Too old at 4?

Too old at 4?

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This week has been National Adoption Week – seems only last month that we had last years the time is flying so fast. Our children are now 12, 13 and 14 and every stage has its own joys and challenges but I can honestly say they are growing into real individual characters with their own personalities, traits and foibles. As I look back over our experience as parents too in some ways we’ve changed but in others I’m not sure we’ve moved on at all. We still lose patience, are intolerant of their struggles and lack the skills needed to help them heal. We also at moments are very therapeutic and are creating that space for them to recover over time.

The theme for this years National Adoption Week was ‘Too old at 4?’ and I can honestly say I would not have wanted ours any differently. They were 4, 5 and 7 when they were placed and yes I’m sure their progress in terms of Attachment and healing may have been better if they’d been younger, and yes I would’ve rather they didn’t suffer the unnecessary years in a dangerous environment. However, they were the perfect age for us and as they’ve grown they are definitely our children in so many ways.

Sometimes we forget the advantages of having older children placed. Of course the ideal would always be that children could stay with their birth parents but sadly that’s not possible for many. They need a safe home life and a family who can look after them properly. So what are some of the advantages to having older children placed?

  1. You are more aware of the issues and potential future difficulties. When you have a baby placed there is little chance of knowing what might develop. When they are 4 they are already past many of the stages of development when conditions may manifest. We knew some of the issues ours had and so could predict more accurately what they might need and what we might need as a family too. Of course that’s not to say that predication is always correct and that you might be able to get the support when you need it – but at least we were prepared.
  2. Ours ate and slept well. We knew their routines and they were much more open to change in routines too. This may of course not be true of all children this age but ours certainly ate and slept well and have ever since – still going to bed most nights at 8pm even at 14 years of age. They need their sleep and so do we! I don’t think I could’ve coped with three children under the age of 5 – the lack of sleep and constant relentlessness of babies without losing my mind myself.
  3. They went to school. This may sound like a disadvantage and I guess in some ways it may be in terms of attachment to us, but with three of them I needed that space to be able to re-group, re-charge and prepare for their return. We did of course have a little bit of time together first and the youngest at 4 was in pre-school for mornings but it worked for us for them to be at school.
  4. They are much more aware of their own life story. We don’t have many conversations that involve a rose tinted view of their birth family – particularly the eldest who remembers quite a lot. We have frank and open conversations about how their birth parents couldn’t cope and how that had an impact on them. We don’t have the awkward moments adopters have who adopt younger children and have to start those conversations. Ours know they were in foster care and were aware of what was happening to them (to an extent). Of course they have more bad times to recall which is very sad and hard, but they are realist views which they can hopefully in time integrate into their life stories.
  5. This may sound like a strange advantage but it keeps me going sometimes. If we hadn’t have stepped forward to take our children what might have happened to them? They would’ve been separated and stayed in long term foster care. It breaks my heart to think of that scenario now. They deserve to be in a family who loves them. To belong and to feel accepted. I’m not saying long term foster care can’t do that for them but I’m also realist enough to know that foster care is not an ideal environment for many. When I see my children bonding with their cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents it feels me with joy. To know that they have a network of family and friends that they wouldn’t have had otherwise gives me hope that their future can be bright for them.

So for anyone reading this who may be considering older children – do it. There are blessings, as well as challenges – much the same as adopting any age, but I do believe these children and young people deserve a chance at a family life that can help them break the cycle of neglect and abuse in their lives – you may be the family to do just that.

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