When Jason and I first decided that we wanted to adopt Riley, she was barely nine years old. By the time she came to live with us she had already experienced so much pain in her life that even most adults never have to go through. Adopting older children means that you are loving a child who has a past, and they come to you with very real emotions and sometimes pain. Riley actually began calling me Mother immediately after she moved into our home. But she doesn’t call him Daddy.
Riley was abandoned by her mother when she was very young. She does not even remember what her mother looks like. After her mother disappeared from her life, Riley lived with her biological father who was completely blind and diabetic. When she was eight years old, she walked into his bedroom one morning to wake him, and he had passed away during the night.
Riley does not have many memories of her mother. At least none that are pleasant. She vaguely remembers things that her mother did to her and her brothers that left her with awful memories of her. But even those memories are spotty. She does however, have memories of her father whom she loved very much. Because he was blind, and she was the oldest child, she became his caretaker in a sense. To hear her tell stories about her father tells me that he was very kind to her, and he made her laugh.
I believe that Riley had been craving a mother for so long that by the time she came to live with us, she latched on to the idea of ME being her mother immediately. She was excited about the fact that she had someone to call Mother, and I will never forget the day that she asked me if she could. She does not call Jason Daddy though. The conversation has never even come up. I did tell her one day that she could call Jason Daddy if she wanted to, but she hasn’t. And that’s okay!
Riley has very clear, very positive memories of her biological father. Even though he is now gone does not make him any less her father than he was when he was alive. That is not the case for her and her biological mother. She loves Jason very much, and to watch the two of them together when they interact warms my heart. They hug. They cut up together. They laugh. And it is very obvious that she adores him as much as he adores her. But she doesn’t call him Daddy.
When adopting an older child, we must respect the life they had before that child came to live with us. We want Riley to feel loved, accepted, cherished, and feel like she belongs. She is very excited about her adoption into our family, and she is very much involved with the process. She has even requested to change her name, which we are allowing so that she can have some ownership in her own life. But we will never ask her to call Jason Daddy unless she chooses to. We respect her previous life and the love she had for her biological father. Her relationship with Jason very much resembles a relationship that a father and daughter would have with each other. And that is enough! But even if it didn’t, that would be okay too.
Adopting an older child does not mean that you will automatically end up with the picture perfect little family. Sometimes it is messy. Sometimes it is non-traditional. If you have biological children as well, you can almost guarantee that your relationship with them will look different. Not better. Not worse. Just different. When God brought Riley into our lives, adoption was never on our radar. But through a series of God orchestrated events, adoption became a part of our lives. And I am so grateful! I can’t even imagine not loving and caring for this child who has brought so much joy into our lives.