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When are you ""Too Old"" to Adopt?
Exploring Adoption Options as a parent over 40
June 01,2006 / Betty Laning
Untitled Document

One of the changes seen in the field of adoption these days is that more couples and singles that are over the age of 40 are wishing to adopt. For the past three years the annual New England Adoption Conference has had a special workshop for those who are over 40 to present the options they have in adopting. It's the largest U.S. adoption conference, with 1600 attending, and this workshop has drawn over 150 people each year.

In general these prospective adopters wish to adopt infants or possibly children up to the age of 5, and they are childless. Since they have had no parenting experience, they usually do not feel at all qualified to adopt the school age or sibling groups available in the U.S.

A few prospective adopters who have raised younger siblings, or have worked professionally with children as teachers, nurses, pediatricians, or guidance counselors have had the courage to adopt older youngsters. It is a real revelation to the latter group that to be a parent of a child for 24 hours a day is vastly different from working with such youngsters for a specific numbers of hours a day! Usually a school0age child can pull himself together and function on his most mature level for a limited period of time. It's when he hits home for that afternoon that he regresses and becomes a younger, much more vulnerable and emotional person.

Those over 40 who wish to a white healthy U.S. baby need to realize that they are now in competition with many younger couples. Now that the U.S. birthparents are given more choice about where their infant will be placed in an adoptive family, they do seem to prefer the couples under 40. Couples or singles over 40 wait significantly longer to be “chosen” by birthparents.

Sometimes the wait has been a bit shorter when the prospective adopters have decided to find a pregnant woman on their own who will consider placing her child with them. This means advertising in newspapers, putting in an 800-line telephone and other ways of broadcasting the news that they wish to adopt. There are risks in independent adoptions, as a high percentage of birthmothers decide not to release their children after they are born. Those adopting not only lose a child, but also the fees they have paid for services to the birth other. Check to be sure your state allows independent adoptions, as some states don't permit them.


The other option in pursuing an infant adoption is to consider countries that are more flexible concerning the age of the adopting parents. For some years, couples up to age 43 have been able to adopt from Korea or India . Those over 43 will find some Latin American countries that take applicants. African countries are very flexible on ages of adopters. China wants applicants who must be 30 or older, while Russian and Bulgaria have been open to those in their late 40s, especially for preschool age children.

Adopters who are flexible in the age of the child they wish to adopt will receive a quicker placement. This means saying you'll consider a “baby” up to age 2, a sibling group where one is very young, or can accept a child with a mild to moderate physical problem that can be corrected or helped considerably in the U.S. (if the child stays in the orphanage, the chances of his ever-getting medical care are very slim.)


Besides deciding on the country from which to adopt, the over-40s need to think about the implications of being an older parent with a very young child. In the past, children born to older parents were stigmatized as being “change of life” babies or “accidents”.

A book, Latecomers – Children of Parents Over 35 by Andrew Yarrow , reported the results of research of adults who grew up with older parents. While later born children often feel embarrassed about their parents' gray hair or declining physical stamina, they also benefit from having parents who are mature and experienced adults who can provide more stability and attention than younger parents. As children, they remember missing knowing their grandparents, and did have fears that their parents would die early.

Although the book is about children born into families, it does cover issues that are the same for those adopted.

Older adopters may have difficulty in finding an agency in their area that will accept them for a home study (pre-adoption preparation) from a licensed agency, which is mandated by federal law. The nearest support organization for adoptive families is the first place to inquire. Many can be found online. They may find an agency within their state with an intercountry adoption program, which will accept older parents. If not, there are licensed adoption agencies in other states that accept applicants from all 50 states. If you use an out-of-state agency program, you must have your home study agency check with them to cover what is needed for a particular country. There is no all purpose home study report! Each country asks for somewhat different topics to be covered.

You need to be prepared for questions about your health; have the physician whom does your health exam make a comment on your expected longevity. If you have a chronic health problem, this doesn't eliminate you, as long as you are under medical care and are faithful in following the required regimen. An agency wishes to be sure that the new child would not have to face another “loss” in the near future.


The over 40s definitely need to make a plan with relatives or close friends to assume responsibility for raising the child should the adoptive parents die before he reaches adulthood. The people you choose need to be a part of your child's life as he grows so that they are not strangers. Ad adoption agency will ask you about this during your homestudy.

While caring for a small infant takes lost of energy, and the parents don't get much sleeping for some time into the future, they also need to think ahead to their child's teen years. These are the years when an adolescent is trying out all sorts of interests and talents as he seeks to “find” himself. Parents know it helps to keep youngsters of this age busy with whatever positive activities interest them. This when mom or dad is driving teens to events – and picking them up afterwards. When the teen gets his drivers license, parents don't sleep until that car comes into the driveway. It helps to think back about yourself as a teenager, and remember how much energy you had then.

Teens need tactful parental supervision or parent participation in sports, outdoor activities, social events, etc. If you are 45 when adopting a baby, you'll be 60 when your child is 15. Make a point of having some friends younger than yourself so that they possibly can substitute for you in activities when you find yourself not as young as you used to be!

