When my elderly aunt underwent cancer treatment, she tearfully asked my husband and me to raise her granddaughter Grace — my second cousin.
Within a few months, we became the legal guardians of a 9-year-old we barely knew. Parenting three biological children did little to prepare us for the unique needs of an older child who had experienced trauma. But learning the following three lessons helped us through this challenging transition:
Counseling is just as important for parents as for the child
We found a skilled Christian counselor who understood the effects of trauma and who worked to help us help our child, rather than simply working with our child. The counselor acted as a much-needed sounding board and offered ideas when Grace’s problems felt overwhelming and pushed us to our limits.
Consistency will pay off … eventually
We set a schedule, made rules and built routines, then stuck to them. For dinner Grace demanded to eat only tacos, cheese pizza or macaroni and cheese. Troubled by the level of control she exercised, we knew we needed to be sensitive, but we could not let her win this battle. So we set firm rules: Grace was not allowed to complain about the food, she had to try everything on her plate, and she couldn’t have snacks after dinner.
After two years of consistency and many tears (from all of us), Grace now eats a wide variety of foods and is less controlling.
Older adoptees need to communicate openly
Older adoptees often hoard, lie and push away people who love them. Grace refused to throw anything away, even garbage! We knew we needed to talk openly about emotional issues and help her understand why she did those things.
We gently explained that she didn’t like to throw anything away because she had experienced a lot of loss. (We had this conversation more than once.) We encouraged her to talk about those losses. When she finally did, we told her how proud we were of her for sharing such tough stuff. Learning to talk about her losses and hurts began the process of her healing.
Grace is now 14 and is a vital part of our family. Our older children love her every bit as much as
they love each other. Though the journey has felt overwhelming at times, we have no regrets. The joy
and richness she adds to our lives has been worth the pain it took to get us where we are today.