When we talked with our homestudy worker and our placing agency about why we thought we were good candidates for adopting a teenager, we confidently gave a list of reasons why the “rules” didn’t apply to us. We understood why the rules were in place, and sure, we think that most families who have only younger children probably shouldn’t adopt teens, but WE were different, we should be allowed to break those rules. (Rolling my eyes here.) Now that we have our teen, I’m starting to see where our thinking was right and where it was… a bit off.
On the one hand, when our kids were younger my dad lived with us for two years while his body succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease. We had already experienced sharing our home and life with someone whose presence caused plenty of awkwardness and reorganized priorities and needed lots of care that interrupted our daily life. That experience made all of us stronger and more empathetic and charitable, characteristics we’d surely need in bringing a near-adult into our family.
Also, we’ve been parenting our 9 year old daughter Lu through her severe ADHD, borderline ODD for six years now. We aren’t afraid of raging, we aren’t afraid of destructiveness, nastiness, bossiness, mild-to-moderate hitting/pinching/kicking, lying, oppositional behavior, challenging authority, extreme irritability, lack of remorse, stealing food, etc, etc, etc. (Doesn’t mean we were hoping for more of those, just that we knew they were a possibility and were undeterred.) We have learned to calmly (mostly!) and serenely (mostly!) parent our daughter through multiple episodes of the above every day, so we figured as long as we didn’t adopt a child with behaviors more severe than these, we’d probably be okay. I think we were pretty much right about this. Our new teenager has not done all of these, but I do feel we were and are prepared for them and because of this, nothing she’s done so far has surprised or worried us.
On the other hand… Lu is still pretty intense. She is improving (though the game-changer puberty is quickly approaching), and I’m so proud of how she has handled getting a new big sister when she was previously the oldest. How well she’s done with this is enough for a post in itself, I am incredibly proud of her. However. She’s a firey kid, with a strong personality and a strong sense of personal justice. We made two wrong assumptions in thinking it would be not too big of a deal to adopt older than her.
One, we figured that a 14 year old would be a solid 5 years older than her. Older enough that the teen would be in a different, more mature season of life. We figured the teen would relate to us as the parents differently than the younger children do, and would require love and attention in a different format and timeframe. I remembered my own teen years and remembered long talks with my parents after my siblings went to bed. What I didn’t account for was how very immature our new teen would be. With no older siblings to model mature behavior for her, she has chosen to mirror her siblings’ behavior (peer-guided behavior is a strong orphanage characteristic). This means our 14 year old is behaving more like our 7, 8, and 9 year olds. So where I thought I was going to be parenting one more-mature child in addition to our elementary-age crew, instead it feels much more like I just have an additional 9 year old. And honestly, everything goes a lot better if I just go ahead and parent her like a 9 year old.
Two, (and I am ashamed to admit this one) we unconsciously bought into the stereotype of the quiet, shy, polite Chinese girl. Besides my greatest concern being that she’d refuse adoption when we arrived, it never crossed my mind that our daughter would end up being a brash, loud, bold, loud, rude and oh did I mention LOUD kid? In Guangzhou, our agency’s four guides all told us how very rude our daughter is, and said that she wasn’t taught any manners. (Gotta have a thick skin to adopt an older kiddo!) While in China my husband and I joked that she must have been raised in a gymnasium, because she was so loud. And in terms of peer interactions, she does not take flack (or anything she interprets as flack) from anyone. So when Lu says something in a grumbly voice, Teen thinks she’s talking smack and the fireworks fly. I know this will get better as Teen’s English improves, but I do find it funny that yesterday I learned that one of the phrases we hear from Teen often when she interacts with Lu means, “You want trouble?”
The more we’ve gotten to know our daughter and her history, the more her personality makes sense and we can see it is a product of her environment. In just three months, many of her more irritating qualities have disappeared (whew!) and they’ve revealed that in spite of her uncivil exterior, she is very loving and very much wants to be loved and wants to be a part of the family. We are very grateful for this. We have no regrets and are 100% confident that God placed our Teen very specifically into our family. I’m actually rather glad we didn’t know the two above things ahead of time. And I also realize that they are not true of all adoptions of teenagers – in fact I helped a family match with their teenager who has been home one month now, and her maturity level is appropriate to her age AND she is… a quiet, shy, polite Chinese girl. Which just makes me laugh.