Advice on adopting a teen: Reader Q&A

Balancing what I share publicly and what I don’t is always tricky, especially when it comes to our adoptions. I always want to provide a rainbow-and-unicorn free place to talk about adoption, especially older-child foster adoption, since that’s our area of experience. (I was going to say “expertise” but I’ve come to believe no one qualifies for that, and certainly not us!) However, as I’m shooting down unicorns, I also want to encourage adoptive parents though the hard stuff and encourage other families to consider the possibility of adopting an older child or teen.

I’m planning to get back to writing more about adoption topics, now that we seem to be somewhat settled down after a chaotic couple of years. For this post, I’m sharing a couple of recent emails from readers with identifying details removed.

teen adoption advice*image courtesy of pixabay

Teen Adoption: Reader Q & A

Reader Question: I stumbled across your blog while I was googling teen adoption. There seems to be very little out there about adopting teens from foster care. The similarities between your teen adoption and our situation were so many that I can’t help but email you.

We have a teen girl that we will be signing pre-adoptive papers on tomorrow. She has been in a group home for girls for several years. I so appreciate your honesty about bonding with adoptive children. I’m an introverted bookworm and she’s very extroverted. She’s only been with us a little while, and she and my husband bonded almost instantly. I believe the bond between her and I is going to be harder and take a lot longer.

Any advice that you have as someone who has already walked this road would be much appreciated. Many things that I see in the foster-adopt online groups say that if you don’t feel instant motherly love not to go through with the adoption, as it’s not fair to the child… but I can clearly see that this child needs us, and that we are a good fit for her.

My Answer: First of all, that whole thing about not adopting if you don’t feel the squishy gooshy motherly feelings is bunk. Kids are hard, whether you gave birth to them or not. Teens are even harder because that’s a natural time when they are establishing who they are as individuals, which can create push-back towards parents. Throw them into a new family and that x 1,000. What’s not fair to the child is not having a safe, permanent family. (Pardon my rant, but I get fired up about that!)

After that many years in a group home, she’s going to still be figuring out what the heck a FAMILY really is. Obviously, for whatever reasons she entered the foster system, her bio family was not able to teach her that; a group home certainly can’t either. It’s going to be tough. Period. You might never have those motherly feelings. She might never have those kinds of feelings towards you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be the mother she needs.

The road we’ve walked with Lindsey hasn’t been easy, and it still isn’t. She’s 21 now, moved out not long after she turned 18, and her involvement with us since then has been sporadic. I can analyze all the psychological reasons for this (which I do sometimes), but the important thing is she knows that we’ll always be here. We have boundaries, but we’re still here for her in the ways that count. She’s still figuring out what a family is, even after all this time.

The thing is, when you adopt an older child — especially a teen — you have to do it because you believe in it, not because of the warm fuzzy feelings it brings. Even if you two don’t end up with all those lovely feelings, her life will be changed for the better by being adopted into a family committed to her.


Reader Question: My husband and I are in the midst of adopting a teen girl from foster care. Sometimes I struggle with knowing if she really wants to be adopted or not. She has been with us about a year, and as the adoption approaches, she seems very ambivalent about it. Last night she tried telling us that if we really knew her and the things she’d done that we wouldn’t want to adopt her. She confessed things she’d done wrong but of course that doesn’t change how we feel about her.

She has very very low self esteem which I know is factoring into her not thinking we would really want to adopt her. She is in therapy but she doesn’t always open up in there. Did you go through similar things? Are there things I can do to help her?

My Answer: Many kids in foster care deal with low self esteem, feeling they aren’t worthy of love. Parental rights aren’t terminated for a foster child until birth parents have had a chance to follow a reunification plan. Termination means birth parents didn’t do the necessary things to be reunited with their kids. I can’t imagine the way that must make a child feel.

With many foster kids, I think there’s underlying guilt. Lindsey seemed to feel like she had to maintain loyalty to her birth parents. It created a lot of ambivalence because she wanted a permanent, stable family and she understood on a cognitive level why her birth parents’ rights were terminated — but I think it felt like betrayal to want to be adopted. Even as an adult, she still seems to battle that.

Lindsey went to counseling for years but, like your daughter, I don’t think she ever really opened up.

My advice is to keep on loving your girl even when she tells you she isn’t worthy, and even when she tries to convince you with actions that she’s not worthy. It’s not going to be an easy road, even when she’s an adult, but you ARE making a big difference in her life.


As always, your questions and emails are welcome.

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Your readers are right. There is very little out there about adopting teens – with or without unicorns 🙂

Thanks, as always, for sharing snippets from this part of your life journey. Every little bit helps.

Christine Levin

Hello! My husband and I have six bio kids, ages 8 to 20. (Gee, do I qualify as an “experienced parent” now? My words of wisdom for the moment are, “Don’t take it personally.”) I’ve been thinking of adopting one or two ‘tweens or teens when my youngest two are in high school — I figure I have about five years before starting the classes and home-study process — and I have a couple of questions for you. (1) Obviously, if my husband is completely dead set against adopting, I’d drop the idea, but how important is it for the… Read more »

Penelope Smith

One of my neighbors has been thinking about adopting a teenager recently. I liked that you explained that teens will have their own identity established. So, it is important to make sure that you are giving the relationship time to grow. That does seem like a good thing for them to know about before they adopt.