Some older adults are turning the idea of retirement on its head by choosing to adopt children — this when many of their peers are traveling, socializing, taking up intellectual or entrepreneurial pursuits, or just plain relaxing.
Some of these older parents are empty-nesters who apparently didn't have their fill of child-rearing the first time around. Others are grandparents or older relatives of parents unable to care for their own children. Still, others never had children and finally have the time, desire and means to give it a go. In most cases, the children are older and have special needs.
"We've always thought that more retired people ought to adopt kids instead of play golf," said Rebecca Gawboy, 60, who along with her husband, Jim, 76, is taking care of 12 adopted children ranging in age from 8 to 19. They live in a nine-bedroom house on a farm in Tower, Minn.
This is the second marriage for both Rebecca Gawboy, a retired community organizer, and Jim Gawboy, a retired game warden. They each have three adult children and a total of 11 grandchildren. "I was the adored child of older parents," Rebecca Gawboy said. "My brother and I lived an idyllic childhood." She eventually realized that her childhood had been "an astonishing gift" and knew she had to try to give back.
No organization or federal agency keeps statistics on the ages of adoptive parents, so it is hard to estimate their numbers, but executives at several adoption-related organizations said they had definitely seen heightened interest among older adults. An informational website set up by Adoptive Families magazine has a special discussion forum for older adults with more than 500 members.
Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption, said that barriers formerly set by adoption groups had steadily fallen, so more older adults now qualified to become parents.
As more singles and gay people adopt children, too, it's clear that the definition of what constitutes a suitable adoptive family is expanding. This reflects a recognition that "children do far better in families than in institutional or temporary care," said Adam Pertman of the Donaldson Adoption Institute.
Potential parents must go through a rigorous background check and participate in a home study process in which a case worker observes the family before final approval occurs. The need for competent adoptive parents is great. In 2011, a little more than 50,000 children in the United States were adopted with the involvement of child-welfare public agencies, with around 104,000 waiting to be adopted, according to federal data. More than half of those waiting were above the age of 6.