Older Child Socialization -- More from Jane

Here is Part #3 in our series on older child adoption from Jane -- a mom who has "Been There, Done That!" If you are considering adopting an older child, you will find Jane's posts very informative and insightful. Also, you will find a link to Jane's Foundation at the bottom.

For adoptive families, it's easy to integrate a newborn or toddler into your family and friend groups. Parents rely on friendships made in play groups, nursery school, church, preschool or day care. It's up to the parents to help their children create bonds with peers; sometimes lifelong bonds.

Having to socially integrate your newly adopted preteen or teen is harder. There may be some behaviors that your new family member will exhibit that may not lead to immediate friendships with kids his/her own age.

Some older adopted children will have had the advantage of having been raised in a foster home. So, even though they were subjected to constant uncertainty about their future, they were still in a home setting and had more normal interactions with peers. An older adopted child who has been raised in an institution may have a different approach to peer relationships. Again, this is only our experience.

Our child came to us at the age of 14 and was immediately enrolled in 8th grade in the public school system. I had visions of sleep-overs and giggly girls running around our house, lots of parties, invitations to other girls' homes and a repeat of our experience with our biological daughter. It didn't happen.

The first year, our daughter needed all of her emotional resources just to adapt to a family setting and the public school. She was content to go to school and then come home to her family and pet dog.

She made one friend: a girl who only spoke Spanish and lived in a poor part of town. We were glad she had found a friend. However, whenever our daughter visited her friend's home, she was confused by the difference between their home and ours. She was also confused that our goals for her were different from her friend's parents' goals for their daughter. We were talking to our daughter about her future: her friend's parents were simply trying to make it from day to day. Our daughter would come home from school and ask us to burn CD's of music for her friend because the family didn't have a computer. When the friend needed glasses and the school district dragged their feet providing them for the child, we paid for an eye exam and glasses. As our daughter's English improved and she stopped attending ESL classes, the friendship died.

On the day of our daughter's 17th birthday, the 5 girls she invited to her party, all came up with excuses for why they couldn't attend. It was heartbreaking. Perhaps the girls were dependent on a parent to bring them to the party, and the parent was working. Or perhaps a girl couldn't afford to buy a present and was embarrassed to come.

Even being a member of the school Marching Band has not led to friendships with other girls.

It would seem to me that Attachment Issues can manifest themselves in many ways. We are thankful that our daughter had no problem bonding with her new family members. But now, it is up to her and us to learn how she can make some lasting friendships in her new life.

The birthday party experience was what convinced us that our daughter needed a change of scenery. We have taken her out of public school and have enrolled her in a small, private school, beginning fall 2009. She shadowed for a day and came home glowing. The students were interested in her as a Colombian American and were envious of her proficiency in Spanish! We hope that she will be able to make new friends in a more intimate environment and will blossom.


Anonymous said…
This is such an honest and realistic picture of a preteen/teen's experience. Sharing this real story is immensely helpful for those of us with or considering the adoption of older children. Thank you so much for blogging!
Jane King said…
You are very welcome. It can be an eye opener, for sure. There are so many wonderful rewards in adopting the older child. However, we want potential parents to go into it without illusions, and with their eyes open. We wouldn't have done it differently, by the way. It's been amazing.

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