Adopting kids as a senior citizen is not for everyone. But for some, it is a possibility that merits consideration.
IN June 2000 I wrote the following in The Seattle Times: “At first glance, it appears strange to spend one’s twilight years raising small children. But beyond superficial appearances, a case can be made for older people who are still searching for meaningful challenges to consider adopting a child with special needs.”
In 2000, we adopted two little boys at different times from orphanages in the Russian Far East. Subsequently a little girl, also from Russia, joined the family. Now 17 years later, as the “little girl” graduates from high school and goes off to college, I reflect on the great fortune bestowed on me by having these three children in my life.
The idea of adoption did not occur to me when I turned 65. The five homegrown children I had seemed sufficient. My new wife, however, with three biological children of her own, came to believe that adopting a child with special needs would enrich our lives. At first I was hesitant, wondering whether I possessed the physical and mental energy to cope with little kids — and, bluntly put, whether I would die or become debilitated before the children entered high school. But the positive arguments turned out to be compelling. Though our marriage did not survive, we have been able to share responsibility for raising the children.
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What were the compelling arguments? Relative financial stability, and time. Social Security even provides an allowance to each child adopted by a parent over age 65. More importantly, I was not on a career ladder. I had a wonderful job as a UW pediatrics professor working at two great institutions, Seattle Children’s and Harborview Medical Center. I stopped being paid, the definition of retirement, at age 76, but continued to stay busy in a variety of activities.
From my experience as a father and a pediatrician, I knew that “being there” for kids is more important than wrestling with them on the floor. I’m fortunate to still be in good health. This summer I will defend my title as winner of the Vashon Island 5K in my age group. (Though I must confess that I’ve been the only runner in my age group.)
Involvement with the kids’ schools has been fun. It was a treat to attend open houses, teacher conferences and athletic events. I did not mind being asked if I was a grandfather. I could feel smug observing the angst of my fellow parents as they quizzed teachers about curriculum components and grading standards. And I have come away with even greater awe for the influence K-12 teachers have on the developing minds of their young students.
Obviously, adopting homeless kids with special needs ranks high on the virtue scale. But meeting a pressing societal need should not play a major role in what is such a personal decision. I am embarrassed at praise for being an adoptive parent. Because it is I who have been given a gift.
Americans are in better shape and living longer. And if observations of my age peers is accurate, what to do after retirement is an oft-posed question. Adopting kids in one’s golden years is certainly not for everyone. But for some, it is a possibility that merits consideration.