Navigating discriminatory practices: Same-gender adoptive parents in Portugal
A developmental systemic approach to the study of same-gender parenting sustains that the family processes and dynamics will determine child’s psychosocial adjustment rather than family configuration or parents’ sexual or gender identity. According to the literature, little or no differences have been found between adoptive same-gender and different-gender parented families on levels of parental stress levels or emotional closeness between parents and children. In Portugal, research about same-gender parented families is still scarce, and it was only very recently (in 2016) that same-gender couples were legally allowed to adopt.
The present study aimed at evaluating the family dynamics and social climate of adoptive lesbian mothers and gay fathers, through qualitative methodology. One single adoptive gay father, one adoptive gay couple and one adoptive lesbian couple were recruited through intentional non-probabilistic sampling, and interviewed using a semi-structured script. All three families have adopted before same-gender parenthood legislation was in effect.
Interviews were transcribed and analyzed through Thematic Analysis. Three main themes were identified: (1) Parental motivations and experiences during the adoption process, in which parents referred to a strong and old parenting desire which helped them overcome several obstacles in accomplishing the adoption process, namely the necessity to hide being in a same-gender couple and formally adopting singularly; (2) Non-recognition of one of the parental figures, in which parents described their difficulties in having both parental figures socially and legally recognized, and their fear of losing their child during and after the adoption process; and (3) Parental experiences, in which parents described the family processes used to overcome the previous stressful experiences during the adoption process and the non-recognition of the whole family, namely a conscious effort to promote emotional closeness with their adopted child. The three families presented a strong motivation to accomplish a parental project. Nevertheless, the institutional stigma that these parents faced may have negatively influenced their well-being. The quality of the relationship between the parents and a strong parental involvement seems to have minimized the effects of the difficulties faced in favor of a strong desire to create a family with children.
This small study was the first developed in Portugal about adoptive same-gender families, and it highlights the need to study resilient factors both within and outside the family that allows parents to minimize the effects of a stigmatizing context and enhance child and family well-being.