Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Guest Post: Adopting Teens?

I have another email that I have permission to post for your guidance and wisdom!

Hi Yondalla,
I just stumbled onto your blog today, although I guess "stumbling" isn't quite accurate because I was doing an internet search on "adopting teenagers" and your blog naturally fell into that category. I hope you don't mind me asking for some advice.
I'm 50 y.o., my husband is 54, we have two daughters ages 23 and 18, the oldest graduated college last year and is living in another state and the youngest just started college and is close by. To my surprise I did not suffer from empty nest syndrome as I expected to. In fact, I found that I enjoy having the house to myself when I get home from work, cooking just one dinner instead of something for my husband (who is trying to lose weight) and something else for my daughter (who would like something more substanial, please...) starting some new hobbies and having the freedome to travel...well, you probably get the picture.
Then, somehow, I started reading about the foster kids who are awaiting adoption (I don't even remember how it started) and soon became fixated on the idea of taking one of these kids into our family. I finally got up the nerve to broach the subject with my husband this weekend and he wasn't quite as freaked out by the idea as I thought he might be, but I'm not sure at this point that he will ever be able to commit to it.
Anyway, what I'd like is someone with experience to answer some questions since I don't feel like I can start even the beginning process (where I might get those answers from the adoption professionals) until/unless my husband comes on board. Also, I've found posting questions on message boards on a topic with which one is unfamiliar, puts you in the bullseye for often harsh criticism from people "in the know".
First, these are my reasons for wanting to do this:
1) There are kids who will never have a family unless someone adopts them, and providing a family is something I feel we have the resources to do
2) I like teenagers! I know, it surprised me, but i found that to be my favorite parenting age. I liked my own kids and I liked their friends and I feel like I could do "just one more".
3) I think it would be nice for my girls to have a brother; as the youngest of 5 girls I always kind of wished I'd had a brother.
4) It's a good thing to do; whether it turned out as rewarding and fun as my fantasies, or was more difficult than I expected, I don't think I could ever say it was a bad idea...unless, I suppose, if things went horribly tragically wrong.
Here are my questions:
1) Is it OK to be choosy? I feel guilty even asking that, or running through the mental list of what I would ask for if being choosy, but realistically I would want the one child who would fit most perfectly in our family and who could best benefit from what we could offer.
For one thing, I think I would like a boy; ideally 14-16; and for reasons I can't even figure out myself (we are white) I am more drawn to the African-American kids whose profiles I have seen. I don't think we would be the best fit for kids with serious mental or emotional issues, but think we could be great for that kid who just needs a supportive family and has the motivation and desire to work toward his future. A kid who wants to go to college would be best, only because we have the means and knowledge to assist him with that, but I wouldn't rule out a kid who has the desire to learn a trade or enter the military. A kid who would be willing to move to another state, and while I would not have a problem supporting his ties to a birth or foster family, it would be better if those ties were not so strong as to prevent him becoming bonded to our family or require frequent in-person visits.
Is that a lot to ask? Am I being unrealistic and/or naive? Will I be drummed out of an adoption agency if I go in with those kinds of restrictions?
Anyway, I appreciate you at least reading this, it gave me something to do with all of these thoughts while I wait for my husband to think about this. If you have any answers or advice, it would be greatly appreciated.


  1. I don't think an agency will be mad at you for being picky, because they're really looking for people to adopt teenagers.

    You need to think carefully about the suitability of your home for an African-American teen. A lot of it should depend on where you live. If you don't know any other black people, and you live in a really white location and they'd be isolated racially, I don't think your home would be suitable.

    A teenager is going to have strong preferences about the type of home they want and the location, as well. I think a lot of teens want to be adopted, but are also scared of giving up control, so they're prepared to duck out, and age out in foster care, if they really don't like their placement.

    I do think your approach to contact sounds unrealistic. The children who have the fewest bonds to maintain are the ones who will have the MOST problem attaching to you and your family. It's not a direct inverse relationship, but generally speaking, children who have been moved around so much that they think they don't care about anyone anymore... these are the children that have the most severe behaviors and require the most intensive healing.

    That's just constructive criticism. I also think "liking teenagers" is really important and it sounds like you've got that covered.

  2. I think it's great to want to adopt teenagers.
    A caveat that I am not an adoptive or a foster parent, so of course you can ignore my comments if you want. However, I do have some concerns about the "these are kids who will never have a family" and not wanting to have to deal with visits to a birth family--a lot of why kids might still be in the system as teens is because there are still connections to a family of origin. Otherwise the kids, if healthy, would be more likely to have been adopted out early, when more people are looking to adopt. I think teenagers would be more likely to have memories of their families and either siblings or other relatives with whom they want to maintain contact. I would be wary of trying to be a New Home without acknowledging that the kid you are trying to adopt does come from somewhere and that "somewhere" is an important part of the kid's life.
    Adopting (and fostering!) older kids/teens is a fantastic thing to do, and I hope you and your husband are able to do it. I guess I'm just a little wary at why you don't think you want contact with your adoptive child's birth family/former foster families. Best of luck!

