About garymat13

True Testament to the Viability & Necessity of Adopting Older Children


Adopting a child from another country means learning and becoming their culture with them.

We adopted our oldest daughter when she was 14 years old. She had previously been adopted by another American family when she was 13 years old, but they disrupted their adoption a year later. During that first year in America, life was very hard on her. She didn’t know any other adopted children. Her first adoptive family had very little interest in maintaining her cultural heritage. She felt isolated, frightened, and alone. We had heard about her situation and began visiting her.

After a few meetings with her, my husband and I brought her home to stay the weekend at our house so she could get to know our two sons. Our sons were older child adoptions as well. They immediately began bombarding her with questions: “What was your orphanage like?” “Was it weird at first, coming to America? It was weird for us.” “Did you speak English before you came? We didn’t” “We didn’t like some American food– What about you? Were their American foods you didn’t like?”

Even though our boys were from Kazakhstan, it was clear they all had a lot in common. You could see the look on her face, a mixture of surprise and relief. Until meeting our sons, she felt she was the only child in the world going through what she had been through. She was amazed at how openly they talked about their adoptions, coming to America, and their feelings about all of it. She was also amazed to see how happy they were. Suddenly, she wasn’t so alone in her experiences. It wasn’t long after that we adopted her and she permanently joined our family.

In addition to much-needed therapy after all that she had been through in her young life, we also began the journey of becoming a Vietnamese-American family. We know many adoptive families, including many of our own extended families. Again, she was amazed. We introduced her to other families that had adopted children from Vietnam.

I also spent a lot of time researching Vietnamese culture, traditions, and holidays. We ate at Vietnamese restaurants, and I ordered a Vietnamese cookbook online. My daughter and I looked through the cookbook together, and we began making Vietnamese dishes at home. We found a wonderful Vietnamese market not too far from where we lived. I searched for an Ao Dai (A traditional Vietnamese dress) but could only find a pattern to make one. I enlisted a good friend of mine for the task (my sewing skills leave a lot to be desired!) It turned out beautifully! We celebrated the Autumn Moon Festival and found Vietnamese mooncakes (slightly different from the Chinese version) at an Asian market in the next town. We had so much fun sharing our family’s cultures.

During that time she also learned a lot about Kazakhstan, where our boys are from, as we shared those holidays, dishes, etc., together as a family. I had been doing some research on the Lunar New Year, called Tet, celebrations in Vietnam. I read about the traditional New Year dish called Banh Chung. I read about how generations of women get together days before the New Year festivals to prepare this dish. The ingredients are relatively simple, but the preparation is not! It was very intimidating. I watched YouTube videos and read articles, blogs, and recipes to make sure I knew what I was doing.

I mentioned that I was planning to make Banh Chung to a Vietnamese woman, and she responded by saying something like, “Making it is pretty hardcore. I order mine from a place out-of-state.” Hardcore. That’s what she said. It only made me more determined to do this with my daughter. My daughter was so excited when I told her we’d be making it.

It took almost three days to prepare this dish and then 7 hours to boil it. The result is a lovely rice cake with a pork center, wrapped in a banana leaf. My daughter has Vietnamese friends from school– children who immigrated to the US with their Vietnamese families, not adopted. She bragged to them that she and her mother were making Banh Chung. One of her friends couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t had it since moving to America.

The moment of truth arrived. The Banh Chung had been removed from the water and had spent several hours cooling off. It was time to unwrap them and see if they turned out. My daughter unwrapped the first one. As she peeled back the layers of banana leaf, she began to cry. When it was open, there was our perfect rice cake! She cried and I cried and we hugged and cried together.

It was so much more than a traditional holiday dish. It represented everything she had been through. She hugged me and said, “Mom, I feel like I’m still in Vietnam!” She excitedly shared some of it with her friends at school. It was, of course, the main dish of our big family Tet feast.

The change in her over the two years that she’s been in our family is amazing. She is a happy 16-year-old girl. She tells us that she’s happy that she gets to be Vietnamese again. After her experience with her first adoptive family, she thought she had to give up everything about who she was. In spite of our different nationalities she feels that she “belongs” in our family. Recently, we celebrated Nauryz, the New Year celebration from Kazakhstan. As we prepared Besh Barmak, the national dish of Kaz, my daughter laughed and said, “Today we’re all from Kazakhstan.” We continued to laugh as we talked about how fun it is to be in an international family. These experiences remind me that I didn’t just adopt a daughter from Vietnam; I adopted a Vietnamese daughter. It is not just where she is from; it is a part of who she is. Her heritage– to the core.

Author: Anita Schley


ASAC 2014

Presenting Parenting the Scattered Pieces of a Tattered Identity at the Alliance for the Study of Adoption & Culture’s 2014 International Conference: Adoption – Crossing Borders.
Where: Florida State University
When:  March 27 – 30, 2014

The Ugly, the Bad, & the Good… Adopting an Older Child & the Adjustment Phase

Every prospective adoptive parent of an older child must acknowledge that they might be challenged in ways they cannot fully anticipate. Parents should prepare for the worst, keep in mind their humor and the good sense to wait it out, and hope for the best. The challenges may seem overwhelming at times, however, the rewards that follow will be great!

