Societal attitudes about adoption affect how adopted persons, adoptive parents and birthparents feel about adoption.
If members of the ADOPTION TRIAD are given the impression that adoption is not considered acceptable by society, negative consequences may result: a pregnant woman may feel it would be wrong to consider adoption even though she may feel unwilling or unready to become a parent. An adopted person may have identity problems and feel "second-best" when societal attitudes make this belief appear true. The adoptive parent, particularly the infertile adoptive parent, may perceive adoptive parenthood as second-rate and vastly inferior to biological parenthood.
Although societal attitudes appear to be changing, it is also true that adoption TERMINOLOGY has not kept pace with this change; for example, when a birthmother decides adoption is the right answer for herself and her child, she is said to "give up" or even "give away" her baby, rather than to "plan" or "choose" or "decide on" adoption for her child, indicating both a lack of control and a negative act.
A prevailing negative attitude about adoption can actually pressure a woman into an unwanted abortion or undesired single parenthood.
A study of Charlene E. Miall in the January 1987 issue of Family Relations reported on the feelings of adoptive parents about their status in the community and the stigma of infertility faced by many adoptive parents.
Miall wrote, "Although an adoptive couple may approach adoption as a means of obtaining children of 'their own' to raise, society conveys the message that adoptive parents are not, in fact, real parents."
Miall studied 58 infertile women who either had adopted or imminently planned to adopt children (82% had adopted, and the rest were in the process of adopting). The women were white, ages 25 to 45, well-educated and middle- to upper-class.
Attitudes of the extended family, neighbors and close friends were very important to the women interviewed; however, half of the women reported that adoptive parenthood was viewed as different from biological parenthood by family and friends. The women did report, however, that they felt attitudes changed with actual knowledge of an adoption and with time, and more than two-thirds of the adoptive parents' friends and family members ultimately did accept adoption as comparable to parenting children born to the family.
Yet nearly two-thirds of the women also reported societal beliefs that continued to bother them. Said Miall, "An analysis of open-ended responses revealed three general themes: (a) The biological tie is important for bonding and love and therefore bonding and love in adoption are second best; (b) adopted children are second rate because of their unknown genetic past; and (c) adoptive parents are not real parents."
The women were asked if they talked about adoption differently with other adoptive parents than with friends or relatives, and 70% said they did.
As a result, this research, along with research performed by numerous other adoption experts, reveals the importance of adoptive parent support groups in which adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents have an opportunity to freely discuss the subject of adoption as well as parenting in general in an atmosphere of acceptance.
Miall reported several respondents spoke of comments that not only indicated a failure to accept adoption but also an indication of a societal failure to accept an adopted child as well. She quoted one mother as saying. "There is one comment that really annoys me because it is so insensitive when you think about it and our lives. 'Oh I could never love someone else's child.' That really bothers me as if the children are so unlovable because they are someone else's."
Although the women studied believed society at large is negative about adoption, nearly 87% were themselves happy with their decision to adopt. Of the 58 women, 50 said adoption had fulfilled their desire to have children, 5 said it had not, and 3 said their feelings were mixed.
Miall concluded, "It may be that the success or failure of adoption depends more on the ability of family members to resist devaluing societal attitudes and behaviors than on psychological adjustment per se."
Most state adoption laws recognize the importance of "blood ties," and blood ties are presumed to be very important, even mystical, by some members of society. Some infertile individuals refuse to adopt children, reasoning that if they cannot have a genetic child, they do not wish to parent any child.
Unfortunately, even when individuals decide they can and will parent an adopted child, there are individuals who see the lack of blood ties as problematic.
Some authors have spoken eloquently on the meaning of blood ties, both to birthparents and to children. The psychiatrists and authors of Beyond the Best Interests of the Child said, "Unlike adults, children have no psychological conception of relationship by blood-tie until quite late in their development?.?.?. What registers in their minds are the day-to-day interchanges with the adults who take care of them and who, on the strength of these, become the parent figures to whom they are attached." (See also MEDIA.)
Joseph Goldstein, Anna Freud, Albert Solnit, Beyond the Best Interests of the Child (New York: Free Press, 1979).
Charlene E. Miall, "The Stigma of Adoptive Parent Status: Perceptions of Community Attitudes Toward Adoption and the Experience of Informal Social Sanctioning," Family Relations 36 (January 1987): 34-39.
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©2000 by Christine Adamec and William Pierce, Ph.D. Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2nd Edition (2nd Edition) with permission of Facts On File, Inc.
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