When a person chooses to adopt a child, it is a huge decision. By doing so, they're playing a vital role in their child's life. Each journey is different, and unique in their own way. Here's some examples of what it is like.
People on Reddit who adopted an older child share their stories. Content has been edited for clairty.
"My wife and I adopted an older girl from our state's foster system. The girl was 13 when we adopted her, and we were told she had a rough childhood full of abuse and she had been diagnosed with 'General mood disorder.'
Little did we know the psychological assessment was done by an unqualified state doctor, and this little girl had severe issues that required more care than my wife and I were prepared for. We spent five years dealing with fighting, arguing, run away attempts, substance use, drinking abuse, constant emotional manipulation, constant lying, and stealing. She was also in constant contact with her schizophrenic birth mother behind our backs; the woman kept feeding our daughter conspiracy theories and lies, and constantly making the situation worse for all of us.
We tried the best we could for five whole years. We were constantly trying different therapists, parenting methods, seeing different doctors, all to no avail. It wasn't until about five months before her 18th birthday we had to have her committed, and we finally got a proper diagnosis. She was diagnosed with bi-polar and BPD.
We finally had an answer to the nightmare we all had to go through. We did our research, and learned the proper way to parent a child with these conditions and things began to improve over the last few months she was with us. But on her 18th birthday, she bailed and we haven't seen her since.
That was five years ago."
"I took guardian ship of my sons half sister when she was 14. Their father (who is not and will never be a part of my sons life) was abusive, and tried to hurt her once when he was hammered. As a result, she acted out. Her mother was a pushover who didn't know how to handle her, so she was put into the system. I knew she wasn't a bad kid, so I stepped in and said I'd take her.
It was rough that first year. She tested the boundaries a lot until she realized I wasn't going to give up on her. I think it also helped that her baby brother adored her, and my parents welcomed her with open arms. We found her a good therapist she clicked with, and that really helped her work through her issues. She finished school with good grades, met her boyfriend who is wonderful with her. She has kids of her own now and is a fantastic mother. Best decision I ever made was taking her in."
"We adopted our eldest daughter at 10. We actually adopted her baby half sister first. After the mom met us (since we were doing this via foster care), she asked if we’d adopt her other daughter too. She had been in and out of foster care most of her life, and her bio mom selflessly made the decision to let her go for stability and safety. We definitely weren’t planning to adopt an older child; we already had a 6-year-old biological child. But after meeting the 10-year-old, we knew we’d want her to be a part of our family.
It’s been 16 years and it definitely hasn’t always been easy, but we have no regrets. We love our daughter like our own. She was challenging to raise the first few years, definitely had some trust issues with us, and some deep seeded abandonment issues. Family therapy helped. Every once in a while (like once every few years or so), these issues resurface. She still struggles with depression and anxiety. I'd be lying if I said this doesn’t worry me, it does, but she seems to have a handle on it. She’s always been incredibly smart and talented.
She just finished her Master's degree, has had a successful career thus far, and she’s engaged to a wonderful man. It’s almost odd that she has really excelled in everything she’s ever tried (she thinks it’s mostly due to good luck). Some of her success was due to our parenting I’m sure, but most of it is just her and how she’s wired. I’m proud to be her mom."
"My wife and I are a little older, so when we decided to adopt we opted for an older child for a host of reasons. One being it made more sense for us financially, and also because our hearts went out for older children whom society generally wants to look over and forget. These kids need a home too.
We chose to adopt from the foster care system. This meant taking the same set of classes as standard aspiring foster parents. So even though we had no intention of becoming actual foster parents, we learned what they learn and became legitimate foster parents.
We took in a troubled 13-year-old girl. We stuck through it with her. There were lots of twists and turns in her story, and we found out the hard way that she was not, in fact, clear for adoption months into the process. So we became what we wanted to avoid, foster parents instead of adoptive parents. I'll never forget during one of the regularly scheduled court appearances we were obligated to go to, of having the court workers review her story to the court and later having random people sob in the back from listening to it, and tell us 'We will pray for you.'
She was angry at the world for her situation. Angry at her bio mom for abandoning her. Angry at the system for 'forgetting' her for so many years. She lashed out at us many times as well, thinking we would just give up on her.
I'll never forget her slamming the door to her room and screaming at my wife, 'I HATE YOU!' over and over, and my wife barely holding it together and saying 'I love you anyway' each time.
My wife and I had moments of despair. When one of us would grow weak and say we couldn't do this anymore and maybe we should consider giving up, the other would remind us well what would we do in this situation if she were our child? We would nod, and press on.
One day, about a year and a half in, this child turned to me while I was driving her somewhere and said, 'I don't want to go back to my bio mom. I want you. I want you to be my dad.'
I, a grown-up man, broke down and wept.
The adoption went final when she was 15. It was that long of a process, but the actual adoption took all of five minutes in a judges chamber, for which this girl quipped, 'That's it? Just the stroke of a pen? I'd have lent you a pen years ago!'
