My wife and I were in our forties when we adopted our daughter. A Catholic Charities adoption was not a real option for us. The Archdiocese of Dubuque had a limit for prospective parents: age thirty-nine or younger. A person (not affiliated with the department) assured me that since I was a parish employee, she was sure the social workers would “look the other way” when scanning our ages.
That offended my sense of fairness all around. My wife counselled I hold my tongue when considering age-discrimination protests. She didn’t want us labelled as uppity rabblerousers by the people who would be giving us a thumbs up or down to adopt. Additionally, I didn’t want to take advantage of my position as a lay minister to elbow another worthy family out of the way. We opted for the state of Iowa instead.
Older parenting is not something foreign to me. My own parents were married for more than thirteen years before I was born, my mother’s oldest. When my little brother graduated from high school, Dad was seventy and Mom about ten years younger. I was aware in the 70’s that my parents may not have been quite as “hip” as those of my friends. But when I brought people to our home, we weren’t exactly changing off their feeding tubes either.
I don’t have the sense I was particularly damaged or poorly off being reared by older parents. Which isn’t to say my mother and dad didn’t have their own issues. Any quirks my family of origin deposited on my psyche were of their own making, not necessarily the result of their ages.
And yet, as a parent approaching fifty, I’m well aware of limitations I didn’t have twenty years ago. While I’m not in favor of a strict age limit on adopting parents, I do understand that my alleged maturity and experience is slightly offset by a few factors. And maybe these should be taken into consideration.
I’m not a young man any more. I may feel the same inside: emotions and spirituality. And I may be playful as all get-out. But I noticed something a week ago Friday. In engaging loans to purchase our new home, I realized I will be 79 when this mortgage is paid off–if I keep to the schedule and the economy doesn’t descend further into oblivion. This particular move was physically demanding in both the effort of hauling boxes, of working two parishes for three weeks, and in dealing with stress, travel, economic uncertainty, and loss of sleep.
As much as I love kids, I would demur adopting another. The circumstances would have to be extreme for me to reconsider. I don’t think I’m biased against fiftysomethings. Just realistic.
That said, I’ve known some people who were “old” 40 and “young” 50. I’d hope that social workers would take the actual physical make-up of the prospective adopting parents into account. Otherwise, an age limit is just a blind tool getting misused and potentially obstructing needy kids from finding permanent homes.
On the other hand, parenting is a demanding role: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Every prospective parent should have an idea what’s coming, and be prepared for it.