The ugly (side of older child adoptions)…

  • Verbal attacks from others. Things like, “Mail order kid…ha, ha, ha!” “Adopting?! THAT will never work!” “You’re making a BIG mistake” “A black child…?!” “A kid from China?!”
  • Loss of friends. Some friends may slide out of your life. A few family members may not fully accept your child and/or treat them equally in comparison to other children in the family.
  • Lack of support during tough times. People may say things like, “I told you so.” “I’m too busy.” Or, “I thought you WANTED this kid…?!”
  • The ugliest… disruption. In extreme cases, parents may feel that they simply cannot parent the child they adopted, perhaps stemming from not having been fully prepared to undertake the raising of a child from a compromised background. There are some children who may be so damaged from the early trauma of their lives, possibly mixed with biologically based disorders, that make it impossible for them to learn to live in a family.

Even so, regardless of how one comes to parent a child, whether it be to give birth or adopt, the potential for risk and significant problems needing to be addressed exists for any child.

Every family will not deal with the uglier side of adopting an older child, yet most families will deal with one or more of the bad, challenging aspects of their adoption.

The bad…

The adjustment period—the first one to six months (sometimes longer)—that a child lives with a family, can especially be very challenging. Children often arrive anxious, confused, and grief-filled that is in contrast to the new parents’ being well-prepared and emotionally ready to love and cherish their children. These two polar-opposite emotional states can create stress and chaos.

  • Structure & routine (i.e., chores, rules, and consequences for misbehavior) sets the emotional tone for the family. The leading of structured, simple lives helps keep things on an even keel, yet can be annoying because of the need to attend to repetition and mechanics rather than the spontaneity of going with the flow.
  • Adoptive parents often worry when instant (and/or ongoing) love isn’t there for their new child. The connection isn’t there. Parents need to realize that this is not uncommon. Remind yourself that love is a verb – it’s what you do every day to take care of, protect, and nurture your child, that internalizes into feelings of love.

    * Talk to other parents who have been through this so you don’t feel so alone.

    * Create one-on-one time; in spending more time with your child, you discover
    those wonderful abilities and personality traits that you hadn’t yet picked
    up on.

    * Be open to the possibility of post adoption depression that can impact a
    parent’s ability to bond, and could be helped with counseling.

  • To counter behaviors and attitudes related to attachment issues, re-create parts of your child’s babyhood and toddler years through motion, rocking, and touch via actions and activities that encourage laughter, play, eye contact, and cuddling, and create a reciprocal bond of love and respect between parent and child.
  • Some older child adoptive parents may deal with developmental delays and immaturity. Children may act younger than their chronological age (i.e., they may speak at age level, be two years behind socially, and be physically three years behind). For children coming from orphanages, the rule of thumb is one month of delay for each three months spent in the orphanage.
  • The impact of trauma on most older adopted children can stem from numerous scenarios: physical abuse, sexual abuse, loss of birth parents, multiple moves, long-term neglect. Trauma affects learning, attachment, cause and effect, development, and more. Consider:

    * Talking about traumatic events

    * Providing consistent routines

    * Discussing rules and expectations

    * Protecting the child from uncomfortable events

    * Giving choices so that there is the sense of control

  • Older adopted children are known to test the parenting skills of the most sainted parents with challenging behaviors and the need to discipline effectively. Children from challenging backgrounds need to test you, and your ability to keep them safe, as well as your commitment to them as forever parents. Rather than discipline in terms of punishing, most parenting experts now recommend the use of natural consequences (e.g., If you play in your room instead of going to sleep, you’re tired the next day. If you break the dish, you do extra chores to pay for the repair). The giving of warnings cannot be emphasized enough.
  • Keep a positive attitude, and keep your sense of humor, whether it be through the challenging adjustment period or during short-term tough times. Have fun with your children. Create rituals such as weekly movie/pizza nights, annual holiday events, and gatherings. Find times to bike ride together, create family skits, play board games, and just goof around.
  • Over time, there may need to be an adjustment to goals and expectations for the child. Particular hopes and visions may not match who the child is. The need is to parent the child according to who he is, not who he is imagined to be. It’s not a bad fit, just different in the vision of what it is than originally might have been anticipated.

& the good!

In the end, take stock in how your life and that of your family’s have been enriched and the growth inevitably having occurred in your child(ren) simply because of the consistently safe and loving haven you have provided for them. It’s those baby steps that pay off big in the long-run. The challenges may be beyond comprehension, but it is most certainly character building for all if you keep yourself tuned into the needs of your child. Adoptive parents create a plethora of experiences with warm, joyful days to be remembered, even if there have been difficult times as a family. Looking back on how things are (how things have developed) in comparison to earlier times can be awe-inspiring.

Educate yourself. Be committed. Maintain hope. With these, parents will successfully face down the challenging aspects of older child adoption, fully appreciate the good, and love their children with all of their heart.