People who didn't know us back then honestly are surprised to learn she was adopted. She's an honor graduate from high school now, and is planning to attend college for nursing. We couldn't be more proud of this child, our daughter."
"My husband and I adopted my brother's two kids (at the time 2M and 6F) and their sister (4F). Our oldest was violent and abusive, to herself and toward me. She never acted out that way around my husband, which always made me feel as though I was doing something wrong. Maybe we weren't a good fit. Maybe I was too young. Maybe she was better off with her foster family. I would spend every night in tears, fearful that we were doing more harm than good, because she never acted out that way before adoption.
She was reading by three, eating up chapter books before we could introduce them properly. We thought she was memorizing street names, nope. She read them faster than we could most times. She was (and still is) a brilliant young lady that shocks people when she speaks. But those fits; it took our dog almost a year to really trust her, at one point she kicked me so hard in the mouth I thought I had lost teeth!
Therapy and counseling helped more than I can even say, for both of us. Her therapist reminded me that she was hurt by her mother, and never knew her father enough to not trust him. She was 'throwing knives' (metaphorically of course) because she had never really trusted women before. She was wary, and rightfully so.
We both worked so hard to develop a healthy relationship, and honestly we're still putting hours into it. She's almost 10, and honestly just like me. It's odd, it's like we've always been a family, but it didn't always feel that way."
"I adopted a seven-year-old from foster care in 2017. It was an absolute failure. My wife pushed me to choose this child, even though I didn’t feel the 'sparks' everyone talks about when meeting or hearing about their kids. He has a background of being inappropriate touched, and it’s triggering for me as a survivor of childhood abuse.
I separated from my wife in 2018, and we shared custody for about a year. I asked her for a short break, and she took the child and never returned him. I can’t say I’m unhappy about her choice. I didn’t really fight for her to bring him back. I have seen him only a few times since then.
I care for him as a human being and of course wish no harm upon him, but I’m not his parent. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve been through."
"Mine is now 16. I became 'dad' when they were five. They got trashed one night, and screamed at their mother and me for two hours. They also ranted at their younger siblings, then we called the police to take them to the hospital for their 10th inpatient psych admission and 4th one this year (past twelve months) less than a month after being released from the last one.
They were such a happy kid, but the last six years have been a nightmare. They swing from being a great, smart, funny kid with a bright future to rampaging throughout the house at the drop of a hat. There’s definitely a mental health issue, but nothing works, and the swings are getting more and more frequent.
I worry about them every single day.
I love all of my kids. I also can’t wait for this specific one to turn 18, when they have announced they’re moving to Seattle to live with their boyfriend. We’re just so tired and it doesn’t matter how much therapy we pay for and undergo, or how many times they go inpatient. If they’ll be happier there, then that’s fine by me. Maybe getting out there and failing will make them take recovery and therapy seriously. I’m terrified I’m going to have to bury them, though.
Nothing’s changing and we’re all just so tired."
"Adopted a child who was 11 when I was 21.
He was my wife's younger cousin, and his household was marred with substance abuse, filth, instability, and mental health issues. Knew it was bad but didn't know how bad. Took him (11) and his brother (14) for a summer once, just to give them a break from (what we thought was) a dirty house with an overwhelmed parent. Then I took them back the week before school started and saw the filth first hand, the smell and the random people coming in/out, and the wreckage we were about to have to leave them in. The breaking point was the fact his Xbox and games had been sold along with their TV, the two had one mattress on a floor, and the younger one said 'I can't wait for school to start back.'
When I asked why, he said 'Because then I get to eat every day, like when I'm at your house.'
I told them to just get back in the car. His mother never even called to ask why he or his brother didn't come home until tax season, to make sure we didn't claim them on our taxes, Never wished him a happy birthday, Christmas, nothing. My wife and I grew up very quickly. We worked hard and got full custody about a year later when he was 12. He grew up healthy and happy, successful with great grades and a good head on his shoulders.
His brother who was 14 lived with us for the first year would go back and forth, trying to help his mom get her life together before returning again. But for the most part during those years, the younger child we had full custody of and the older child came/went as he needed.
It wasn't until years later when the younger of the two moved out with his friends (instead of taking our offer to go to college right after school), and began having substance abuse issues of his own that we learned the extent of the abuse he had endured at home for nearly his entire childhood. It was heartbreaking. He ended up going through a pretty severe addiction period in his early to mid 20s. Regardless of what we've tried and how many small successes we've worked with him to reach, he always ends up in a severe depression and turning back to substances again.
The last time I talked to him, I told him I loved him and would help him get into a very nice rehab community when he's ready. I even offered to help him get a good job and place for himself, but only when he's ready to be clean. Until then, we simply can't do anything with or for him..and it was hard to do.
I am in the 2nd half of my 30's now, have three children in grade school who need me like he did then who also love him (our oldest looks at him like a big brother), but unfortunately we have to keep our distance a bit so they don't have to see close-up the ugly side of addiction in someone they love. Now that he's an adult in his mid 20's making these choices, we can't have any real relationship other than the occasional call or letter until he's done. He loves them too, but he's got some demons that we cannot possibly understand, and until he's ready to get help for them or help for his addiction, we don't have much of a relationship.
