A few decades ago, welfare agencies would prefer to give children for adoption to “normal families,” which meant traditional heterosexual, married couples, with only one bread-winner, usually the husband. Single adoptive parents have traditionally been viewed as less desirable than married couples.
Many questions are raised about the eligibility of single parents. If they have to work for a living, then who is to take care of the children? Or, why would anyone adopt a child to then have someone else take care of him or her?
But things have significantly changed; nowadays families come in all kinds of configurations: single mothers, single fathers, blended families, two dads, two moms and families with children coming from IVF procedures or born to surrogate mothers.
Currently, every state in the country allows single adults to adopt children. Adoption agencies started allocating special-needs children 40 or 50 years ago and around a third of those children went to single parents.
In 1991, Groze and Rosenthal’s research found that children with special needs adopted by single-parent families experienced fewer problems. They also found that single-parent families were more likely than two-parent families to evaluate the adoption’s impact as being very positive.
More recently adoption agencies have felt the need to adjust policies and attitudes to changing times.
Single parent adoption: Risks of single parenthood
The desire to nurture and to extend once existence through offsprings seems universal. The fear of failing as a parent also seems to go across geographies and marital status.
To ameliorate fears, people planning to adopt a child and those who have already adopted often look into research that could provide some light on what special problems and challenges their adopted children will face.
With approximately 120,000 new children given in adoption each year in the United States, more research focuses on also deciphering the impact non-traditional families has on the children.
Understandable. The welfare of the children needs to be the foremost consideration.
Even though single mothers raising children are not a singularity of the present, the question persists: Are single parents successful in raising mentally sound children?
There are different perspectives to this question.
Some researchers argue that single mothers more often go through economic hardship and higher levels of stress and that when there is no partner, parenting can become problematic. They base their concerns on studies showing an elevated risk of cognitive, social and emotional problems in children raised by single parents.
Since the research is not specific to single adoptive parents, it’s not clear where the risk comes from: is it the result of single parenting or is it related to the quality of the parenting itself, the traumatic events that precede adoption or divorce and/or the existence or lack of a good support system for the single parent family?
As reported by Paul Amato, other researchers argue that natural selection takes care of people who display certain problematic traits that could be transmitted to their children genetically or by parenting: they more often divorce or never marry. Should they refrain from adopting or should they seek therapy?
Adopting a child as a valid choice for single parents
Historically, single parenting has resulted from fortuitous circumstances such as separation, death or divorce of a parent with children and still, in the United States, the majority of cases come from pregnancies out of wedlock.
Margaret A. Keyes, Ph.D. and colleagues from the University of Minnesota, found that adopted children do display a higher rate of emotional or behavioral problems during adolescence – mostly oppositional and attention deficit disorders. But they also noted that adoptive parents are more likely to seek help, which could explain the reported higher figures.
The truth is that women have raised emotionally sound children by themselves since immemorial times, with the help of family and tribe.
And what about patriarchal societies, where the married mom’s circumstances are not that different from those of a single mother? Husbands’ role in the patriarchal family is usually peripheral and fathers may often be absent, physically and/or emotionally, leaving child bearing almost entirely to the mom. Are all these children emotionally flawed? Certainly not.
Would the child be double bullied in a society that so often stigmatizes adoptive children and worse if they are illegitimate at birth and then adopted by a mom or dad who is not married?
Adoptive single parents need additional resources
An adoptive single parent usually takes a well-planned well-thought step. They are statistically older and wiser, educated and with a stable job. Agencies do screen for the best possible conditions.
But ultimately what makes a difference for the adopted child’s emotional and social wellbeing is the resources the single parent counts on and the quality of parenting they can offer.
Amato found that children living with single parents are usually exposed to more stressful circumstances than are children living with continuously married parents. However, stress is detrimental basically when external demands exceed people’s resources.
The adopting dad or mom-to-be should take the following resources into consideration before making this life-changing commitment. Some of these resources have also been associated with emotional intelligence, a key components of successful parenting.
Let’s start some sine qua non mental and spiritual qualities any parent needs to succeed in raising emotionally and physically healthy kids:
- Accountability and dependability
- Willingness to learn and grow
- Capacity to reach out for help when needed
- Capacity to trust others
- A positive outlook of life.
- A sense of purpose
And then, here is a list of emotional resources that contribute to parental success:
- Flexibility. It refers to the capacity of the person to choose emotional regulation mechanisms to deal with stressful situations and successfully adapt to changing circumstances. A flexible parent understands the need for the child to have a structure (schedules, duties, rules) but will also be sensitive to circumstances that require “breaking the rules.”
- Creativity. Since life is often unpredictable, an adoptive single mom or dad needs to be not only flexible but very creative. They must make meaning of a new situation by associating new information to feelings, memories and other personal information, to give it context and come up with strategies to implement necessary change.
- Resilience is the quality that allows a person to bounce back from setbacks, making the best out of them. It will allow a single parent to understand normative crises as opportunities for growth.
- Empathy. A mother who is aware of and responds to her child’s needs will not only be a good enough parent but will also play a suitable role model for her child.
- Compassion. There is no love without compassion. A single mom who offers to others knows about nonviolent conflict resolution and displays compassionate expression skills with her children. Her children will grow up to be peacemakers with this kind of environment at home.
- Selflessness. Even though moms in general need to develop selflessness in order to care for the little ones, they also need to make sure they get their “mommy time.” Single mothers can feel guilty when they miss their moments of solitude and the freedom of their former single lives. Balance is the key.
- Conflict resolution skills include becoming a good active listener, learning to manage frustration and making sure that stress is compensated with good nutrition and exercise. Anger management skills and assertiveness also contribute to resolve conflicts suitably. Children will follow the model.