  3. If you like teens you might want to think about being a foster home for teens, or maybe a respite home. Being a respite home would give you an idea about what it would feel like to have teens in your home without finding out after the fact that adoption doesn't work for you and your family. And another plus about being a respite home is that you meet a lot of legally free kids...you might meet one that fits well with your family. Good luck.

  4. I am an adoptive parent of teenagers- and I say Yeah! to you. Having a good attitude about it, being open and being honest about what you want and what you are comfortable with is the best start.

    A couple of things to ponder: Racial identity. Do you have much expereince with black teen males? If not, you need to do some volunteer work at a local gym or school and make sure you're comfortable with the type of conversation, attitude, dress, and slang that is common in that group. Second, you need to consider how the child will feel- if you want to adopt out of your race, and you have bio kids that resemble you, please please consider adopting a sib group- there are so so many older sib groups (check out adoptuskids.org) that need homes, and what I love about sib groups (which is what we foster and adopt) is that you're keeping a family together, the child has a built in support system, they often don't desire reunification (which is good if they were TPR'd due to abuse) because they already have someone that looks like them/shares their memories.

    Another Choice for Black Children is a great agnecy that works to place AA kids- you need to google them, but i saw a special on them not long ago.

    I fully understand your desire to have the child bond well to you, rather than being focused on the previous placements, but you have to understand, that's not possible. Think of it this way: If you married, shared a life with that person for x amount of years, and then divorced or the person died, you wouldn't ever be able to erase those memories. Depending on the situation of the departure (divorce, amicable divorce, death) you would have varying degrees of loss and need to have connection with them. The child from foster care is going to be the same way. You will never replace their parent- you will never "BE" their only parent- but you can create a spot in their lives for yourself, a niche specific to you, if things work the way they should.

    If I were you- be cautious about children with multiple placements- it doesn't mean say no, but find out why they moved (sometimes its because the agency stinks, or FP's quit, etc). Same goes for kids in treatment centers/ group homes- find out why, and make sure you're comfortable with the answers.

    As for the interracial thing- sometimes its actually easier. You don't resemble their bio family at all- so they don't feel disloyal for loving you too. They are free to be themselves and not "match" you because the very nature of what you see in the mirror gives them that freedom. But you need to be able to let them be themselves- not a darker version of you. They may wear dreads, or braids, or all natural, or they may cut it close and neat. They may dress preppy, emo, country, or completely like the latest rapper. How will your community- your family, your religoius group if there is one, your neighbors treat them? Ask around. Better yet, take a picture you print of adoptuskids.org of a child you feel drawn to, and show the pic and tell them you're pondering/praying about adopting this child and see what they say. If they immediately start talking about adding a padlock to the shed or installing a burglar alarm, then you know they will prejudge your potential child and that is not fair to him.

    Just some thoughts. Good luck! And good for you for asking the questions BEFORE you adopt :)

  5. Guest Poster responds:

    (NOTE: I pulled this out of an email. The first part was directed as responses to me. I did not post that, although our poster did have some responses and follow-up questions about race in that section. I will post that paragraph is the guest poster so requests. Yondalla)

    Thanks for your response, and for the responses I got on your blog!


    And, specifically to "Stacie"s comments, about it being easier if they were so "different" in appearance that they didn't feel they had to somehow mold themselves to be just like their adoptive family, but can be themselves and still be an accepted family member (i'm paraphrasing, so I hope I understood you right)... I had the exact same thought! And for me that carries over to boys vs girls too, a boy wouldn't have to somehow "live up" to his new "big sisters" accomplishments, as a girl coming into the family might feel she does? sooo, maybe my instincts are somewhat on track?
    Also your point is well taken about the "emotional and mental" issues; Overall I think I would be able to trust "the system" to match us with kids we are equipped to handle, as long as we are honest about our own limitations.
    I have noticed that many of these kids, even the ones described as strong academically, are not at, or even close in some cases, their expected grade levels, so your point about them likely not being ready for college is well taken. I think you understood my point exactly though, that we may be better suited to help the kid who eventually wants to get there, than the kid who isn't interested.
    Everyone has made the point about kids who don't have ties to either their birth or foster families are most at risk for not having the ability to bond at all. That makes sense.
    I didn't really mean to imply that I didn't want to be bothered with an adopted teen's "other" families though, I apologize if it sounded like that. I guess I meant that ideally it would be a kid who has accepted the idea of adoption and really wants that permanence, and isn't fixated on those relationships to the detriment of building future ones. But, I am not threatened by ties to birth or foster families, I'd be fine with there being ties there, even strong ones. To use Stacie's analogy, I just don't want to marry the guy who can't stop thinking about his ex-wife long enough to enjoy his current marriage.

