It appears that rising birth rates among older women have increased, a trend that keeps growing as more women pursue education and careers in their 20s and 30s. Actress, Nicole Kidman, gave birth at 41, actress, Holly Hunter, gave birth to twins at 47, singer, Cheryl Crowe adopted her first child at 45 and her second at 48. According to an article published in Psychology Today, “forty is the new 20 when it comes to having babies…”
Several months ago I came across a letter written to the editor of a More magazine in response to an article entitled “Mommy Mavericks.” The article featured women who had given birth after the age of 50. The reader took issue with these “Mommy Mavericks” calling them “incredibly selfish.” She expressed that her own father was 52 and mother 45 when she was born, both of “whom she loved dearly.” Her father died when she was in her twenties (he was 78); her mother was 84 at the time. Her mother eventually had a stroke, and the reader spent the first years of her marriage caring for her mom and toddler. Her mother died four days after the birth of her second child, and the reader herself suffered a stroke before her mother’s funeral. The question she posed at the end of her letter was, “Do these ‘Mommy Mavericks’ realize how sad it is that their children’s children will never know them?” You could say that the same concerns regarding “age appropriateness” apply to older adults who want to adopt a child. I pondered my own situation with my adoptive parents. So, how old is too old to adopt?
Interestingly, the maximum age limit to adopt domestically by most adoption agencies in the U.S. is 40. Obviously, age is a factor for eligibility here. However, when it comes to intercountry adoption, the upward age limit for adopting increases significantly. For example, China allows parents to adopt until age 50, 55 if adopting a child with special needs. Here’s an even more interesting fact: for the majority of countries with children available to adopt, there is no maximum age limit, those countries that do place a limit are in the minority. Age and maturity are considered sought-after virtues in adoptive parents rather than a hindrance to adopting in some foreign countries. The notion that more mature adoptive parents may possibly have an advantage over younger, less experienced adopters is indeed a plausible one.
As I read her letter to the editor, I could very much identify with the pain experienced by the reader above who lost her parents and dealt with their declining health before her children had the chance to know and love them. Although our situations are somewhat different because I was adopted, my parents both passed away before my daughter had the opportunity to know either of them; one was stricken by a horrible disease which left little time for our daughter to build a relationship. I was 25 when my dad died (he had just turned 70), and my mom had Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years before her death at age 82. My daughter doesn’t remember her, and my mom never recognized her. I never had the opportunity to have the kind of relationship with my parents as an adult that I would have liked to, one where we could talk about things as adults and I could express more to them. That is a painful reality.
That also brings up a couple of issues for older adoptive parents: 1) Will the adoptive parent(s) live long enough to see their children grown, independent, and self-supporting? Will they live to see their children’s children? 2) will the older adoptive parent be physically capable and mentally prepared to appropriately connect with the child despite the age difference?
My mom was 40 and dad 43 at the time of my adoption. Not that old by today’s standards. As a very young child though, I often worried about my parents aging and not being around for me by the time I became a teenager. I was an anxious kid by nature, but this was a big fear. I’d make myself sick with worry calculating how old they’d be when I was 13, 16, 20, and so on. My dad had his first heart attack when I was a freshman in college. His health began to steadily decline after that just as I began transitioning into life independently and moved to another state clear across the country. He did not live long enough to participate in my wedding or meet my future husband or daughter. Ironically, over the past year I’ve learned more about my dad than I ever knew while he was still here. My mom’s health began to decline shortly after that following the death of her mother, which was only a year after my father’s. She began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s when my daughter was still a toddler. When she became unable to care for herself, my sister in Louisiana became the primary caregiver. I visited as often as I could, but wish I could have been there more.
The most challenging area for my older adoptive parents and me was that of connecting emotionally and mentally. They made it to all of my piano recitals, softball games, graduations, and my dad even participated in my girl scout troop, but the teen years proved to be a battle field as I struggled to develop a sense of who I was and what I believed. There was a huge generation gap between my parents and I. They grew up in a different era and believed that parenting involved obedience, not necessarily giving choices or talking through things. They were inadvertently blind to the issues confronting transracially adopted children regarding cultural and racial identity. As I opposed my mom’s authority, she tightened the reins and became over controlling, which caused a full-blown teen rebellion.
I look back on those days with some regret and wish that my parents could have handled things differently. I wish that they had had better health and that we could have spent more time together before they died. I wish that there had been a way to communicate better and be seen and heard without anger. There were no trainings for adoptive parents back then, and still today, there are some adoptive parents who really should not be permitted to adopt at all, not just because of age. Ultimately, adoption should be for the child, not the adults adopting. Unfortunately, providing permanency to children is not going away. And sadly, too many adults adopt for themselves, to fulfill a need in themselves, not to raise a child who needs permanency. I wish people who adopted stopped to consider the special needs of raising a child through adoption because traditional parenting doesn’t work, no matter what age the parent is. Are parents prepared for that? Are they willing to face the challenges that come up when parenting an adopted child, e.g., identity issues, attachment, genetics, open communication, willingness to learn new ways of parenting and correcting behavior – no physical discipline, etc? These are things that all adoptive parents need to consider, whether young or old.