed through her eyes. We're looking forward to hugs, reading, playing, cooking, swinging on the porch swing and laughing with her.

Furthermore, I am also reminded by Marcia Norwood that we are simply following in the footsteps of an older couple who brought international adoption to our doorsteps: Our social worker, Margaret McCorkendale allowed me to borrow her copy of, The Seed From The East, by Mrs. Harry Holt. I cried out loud as I read the beautiful story of how God worked in the hearts of an Oregon farmer, his wife and six children to cause them to open their home to eight orphans who had been abandoned by their Korean mothers and American fathers. Both Harry and Bertha Holt were over 50 years old...and it took an act of congress to make their adoptions possible. Imagine! At their age!

After four years of parenting this second time around, I still have a difficult time describing the joy and satisfaction in life I have received through the gift of my daughters. The process of sharing a life with a child chosen for you from half way around the world can stagger your mental regimen. While I have yet to be identified as the grandfather to my children, I have been given that gratuitous cheer for saving my precious daughters from life in the orphanages. I immediately set the record straight by acknowledging the true humanitarian effort that has taken place. I am not a hero... it is my daughters who have saved me from untold years of "normal" retirement punctuated by endless board games and countless reruns of Jeopardy and Gilligan's Island!

As a single woman, who previously defined herself through a working career, Sharon Kaufman began to question her sanity when the call to parenthood beckoned from within. She recalls a conversation she had with a friend: "I asked, 'Am I losing my mind thinking I can be a parent at my age?' 'No,' my longtime friend replied, 'I think you have finally found it!'"

Marcia Norwood gives adopting this final bit of advice for those who would question A.O.A. "Older parents who adopt are no different from those who announce they are expecting a biological child. Don't treat us any differently. We are not stupid and we are not martyrs. We have learned that love flows in an unlimited supply to those who share it."

So are older adoptive parents really special?
Only if you are a child waiting for a family to call your own...

Credits: Richard Fischer

Visitor Comments (2)
Adding your comments contributes to the adoption community. Please keep all comments on topic and civil. Visitors are invited to comment and vote for or flag comments based on appropriateness and helpfulness. All comments must adhere to our commenting rules and are subject to moderation.
Terri - 11 months ago
0 0 3
This article was most helpful,convincing me that I'M not crazy to want to adopt AOA which for me is 65. I am going to look into the possibility. #1
Linda - 7 months ago
0 0 1
I was 57 and my husband 55 when we adopted our baby girl. She is our everything. We love her so. We are not the normal and that is okay with us. I have never been the normal what ever that may be. She is one of the best decisions we have ever made. I would do it all over again. #2
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