    Again, thanks for all of your comments. If i figure out how, I'll comment directly if anyone else responds.
    Oh, I do have a question for Zach...what did you mean when you said you had concerns that I said "these are kids who will never have a family" was my number 1 reason for wanting to adopt? Maybe I should have said "forever family"? I'm confused because that seems to be the central message to every PSA, every website, every article I've read about why older fostered kids need adoptive families?

  6. I think that Zach's comment was not about whether your reason for adopting was a good one, but just that a lot of the kids in the system are part of extended families. The PSA's paint a (false) picture of kids alone in the world. Of course that is more attractive than "kids who need a stable family and on-going contact with relatives who may have complicated problems of their own."

    But you've clearly addressed that issue!

  7. Good response, Guest. My only concern is this: DO NOT TRUST THE SYSTEM. Period. "They" being the social workers, etc- they are looking to close cases. They may have favorites, etc. This is not a system as nearly as sophisticated as even the most basic internet dating service. You have to insist on making a good match. Test drive the car a bit before you determine it- ask for pre-transfer contact, like dinner visits, single day outings, then weekend visits, for several months before you accept the permanent placement. Give the kids and yourselves a chance to gradually get to know each other so to speak. Leave the door open for both sides to stop at any time. If you really want it to work, its necesary.

    There are no fairy tales in older child adoption. You have kids out there that really want a family, and they'll tell you that. What they really want is their own bio family, restored and perfect. What they'll settle for and eventually bond with if you're lucky, is an adoptive/foster family. But please make no mistake- you will always be the second best in most cases, no matter how bad their first family was in terms of criminal/abuse history. It doesn't mean you can't make it work, but older child adoption is more like a marraige than a parent/child relationship. Marraiges work as long as both parties want it too, and as long as both parties remember their limitations and expectations and roles. THe typical parent/child relationship exists because of birth/dna/memories/history, and you won't have that with adopted kids that are older. Like college roommates, many older kids in foster care have moved so many times that even though they may like you just fine, they won't "love" you unconditionally like your bio kids do in most cases. Even though they want a family, you probably aren't exactly what they want- nobody ever is. Picture yourself as a 16 yr old dreaming of your Mr. Right. He was gorgeous, an athlete, musician, artist, cook, politician, everything, right? Is your husband? No. You fell in love with him, but that was hormonal. The hormones coasted you past the point where you were feeling buyer's remorse, and now you've stayed happily married. Be prepared for the same thing in an older child adoption, except there aren't any hormones to make it "feel" like love.

    Again, adopting a sib group makes it easier. Even if they are irritated at you, the liklihood of both being irritated at the same time is low- they will talk sense into each other. Plus, they have each other to turn to, and they will likely be somewhat grateful that they are able to stay together, since many many many kids in foster care are split permanently. Not that you want their gratitude, but if they're happy enough to just be together, they'll put up with more transitional roughness (like food they don't like, chores they don't like, etc) to stay togetther.

    Good luck. Keep asking questions. Whatever you do, don't do it without the total support of your spouse. It isn't fair to him, the kids or anyone.

  8. Yup, Yolanda explained what I was trying to say better than I did! It was a general critique of the discourse around adoption, and a note that I hoped might be helpful in being aware of most kids' actual situations.

    Good luck!

  9. Anonymous7:18 PM

    To the Guest Poster:
    How wonderful that you are considering adoption, and of teens. I would advise you to follow your heart, what your inner voice tells you. Also be aware about the issues that most adopted tweens and teens struggle with: grief, idenitiy, and control to name a few. Keep asking questions.
    Adoptive Parent Facilitator - Parenting the Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens and Beyond http://judymmiller.com/

  10. I totally forgot this, so I hope the original poster is still reading! I ran across a blog recently of a white couple adopting a black teenager in LA. It's very thoughtful and it sounds like there's a lot of good information there.


    I also second Stacie's advice: do not trust the system. Verify everything you can and take nothing at face value. It's a lesson most parents learn the hard way.

  11. Thanks for the blog reference, Altasien. I added it to the notification box.

  12. Another response from our guest poster:

    Thanks to all of you for your comments..very helpful and you've given me a lot to think about. I started reading the "lafoster" blog, very good and I'll go back there for more.
    This has made me get out of my fantasy world as far as what this might be like, and think about it much more realistically. Scary, yes, but I'm still interested. Still, there is no way I would try to talk my husband into this if he can't get to that point on his own. All I am asking of him is to give it serious thought, to look at some of the kids' profiles, and really search his soul. If the answer is still that he can't see himself doing it, I will have to let it go.
    I would LOVE to take in a sibling group, 2 at least, and for many of the reasons Stacie mentioned; I just don't know if, even if he could see us adopting one, my husband would ever agree to more.
    Again, thank you all for your insight. I will probably come back around here for a while if anyone has anything else to add.


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.