His brother worked hard and straightened their mother out over the years into a functioning adult. As a result, she got her life together, a job, a place, everything.
The older brother and her are roommates now, and we are very proud of him for the man he's become, what he's persevered, and the incredible progress he's made with their mother and how he's stuck by her side now providing as equals. I never realized it, but he and I really grew up together, only being five or six years apart in age and were best friends for years as young adults even after his younger brother moved out. One of my biggest regrets is somehow letting those days end. He loves his brother too, but his and his mother's relationship with his brother is the same as ours. The delicate balance between helpful/love vs enabling due to understand the pain he's probably trying to understand/repress, until he's able to beat this.. And he will.
Nothing is perfect, just what you make of it I suppose, but it has highlighted to us how important the early years of a child's development are and how damaging all forms of abuse can be, regardless how much effort you put into trying to change things afterward. Also, how important it is for a child to have an adult who genuinely cares about them, since sadly many don't."
"I am a 46-year-old father of five. Ages range from 22 to 10. My two oldest (by birth) are 22 and 19. The three youngest are adopted internationally.
We adopted my 16-year-old daughter when she was just a few weeks old. You would think this is so young that attachment would not be an issue. That is incorrect. We spent the first several nights getting no sleep. We could not console our daughter, until one night out of frustration we fed her, put her down in her crib and left the room. She went from wailing/crying to completely calm and went right to sleep. In the first few weeks in the orphanage, the routine was to feed the babies, put them to bed, and leave them for four hours until the night feeding. No comforting or holding. No exceptions. This was already imprinted by the time she came to us. She never got over it. It was actually nice for our sleep patterns, but night bonding is an important part of attachment.
A few years later we adopted two more children, siblings, ages five and one. These children had spent their entire lives in extreme poverty. The older child had experienced severe abuse. His body is covered in scars. He was malnourished, had parasites, and fungal infections. We were highly educated and warned about the challenges of adopting an older child. We were warned about the tantrums, physical aggression, poop on the walls. We could have not been more prepared.
Regardless, we have spent the last nine years treating our son's physical and mental trauma. It has completely consumed and transformed our family. The anxiety and stress was and continues to impact our family every day. The aggression and constant attention seeking behavior has changed both my wife and me. We are different people, and not for the better. All of our children experienced a serious reduction in attention. Their lives are worse off for the decision we have made.
To this day, it is a struggle. While our son has made tremendous progress, and is now in a main stream school, and just now able to establish a semblance of a normal life as a 14-year-old boy, he will struggle his entire life. However, if we had not adopted him, it very likely would have been worse, or he might be dead.
We also have many friends who have adopted older children (five and up, although in reality any child over one can be considered 'older' when it comes to attachment concerns). Many of these families have experienced similar struggles. Any child coming from a trauma background is likely to exhibit behaviors and concerns as a result of that trauma. Many of these adoptions lead to disruptions to the adoption, several of these children did not become successful adults. One of these children died of an overdose. In fact, in our circle, it is the exception for these children to become fully functional, successful, happy adults.
Moral of the story. No matter how educated you think you are, and how patient and caring you believe yourself to be, the emotional impact of trying to parent a child who had been abused and/or did not receive the care and attention they deserve will make you second guess your decision. You will not be and can not be prepared for how this impacts you and your family. Only people who have this same experience will understand you. 'Normal' parents will think you are exaggerating, and some will not want to interact with you anymore. Be prepared for that.
Do I regret our path? Not one bit. We love all of our children. We work every day to make them into functioning adults. Our wish is for them to be happy. We are getting there (I think). But it has been a struggle."
"My wife and I took in a youth kid who had pushed his caretakers to the limit, and was going away or to us. He was 15 when we got him. He was two years behind in school because he had been kicked from regular school into alternative school, then expelled from school altogether from there. He had never driven, had serious anger issues, projected all that he'd been through on other people.
He's been with us just about a year now. In that year he's completed two to two and a half years of school, is looking at graduating early to go into college early, has brought his grades up to C+ averages, got his permit, has gotten a major handle on his outbursts, and is actually beginning to understand what real love is. He has three younger siblings here that call him brother, fight over who gets to sit with him, and hang out with him. He and his brother decided to share a room so they could still hang out.
I've yelled, cried, prayed for, prayed with, and done everything I can to get through that hard shell of his. I realized that a lot of it is just being there and not going away or making love a condition. Convincing someone they aren't a habitual mess up isn't easy but he is totally worth it!"
"My parents adopted two sisters when they were six and seven from Ukraine. Once my sisters hit puberty they became monsters. They were constantly manipulating everyone they could, turning people against my parents by making up lies and ultimately getting my parents arrested, again by making lies. My parents drained their bank accounts trying to help them as well.
Yes, my parents could have done some things better, and I could have been a better brother at times but it would not have changed what they became. Eventually they both ended up on the streets, the older one is still there. Luckily the younger one realized what she did and changed. Now I’m proud to say she is in Navy boot camp training."