You Never Outgrow the Need for a Family

Smiling teenager

There’s a tongue-in-cheek poster that’s a classic fixture on the wall at some adoption agencies. It lists the advantages of giving a permanent home to a teenager. Number one is “No diapers!” Another benefit: “No toilet training.”

Clearly, these comments are meant to bring a smile to the face of prospective parents. But they also have a serious intent: to shine a light on the critical need for families to adopt older children and provide them with life-changing unconditional love, safety and support.

Of the estimated 150,000 children in the United States who are legally free for adoption, nearly half are older than 10. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 23,000 foster children turn 18 each year and are left to navigate the transition to adulthood without a permanent family.  Without support, these children are much more likely to suffer from homelessness, incarceration and addiction.  Having the guidance of a permanent family drastically improves these outcomes.

A potential resource parent might think adopting a teenager would be too difficult – that teens bring with them a nearly insurmountable set of challenges.  Ask any parent of a teenager and they’ll confirm that.  Teens can be rebellious.  They can be stubborn and defiant. Those qualities are all part of becoming an individual, for all teens. But whether you adopt a teenager or a one-year-old, you’ll be raising a teenager sooner or later.  Babies grow up and—lo and behold—become teenagers.  Parents who adopt older children just get around to enforcing curfews and limiting cell phone use sooner.

When you invite an older child into your home, you’ll no doubt discover that they’re smack in the middle of figuring out who they are.  Bonding with a teen can be difficult when they’re trying their darnedest to be independent. But if adoptive parents take on their role with realistic expectations and an open heart, a lifetime relationship of love and influence can form – even when the teen is in the home for only a few, precious years.

Part of the exquisite joy of parenthood is being present for important “firsts”: the first step, the first word, the first day of school.  Being at a child’s side as they navigate those milestones is a deep source of bonding between parent and child, and adoptive parents don’t want to miss out on this.  But firsts don’t end at age two or three—or even five, six, seven and beyond.

Think of all the firsts you experienced as a teenager: the first time you tried out for a high school sports team or to be in a play.  The first time you drove a car or applied for college.  Your first summer job.  Your first date, first sweetheart, first broken heart.  These are profound moments in a young person’s life.  Parents who adopt older children get to be a part of them too. “Firsts” never end; even when a child turns 18, there is so much more to experience as a family. If a bride has no permanent connections, who will walk her down the aisle? Who will fill the role of grandparent when that bride goes on to have a family? Parental love and guidance lasts as long as the relationship, no matter what age a child comes into your home.

Whether you adopt an infant or a 15-year-old, you will make a world of difference to a vulnerable teen—and to society as a whole.