Adoptees as Parents: Relationships, Stress, and the Experience of Emerging Adulthood
Although there has been a significant increase in the quantity and quality of research about adopted persons in recent decades, more research has focused on childhood or adolescence than on adulthood. Within adulthood, little work focuses on experiences of parenthood. Nevertheless, the linked relationships involved in adoption and in parenthood raise important scientific questions. The current report examines differences and similarities between parents and non-parents within a sample of emerging adults who were adopted as infants domestically in the US.
At Wave 3 (W3) of MTARP, 30 young adult adoptees (17.8% of those interviewed; 53.3% female) identified as having at least one child. Ages ranged from 21.6 – 29.0 (M = 25.9 years) at the time of the interview. Eight of the 30 were currently attending school or receiving vocational training; 21 had completed some post-secondary education. Twenty-one were currently employed, working between 20 – 77 hours per week. In terms of most recent relationship partner, 12 were married, 8 living together, 6 engaged, and 3 dating (1 “other”). These relationships had lasted from 0-9 years. The 30 EA adoptees had 38 children among them (24 had 1 child, 10 had 2 children, 1 had 4 children); 50% of the children were females. Thirty four of the children were biological, 2 were adopted, and 2 were step-children. At the time of the first child’s birth, mean parent age was 21.8 years (range 15-26). Parents at W3 were about 1 year older than those (N=127) who were not parents (mean 25.9 years for parents vs. 24.8 for non parents (p = .005).
Parents and nonparents were compared on quality of relationships with adoptive parents, birth parents, and closest relationship partners. There were no significant differences between groups on these relationship indicators. The experience of parenting, however, was associated with differences in participants’ experiences of emerging adulthood (EA). Parents scored lower than nonparents on experiencing EA as a time of identity exploration, feeling that EA is a time of possibilities, and feeling that EA is a time of self-focus; parents scored higher on feeling that EA is a time for other-focus. Parents and nonparents did not differ on feelings of negative instability or feeling that emerging adulthood is a time of feeling “in-between.” Parents and non-parents also differed in their experience of stress; on a broad checklist of life events and stressors, parents scored significantly higher. In comparison to non-parents, parents had at least 10% higher frequencies of respondents reporting the following types of events as moderately or very stressful: family problems (including violence, arguments, trouble with relatives, drinking); child problems (child care, custody / visitation); and financial problems (debt unable to repay, decreased income, homelessness). Non-parents reported more stress in work-related issues (changing jobs, trouble at work), separation / breakup, and deaths.