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.
COUNTRIES TO CONSIDER
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.)
CHALLENGES OF OLDER PARENTHOOD
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:
- 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.
- They had an ever-present fear (even when they were young) for the health of their parents.
- 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.
- 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.