You need to have advice on planning your finances, as you may well find yourself faced with college expenses just when you are making plans to retire. Also recommended is a tentative plan with your siblings, if you have any, about that care of your own parents when they reach the age of needing support. You are part of the “sandwich” generation-caring for young children when your own parents may be some help.

What the Children Think

The results of Yarrow's research found that one-third of those surveyed said raising children late in life was not a good idea – but another third also thought they benefited from older parents. The final third said there were both good and bad points.

The outstanding problems noted were:

  1. As children, they always had to explain whom their parents were, and that they weren't their grandparents! It was especially embarrassing when the children were teenagers, at a time when other parents were still pursuing vigorous activities with their children.
  2. They had an ever-present fear (even when they were young) for the health of their parents.
  3. As young married couples, these children had to become caretakers of aging parents while the parents of their contemporaries were still very active. This, they felt, was unfair and very difficult, as they were also caring for their own young children at the same time.
  4. The death of the much older parents was especially traumatic and their own children were cheated of having a long relationship with grandparents. Many of those interviewed, however, did express loving, caring attitudes toward their older parents. As children they knew their parents were wiser than other parents who had children when in their 20s. Some mentioned that today's older parents are much more health conscious, and have more interest in staying on a healthy diet, not smoking, and exercising regularly, than those of previous generations.
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Readers Comments  (16 Comments)  View All Comments
I feel it is totally unfair to older potential adopting parents and to the children to deny them the rights of younger adoptive parents. The people who make these decisions would rather see the children grow up institutionalized than in a loving home. I tried to adopt for over 10 years and was constantly overlooked for being single and older even though I could provide for a young child.- Anonymous
I'm trying to find out how old is too old to adopt in the state of Maryland? I need this stated as a law if there is one regarding the age limit. Thanks for your help. Paula- Paula Sandin
My son was born we I was 41 and I would like to add to our family thru adoption. We are doing all the kid things already. He is 5 now so it sounds like I might be considered too old... but I did spend 2 hours yesterday jumping on the trampoline! How many young moms can do that?- Anonymous
This study is rediculous because these adopted kids have no idea what thier life would have been like had they been adopted by younger parents. Dealing with death at a younger age is no fun, I know, but it can happen to anyone at any time. My dad was 72 when he passed away and I was only 22 yrs old but I wouldn't have traded him for a million bucks. He had wisdom, maturity, smarts, patience, empathy, and a 50 years worth of experience with people and life to pass on.- anonymous
I have NO memories of ever having to explain my parents' ages. I was one of first four to go to college from our hometown. I took care of my parents in my 40s, but I had more energy at that time to deal with it. When my parents passed, I had the blessing of having had a close relationship with my parents whose maturity and patience undoubtedly shaped me into responsible, loving adult.- Anonymous
Older parents have more TIME and have more patients and are more focused on the children......How closed minded to say any child would not want to be that special...... That loved, That cared for...... Love has no boundaries.........- Anonymous
I am sorry that there is the mind set that it would be better for the child to live in an orphanage all their life or foster care etc. than to have their OWN family who will love and cherish their every movement. Not to mention the Aunts, Uncles, many cousins, many friends, many neighbors and church families they will have in their live. All that love, care and attention should be tossed aside because of what again?- Anonymous
Also my nana had my dad at 40 and he lost his dad at an early age but my nana lived into her 90's and got to see all of us grandchildren grow up. I was 20 when she died so neither my dad nor I missed out because she had him later in life.- melissa
why does everyone assume that an older parent will be less able. I was just thinking how my 55 year old mother is far more able and physically fit than many women in their 30's! Too many mindless assumptions being made and it makes people like me who are not even 30 feel pressured to have children as soon as possible even though I may be far from ready emotionally or financially.- melissa
We know a family where the mother was 45 and the father was 68 with a 11 year old daughter. The mom died at 45 due to a brain anurism (sp). the dad is 70 now and is in great health. You just never know who will go first.- Anonymous
I recently adopted a 3 year old at 42 and may consider adopting again. I'm glad to be a mom.- Anonymous
Yes, parents can die at any age, but, that's unexpected in a young person. You are much more likely to have age-related health problems as you get older and that's important to be mindful of. Nothing worse than a kid spending half their time in the hospital because dad is having heart surgery. Or going to tons of funerals as older relatives die off. A conscientious older parent needs to be mindful of these things and prepare as best you can; don't assume it doesn't affect the kid.- Anonymous
I asked my father (when I was about to adopt) what it was like having an older father (he himself was adopted when his father was in his forties). He said "one thing I know is, he always had time for me".- Anonymous
As an older parent, I'm more likely to be in a stable marriage, have a good job, and more money. At 48, I do yoga and swimming ... I can't recommend kids choose younger parents!- Older parent
Any parent could die unexpectedly at any age leaving a child without parent(s). Age is a mindset.- Anonymous
I am a older parent age 56 and i feel older parents are more settled down/wiser- rita lowery
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