Do you think you were too old?
A few years ago my parents asked me: ‘do you think you were too old?’.
I answered: ‘yes and no; it depends on what you mean’.
This year the theme of National Adoption Week has been ‘Too old at 4?’. This is a reference to the fact that older children in care for whom adoption is the plan tend to wait longer than younger children for adoptive parents. I met my parents when I was 10 and the Adoption Order went through a year later. As someone who was much older than 4 when adopted, I’m going to attempt to answer the question of whether or not I was too old.
The first thought that comes to my head is ‘too old for what?’. People often mean different things when they ask whether a child is ‘too old’ for adoption. I want to think about this question in broader terms than the question(s) meant by the National Adoption Week campaign committee and think about all the questions encompassed by my parents’ question.
I also want to give my answer as succinctly as possible and without disclosing too much personal information.
I will therefore answer some of the questions that I think the question hides.
Some questions have more than one answer.
- Was I too old to be written off?
No. No human being should ever be ‘written off’.
- Was I too old to be appealing to prospective adopters?
Yes, I was too old. It took years to find adopters willing to adopt me, which may have been in part (if not wholly) due to my age.
No, I was not too old. My parents eventually adopted me, and older children do get adopted.
- Was I too old to love my adoptive parents as my parents?
No, I was not too old. My adoptive parents are my parents and anyone who puts the word ‘adoptive’ in front of their names other than for the purposes of clarification will have to deal with some very sharp words from me.
This has nothing to do with age but depends on many factors.
- Was I too old for the adoption to last and not break down?
No, I was not too old. We are now over 20 years in and we are still going strong as a family. We were never near disruption or dissolution at any point.
This has nothing to do with age but depends on many factors.
- Was I too old to not have problems / be successful / be an independent adult?
No, I was not too old. I have been independent since 21 and have always lived a rather unexciting existence.
This has nothing to do with age. It has far more to do with a child’s history, their personality, their age when they experienced things, chance, their relationship with their adoptive parents, and so many other factors.
Let’s ask this question again.
When I was younger, if the topic of older child adoption came up I was always keen to use myself as an example that older child adoption could work out well. I had not been too old for adoption. However, I now realise that I was answering the question and assessing my adoption according to the sorts of questions that I thought other people were asking. Thus, I would point out that I loved my parents, but wouldn’t speak about the daily cost to myself or about how I hadn’t wanted to be adopted. This was, I think, a defensive reaction against the negative stereotypes I have always had to fight against, first as a child on a council estate and then as a child in care and then as an adoptee.
But now that I’m old enough to think for myself, the questions that come to mind when I’m asked ‘do you think you were too old?’ are very different. Here are just some examples:
- Was I too old to be adopted without my consent?
No, I was not too old. It went ahead without my consent, so my consent clearly wasn’t required.
Yes, I was too old. Considering the fact that I didn’t want to be adopted, that it ‘worked’ is something of a miracle. Perhaps if I’d been 12 people would have thought to ask me.
No. There should be no such thing as a prospective adoptee being ‘young enough’ for their consent to be dispensed with permanently. For an adoption to continue into adulthood, the adult adoptee should consent, even if this is the passive consent of not dissolving the adoption. There is a lot of discussion about birth parent consent, but not about adoptee consent. Why should someone else get to consent as to whether or not I spend my entire life under an Adoption Order?
- Was I too old to love my adoptive parents as my only parents?
Yes, I was too old. I consider myself to have more than four parents.
This has nothing to do with age but depends on many factors. Some people adopted at birth may consider themselves to have more than one set of parents whilst others adopted at fifteen may consider their adoptive parents to be their only parents.
- Was I too old to have no contact / for my adoption to be carried out how it was carried out?
Yes, I was too old.
Is there such a thing as being ‘young enough’ to have no contact? Is this the same thing as being ‘young enough’ for the adults to get away with it (for a while at least)?
Whether or not an adoptee should have contact has little to do with age but with all sorts of other factors. However, serious questions have to be asked if an older child has not a single pre-adoption relationship with a foster carer, foster sibling, wider foster family member, birth parent, birth sibling, wider birth family member, neighbour, friend, teacher, social worker or anyone else that can be sustained post-adoption because more harm would be caused by keeping the relationship than ending it.
- Am I too old, in my 30s, to be subject to an Adoption Order that was put in place for child protection reasons?
If I am still alive at 100 I will still be subject to an Adoption Order. I could serve a life sentence and be released before my Adoption Order is overturned. I have not been a child for more than a decade, which makes me ask: is adoption only performed for child protection reasons, or are there more factors at play? According to the law, I will never be too old for child protection reasons to necessitate that I be adopted. Or something.
- Am I too old, in my 30s, to have anything relevant to say about adoption?
Adoptees are rarely consulted about adoption and when they are, it is usually adoptees under 21 or under 25 who are consulted. I have worked out that the period of time in which my opinion as an adoptee was most ‘valuable’ was between the ages of 18 and 25. When I was under 18 I was too young to understand or know what was best; once I was over 25 I was no longer relevant (or too outspoken perhaps). My opinion on adoption was irrelevant at 10, and some consider it irrelevant at 30. It can be very difficult to get this age thing right when you’re an adoptee.
There are notable exceptions, however, and The Adoption Social hosts posts from adoptees of all ages (and from adopters and birth parents and others) and The Open Nest recently put on the Adopted Voices conference at which only adult adoptees spoke. At this conferenced Liz Blakey launched her research project Growing Up Adopted.
- Are children old enough, at 4, to consent to their life stories being paraded in the media?
No, they are not old enough.
There is only one answer to this question, and that is that they are not old enough.
To return to the question ‘do you think you were too old?’, my answer is still ‘yes and no; it depends on what you mean’. I don’t know if I was too old to be adopted, but I was too old for what happened to me. And I’m finally old enough to talk about it.