Recently our oldest adopted daughter from China celebrated her 15th birthday. She wasn’t excited about this birthday because she didn’t want to be fifteen. She liked being 14 and to her 15 felt too old.
You see she feels a bit cheated…
Her childhood began at the age of 8 yrs 8 month and 18 days.
Life before November 23, 2008 was only about existence and survival, day after day. When she was younger she was one of the favored children in the orphanage but once she turned 5 yrs old, she was no longer favored. Instead, the extra morsels of food went to a younger child.
Her orphanage memories include frequently being hit, being tied to her bed if she was viewed as being naughty, small portions of food, bullies taking her food, bullies hitting her, being locked in closets, watching inappropriate TV and more. Her orphanage was not considered a bad or poor orphanage, by orphanage standards. It was supposedly a good one and in a nicer part of town.
She told us a story about when she wet her bed at the orphanage. Knowing that a punishment would be coming her way she quickly exchanged the wet sheets on her bed for someone else’s dry sheets. My first thought was, “What about the other person who now has the wet bedding? Will they get in trouble?” When I said that to her, a light went on and she realized what she had done. Truthfully, a conscience is too costly in an orphanage. It’s all about survival, each and every day.
Our girl wants more time to be a child. She loves playing with her younger sibs, meeting new friends (around the ages of 11-13), and doing the things that kids like to do. She likes being the oldest of our crew but she still wishes she could have come home earlier. She asked, “Mom, why didn’t you come and get me sooner?” We reassure her that as soon as she was available for adoption we went as fast as we could!
It’s hard for her when others have expectations of what 15 should look like… It makes her uncomfortable when people entice her with phrases like “soon you’ll be driving” and “do you have a boyfriend”?
We asked her if she wanted some make up for her birthday. She said, “No, I don’t want to look any older than I am.” She did get some lip gloss from a friend and loved it. And she is asking for perfume. She told me today that she was done with American girl dolls. Yet, for her celebration she chose to go to Build a Bear.
It was our intention to encourage our children to have as long a childhood as they wanted and needed. We don’t encourage them to fit into society’s norms. In fact we feel that too many teens (adopted and birth) are forced to grow up too early whether it be by peer pressure, by peer example or other circumstances.
Our daughter does not have a phone. We are not opposed to getting her one when she needs one but right now she is usually with us. She chooses not to babysit in other families. She will watch her younger sibling for 1-2 hours if I need her to. She will happily watch her niece when she is needed, and even when she is not needed but just wants to!
We have discussed future driving and have decided that she can take Drivers Ed at 17 and get her license at 18. At that point she will have been home for 9 years. We have heard that an adoptee will be fully acclimated once they have been home for every year they were in an orphanage. In other words, our daughter was in the orphanage for 8 yrs 8 months. Once she is about 17 yrs old she will be fully adjusted to her life in our family. The 8.8 years that she will need at home are an amazing opportunity to see God at work. Each year we look back and think “Wow, she’s doing so well!”
She is responsible, kind, smart, has a great sense of humor, talented and she is an absolute joy to our family. Even though her age is 15 yrs old we see her as more of a 13-14 yr old. She still has many life lessons to learn and experiences to have. Because she came home at on older age with little to no education she is at the 5th grade level now. It is important to start older adoptees who have not had the opportunity of an education at the very beginning- which means preschool to kindergarten. Otherwise they will always have holes in their education and not fully understand the academic subjects. If others ask her what grade she is in we say “7th grade”. If she were to go to school they would want to put her in 8th-9th grade. That would not be a fit for her academically and socially.
When we began our adoption journeys we read many books and agreed with the theory that adopted children need time. Time to adjust to their new environment, new family, the concept of parents, new language, new friends, new food, new culture, new smells, everything NEW!
I can be as competitive as the next person but these children do not need to compete in any way. They need time, encouragement, love, consistency, opportunity without fear of failure, which equals acceptance for who they are and where they are at. They need medical care, dental care and an education that is not filled with pressure to succeed. They need faith in God and renewed faith in themselves.
Being an older parent fits within what these kiddos need in their life. We love the road we took with our first five children but right now we have little to no interest in chasing opportunities that may not be a fit for our current children (competitive basketball, soccer, golf, dance, etc). Not rushing our children into growing up too early feels right.
You only get one opportunity to be a child and it is just a fraction of a lifetime, why not enjoy it while you can!