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.
Adopted Women as Mothers
This qualitative study has explored new ground for a population that remains hidden as they progress through life. Since 1969 Australia has annually collected nationwide data about the number and types of adoptions that are legalised, yet apart from this information, little is known about the life course experiences of adopted people. A recently completed study heard from 21 locally adopted Australian women (whose adoptions had been finalised in the State of Victoria), about their own lived experience as mothers. While each participant account was unique (impacted by individual life histories, partnerships and social networks), shared threads of meaning ran through the combined narratives, and it became evident that parenting for this sample of women was viewed through the filter of their adoption experiences.
The participant descriptions of the kind of mothers they strove to be; the values and the models of mothering that they drew upon; their view of their children; expectations of their partners and how they wanted their family of procreation to function were each referenced in some degree, to their adoption status. Through their own children’s childhoods, they re-engaged with memories of their early lives and identified the losses they and their own two mothers had experienced, both from a personal and a social perspective. The complexities of personal identity were again confronted, prompting further exploration of their adoption by obtaining records and seeking contact with birth family members. These experiences had implications for their emotional wellbeing and the renegotiation of relationships with adoptive and birth family members. An unexpected consequence of this study was the participants experience of the research process as a therapeutic intervention, which provided insight into the support needs of adopted women at this life stage.
From international adoption to mid-life: parenting experiences and adoptive identity in the British Chinese Adoption Study
In the 1960s and early 1970s, just over a hundred young girls were adopted from orphanage care in Hong Kong by (mainly) white British families in the UK. Forty years later, 72 of those women, now aged in their 40s and 50s, participated in a long-term follow-up study of how their lives had unfolded since they joined their adoptive families. Sixty-eight women took part in face-to-face interviews, which explored their adult lives including parenthood. This paper examines how parenting experiences and adoptive identity shape and re-shape each other over time. It builds on the other papers in this symposium by exploring this topic from the perspective of mid-life and in the context of international adoption.
By the time of the study (at mean age 48 years, range 42–53 years), 51 women (71%) had given birth to or adopted at least one child. The average age of becoming a parent for the first time was 31 years: the youngest became a mother at age 20 and the oldest at age 42. The average number of children was two, and the highest number was five. Many of the women were in the midst of raising teenagers or anticipating their own children leaving home, while some had more recently experienced the adjustment to becoming a mother.
This paper focuses on how these women’s experiences of being a parent, or contemplating becoming a parent, intersected with their perspectives on being internationally adopted. For some the birth or adoption of a child acted as a catalyst for thinking about their adoptions; others described more gradual or subtle shifts in their views over the years. They reflected on aspects of parenting that they viewed as shared with any other parents, and aspects that they viewed as tied to being internationally adopted or being raised in their particular adoptive family. Participants’ interpretations of their adoptive and birth parents’ motivations and actions had often changed over time, and this was intertwined with their experiences with their own children and a sense of generational roles shifting as they reached mid-life. Recent studies suggest that adoption continues to be an important part of people’s identities throughout adulthood, and that internationally adopted adults’ views of their own adoptions are associated with broader well-being. The presentation will draw out how experiences of parenting form part of the overall picture of adoptive identity in mid-life.
From care, to adoption, to parenting: a two generation study of identity, risk and resilience in adoptive families
For 20 years UK policy has encouraged the adoption of children from care, and tens of thousands are now of an age where they could become a parent. This compulsory form of adoption is controversial at home and abroad and it is vital to fully research the lifespan effects – including what happens when adoptees become parents to the next generation.
The majority of children adopted from care will have experienced early adversities such as loss, abuse and neglect. Adoption offers permanence in a new family, but even so about half of adopted young people are likely to have psychological problems which carry on into adulthood. Studies of vulnerable parents (e.g. care leavers) show they are at risk of early parenthood, parenting difficulties, even their own children going into care. But for some, having a child is a positive choice and a healing experience.
The topic of this paper includes the potential positives and challenges of becoming a parent from the perspective of people adopted from care. The paper will also discuss the perspective of parents who adopted a child from care and who are now grandparents. Adoption has lifelong implications for adopters too, but there is no research on the grandparenting stage of family life in ‘from care’ adoptions. Because of the ongoing vulnerability of many young people adopted from care, many grandparents may be providing vital support to their child and grandchild, including in some cases becoming custodial grandparents.
This paper will draw on the early stages of the new research project being carried out in the UK. This study will collect in-depth narrative interview data from 40 adopted people who are now parents (20 men, 20 women), and 40 adoptive parents who are now grandparents. The involvement of stakeholders (professionals, adoptees and adoptive parents) is central to the research process, and the presentation will draw on key learning points from consultations with these three groups. Findings from the literature review will also be presented exploring the following themes: a) narrative identity and parenting (b) the transition to parenthood among late adolescents and young adults who have experienced early adversity (c) grandparenting by those whose adult children may experience difficulties in the transition to parenthood.