There are many reasons singles and couples arrive at the decision to adopt in their 40s and later. These include
- Putting off starting a family until careers or financial security are established,
- Many years of infertility treatments,
- Creating a “second” family when children are grown,
- Creating a family after remarriage, and
- Grandparent/kinship adoption.
There are certainly others. Here are some tips for older parent adoption.
Adopting After 40
Sharon Kaufman adopted from China as a single parent when she was 51. She writes,
“I had a brief, childless marriage when I was in my early 20s. When that marriage ended, I assumed that I would someday remarry and have children. In fact, I had some fine relationships, but never did remarry – and having thrown myself into my career, I woke up one day and found that I was 47, no longer in possession of my uterus, and childless. And suddenly, it all mattered a lot.”
In the past, the upper age limits for adopting parents followed by domestic private agencies was set by a 40-year “rule of thumb:” adopting parents shouldn’t be more than 40 years older than the child they wanted to adopt. Today, that age limit is creeping up as the Baby Boomer generation changes definitions and perceptions about age, health, physical limitations, and life span. More and more agencies are encouraging older persons to consider infant adoption.
Many older persons with grown children are encouraged to adopt from the foster care system and especially urged to consider older children or children with disabilities because their past parenting experience has equipped them with skills to meet challenges.
While opportunities do exist for domestic adoption by persons over 40, they can involve long waits and be quite expensive if arranged privately. For these reasons, many older persons turn to international adoption and take advantage of the age flexibility offered in many countries. For example, China recently lowered its minimum age from 35 to 30 but has no published upper limit, and certain areas of Russia have set 60 as the upper age limit. Each country has its own restrictions, so before settling on a particular location, check the requirements.
Grandparent, stepparent, or other kinship adoption may result in older singles and couples becoming parents– again, or for the first time.
Focus on the Positive
Older individuals have much to offer, and adoption opportunities exist in all types of adoption. When selecting an agency or attorney, be sure to ask about policies and experiences with older parent adoptions. And remember, you can do it!
Advantages of Being Older
- Emotional maturity
- Financial stability
- Stable values
- Stable marriages/partnerships (for couples)
- Time and patience
- Healthier and more active than ever before
- Extended life expectancy allows longer active parenting years
- It isn’t important to look like a young parent. More and more people are putting off starting a family until their 40s and what you look like isn’t important. The love and commitment you give to a child are what’s important.
16 Points for Older Parents to Remember
1.) You CAN adopt.
You are both allowed to adopt and capable of being a good parent.
2.) You don’t need to be superman or superwoman.
Remember, even if you lack the energy of a younger person, you probably have more patience and understanding. People have parented successfully even when they are in wheelchairs or blind; just being older should not be a deterrent.
3.) You can adopt whether or not you are married and whether or not you have other children.
Many older people come to adoption because their biological children are grown or because they have remarried after divorce or widowhood and want to share the parenting experience with a new spouse. Older singles often come to adoption after having attained career goals or after recognizing that biological parenthood is no longer possible, even if they find a marriage partner.
4.) You can adopt in many ways.
International adoption is often the preferred route, as several foreign countries value older parents and will grant them children in a reasonable time frame. However, it is also possible to adopt an infant, older or special needs children or to undertake a foster-adopt relationship domestically.
5.) Give careful consideration to the age that interests you.
Most older people, like their younger counterparts, prefer to adopt infants or young toddlers because they want the “baby” experience and know that the adjustment to adoption of very young children is likely to be easier. However, older parents should recognize that parenting such children is not easy; it involves a lot of carrying (which some older backs cannot tolerate) and a lot of adjustment of one’s established routines to accommodate sleep and feeding schedules and such. Adopting very young children also means that the older adoptive parent will be well up in years when the child becomes a challenging adolescent. As a result, some older parents might want to consider adopting children who are past babyhood.
6.) Consider other familial responsibilities.
Many older parents will find themselves faced with the challenging task of caring for frail elderly parents when their children are still young and in need of much attention. Older parents with biological children may also find themselves in a situation where adult offspring move back home after a failed marriage or an unsuccessful job hunt. This, too, can be quite stressful as they deal with the needs of a newly adopted young child.
