Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Compensation Theory as it relates to Adoptive Parents and their Adopted Children

Although sociological arguments about alter-native family structures suggest that challenges to adoptive parents’ fitness as parents should result in lower levels of resource allocation, some scholars note that adoptive parents may step up to overcome these challenges. The pressure that adoptive parents face to
“prove” themselves may cause them to increase their efforts in fulfilling all of the requirements of “good parents”. These efforts are expected to cancel out the potential negative effects of stigma and decreased self-acceptance as parents, leading adoptive families to act much like two-biological-parent families.

Some scholars contend that although adoptive families encounter unique barriers to family functioning, they also have particular psychological and social strengths. For adoptive parents often have intensified commitments to creating an ideal family—particularly if their path to parenthood is long and costly. Adoptive parents also may have a more positive view of their children and experiences as parents. Lending support to compensation theories, these strengths tend to coexist with low self-evaluations of parenting ability that may reflect feelings of ambivalence, doubt, and guilt surrounding adoptive parenthood.

Literature and media coverage of problems adoptive children face may also prime adoptive parents to see and respond to signs of their children struggling. Indeed, adoptive parents may feel the need to react to the negative effects of children’s experiences prior to adoption, including nutritional deficiencies, prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, genetic inheritance of psychological disorders, abuse, long-term institutionalization, and stress, for which adoptive children are at a greater risk. They may devote time and resources to their children in the hope of negating real or perceived barriers to their children’s success.

Adoptive parents are a unique group, consciously selecting into the parent role without the accompanying spousal role, as in the case of stepparents. Yet, given the differing motivators behind adoption (e.g., infertility, altruism, contact with foster children), there is likely much variation in initial feelings toward parenthood among adopters. What many adoptive parents do share is some sort of screening and waiting process. The seemingly endless planning stage for many adoptive parents only heightens their eagerness to begin parenting. As many adoptive parents may have first struggled with infertility before considering adoption, several years of anticipating parenthood may transpire before even beginning the adoptive process. By the end of the disappointments, efforts, and paperwork, the remaining prospective adoptive parents may be inclined to invest heavily in the parenting role.

Theories that highlight compensatory mechanisms in adoptive families suggest that the unique stressors placed on adoptive parents will motivate them to prove themselves as ideal parents. These efforts are predicted to result in levels of investment that do not reflect their initial disadvantages. Some empirical work indicates adoptive parents’ efforts may even result in a slight advantage over two-biological-parent families. Adoptive parents are more likely than other parents to make investments in their children’s health. Thus, if compensatory mechanisms among adoptive parents guide their investment, we would expect two-adoptive-parent families to allocate more resources to their children than other alternatively structured families. Adoptive parents’ compensatory efforts are also expected to close and potentially exceed gaps between their levels of parental investment and those of two-biological-parent families.

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