Adopting An Older Child: What To Expect The First Year | National Adoption Month

What to expect the first year; this isn’t your newborn book.

Sarah M. Baker November 21, 2016
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All three of my children came to me in very different ways.  My oldest is my biological son.  I had him in my 20’s and was successful with conception in my first month of trying. I took prenatal vitamins for months before conceiving and had everything planned to the T. No surprise that I read What to Expect When Expecting and What to Expect the First Year from front to back more than once.

Fast forward through infertility and 11 years later our second son came to us through domestic infant adoption. Our preparation for his homecoming was filled with adoption education, learning about open adoption, and refreshers on what in the world it’s like to have a baby again!

When our third child came to us, she was 11 years old. The book What to Expect the First Year was not going to be of any help with this one.

No two children are the same in how the first year will transpire. You could experience all these phases in the first weeks or months, or it could take years. Some phases will be a blip or even bypassed, but these are the things our family saw when we welcomed an older child into our family.

The Honeymoon

Just like in a new marriage, there is a honeymoon phase where everyone is lovey-dovey. The child is a model citizen. Picks up after himself or herself, offers to help with the other children, eager to please, may even jump right in at calling you by the names Mom and Dad. All this is wonderful, but sometimes it’s too good to last. No child is on his or her best behavior all the time and soon the honeymoon wears off and you’ll have some very real behaviors to deal with.

The Reversion

Sometimes one of the next phases is reversion. The child may have missed out on some key developmental times and could possibly revert to early life behaviors that you wouldn’t normally see at that child’s age. Baby talk, needing help getting dressed, additional help with food preparation, and the need for more snuggles and affection are just a few examples of what could be an issue.

The Comfort Zone

The comfort zone is a nice place to be. It would be great if we could go straight to the comfort zone and our child does all the “normal” things any child his age would do. I don’t know about your experiences, but a toddler and a teen often have similar fits and emotions. Add in the layers of trauma or loss to your adopted child and the comfort zone to just be a kid is a welcomed phase.

The Rebellion

Rebellion happens when they feel comfortable enough to express their rage, anger, sadness or other feelings. They are testing you. They fear more loss. Your child may push your boundaries and see if you will still be there from them. Setting boundaries early and often couldn’t be more important… as well as reminding them you love them no matter what choices they make.

The Circle Back Around

Just when you think everything is settling down, you may get thrown for a loop and revisit some of the phases over-and-over again.

Now take everything you just read and throw it out the window… because every child is unique and different. While they may experience every one of these phases, they may not experience any at all or just stay in one for a long period-of-time. All you can do is be a good parent; guide them, make an effort to understand them, set boundaries and expectations, and give them the love they desperately need. Watch your child’s cues. Know when to step in and when to step back.

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Sarah M. Baker

Sarah is a Staff Storyteller for Adoption.com and passionate about teaching others the power of open adoption. She is very active in the adoption community, where she spends a lot of time advocating as the founder of Heart For Open Adoption. She is the mom of two boys in addition to parenting her niece. She is a mother biologically and through domestic infant open adoption. Sarah promotes adoption education and ethical adoptions. She and her husband were featured on Season 2 of Oxygen’s “I’m Having Their Baby,” which tells the story of their first adoption match failing. Sarah hopes to bring her personal experience to you and help anyone who wants more information about adoption to find it with ease. Though it was once a taboo subject, Sarah hopes to make adoption something people are no longer afraid to talk about. You can learn more about Sarah and her family on her blog.


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