Give careful thought to how you will manage, financially and otherwise, the needs of all people who may become dependent upon you.
7.) Consider whether you REALLY know what parenting entails.
Both older and younger parents often fall in love with the idea of having a baby, without really understanding the full range of parenting challenges. And older people with older biological children may have parented in simpler times, or when they had more stamina. It is also not uncommon for prospective parents to gloss over the fact that the children they adopt may turn out to have special needs of one form or another.
One of the best ways for a prospective parent to develop an understanding of children’s needs and the parenting role is to take on some form of volunteer or paid work with children– especially children with medical or other issues– to see if he/she can really cope with the tantrums, the upset stomachs, the sleepless nights, and the high-spirited behaviors.
8.) Choose an agency, lawyer, or facilitator with special care.
Everyone, not just older people, should choose an adoption agency, lawyer, or facilitator with a good track record in results and ethical conduct. There are too many people who represent themselves as adoption professionals who fail to help families find acceptable children in a reasonable time frame, who charge outrageous fees, and/or who are not concerned with birth parent rights and needs. Older adoptive parents need to be careful to select an organization or individual that does not have a bias against older parents, that will advocate well for them, and that will help them choose the most promising avenue for adopting the type of child they want.
9.) Recognize that delays are inevitable.
All adoptive parents want to have a placement immediately, but older people are particularly vulnerable because they worry about being too old to be effective parents. But the fact is that “glitches” happen in adoption. Even countries with stable adoption systems change their laws, causing delays. Families may even need to switch to another program. Within the US, social workers and judges do not always operate quickly. Older people need to recognize that one year is NOT going to make much difference in their ability to parent effectively.
10.) Ensure that you are in the best possible shape for adoption travel, and that you travel as comfortably as you can.
Most foreign countries require a prospective parent to travel to adopt. The travel may be quite arduous. There may be long bus rides, squat toilets, unfamiliar food, hard beds, no air conditioning, and more. And once the parent receives his/her child, the stay in the foreign country may be even more difficult.
It is important for older parents to be as healthy as possible before traveling and bring medications for any chronic condition that they may have. They may want to insist on the best possible arrangements for their stay in the foreign country, even if that means passing up that charming inn that the locals use in favor of a big, urban hotel. For people traveling across time zones, it may be a good idea to take one or more rest stops in better-developed cities on the way to or from the country.
11.) Take bonding time once you arrive home.
Many agencies recommend that new adoptive parents avoid the classic “airport party” if they are traveling home from a foreign country, as it often terrifies or overwhelms the child and further tires the parent, who may have had a difficult trip. They also suggest spending a week or two at home with the child, with few activities scheduled, to allow bonding to occur and both parent and child to rest and get over any travel-related bugs. These recommendations are particularly appropriate for the older parent, who may have less energy than his or her younger counterpart.
12.) Make child care arrangements that mesh with the responsibilities of your job.
Many older parents hold responsible jobs that are not confined to a strict schedule. As they look at child care arrangements, they will need to ensure that they can find and afford child care that accommodates their work schedules. These may include early morning or evening meetings and occasional overnight travel.
13.) Update your will and make guardianship arrangements.
All parents should have a will and some arrangements for their children to receive care if they should die or become incapacitated. The importance of this recommendation for older adoptive parents cannot be overstated. It is necessary both to protect the children’s inheritance rights and to ensure that they be raised in a manner consistent with your wishes.
14.) Make backup arrangements for times when you are temporarily ill or incapacitated.
All parents need to plan for times when they are knocked flat by flu or break an arm testing out a skateboard. Older parents are more likely to develop medical problems that require care in a hospital or that limit their activities. They need to begin long before the need arises to find appropriate arrangements for their children. Unfortunately, many older people find that their friends and relatives are also older and not in a position to take on the care of young children. Older parents must recognize that they either need the funds to pay for professional child care or a good support system that includes younger family members or friends.
15.) Don’t be embarrassed because you are older!
The other parents at your child’s school may be surprised by the age lines in your face or your graying hair, but they will soon see that you can chaperone field trips with the best of them.
16.) If you truly want to parent and have a young attitude and an acceptance of others, regardless of age, you will do just fine.
Are you considering growing your family through adoption? For a free and confidential consultation with an adoption professional, click here.