Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Family Structure Study of Adoptive Parents and their Adopted Children

Sociological work on family structure often focuses on the shortcomings of alternative families. Some of this work is framed explicitly in normative terms. For example, “Based on accumulated social research, there can now be little doubt that successful and well-adjusted children in modern societies are most likely to come from two-parent families consisting of the biological father and mother”. Other research comparing two-biological-parent families to step- and single-parent families highlights specific difficulties (e.g., lower levels of parental investment) that are linked to alternative family structures. Despite some disagreement surrounding the parental investments of single mothers, this empirical research typically concludes that children in alternative family types are disadvantaged.
Family structure explanations suggest that alternative families face increased stressors that decrease the ability of parents to allocate important resources to their children. Step families, for example, may struggle with “incomplete institutionalization.” Along with the departure from a traditional nuclear family can cause ambiguities in how both children and parents should behave. Unlike biological parenthood, which is an ascribed status, they note that individuals have to achieve step-parenthood. Without clear rules on what step-parents are supposed to do, what role non residential biological parents play, and who counts as a “real” parent, this literature links the structure of stepfamilies to difficulties in family functioning—including lower levels of parental investment.

In the case of adoptive parents, the lack of blood ties to their children may create unique problems. Because the symbolic meaning of blood ties is deeply embedded in American culture, these parents may be especially disadvantaged by their reliance on alternative means of establishing a parent-child relationship. Even the language surrounding adoption supports the notion that real parents are biological and adoptive relationships are “less powerful, less meaningful, less loving than blood relationships”. Some governmental reports also reflect the idea that adoptive families are regarded as inauthentic or nonstandard. The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, explicitly excludes adoptive families from the broad category “traditional nuclear family” (“a family in which a child lives with two married biological parents and with only full siblings if siblings are present”. Adoptive parents also may receive negative feedback from family and friends who question the authenticity of their roles as parents. With the increasing trend toward openness in adoption, they may also have to define themselves as parents alongside birth parents. Adoptive parents may find themselves suddenly connected to another family with a different culture, ethnic or racial background, or national identity. Consequently, some adoptive parents may lack a sense of entitlement to their children and have lower levels of self-acceptance as parents.

As with stepfamilies, ambiguities surrounding adoptive parents’ roles as parents could create both barriers to and fewer incentives for parental investment. Adoptive parents may be handicapped in allocating some forms of social capital to their children. They note that adoptive parents may find it difficult to network with biological parents because they do not share the same cultural experiences of childbirth and childrearing as biological parents. In addition, children from non-biological households (e.g., foster homes) receive low levels of cultural, interactional, and social resources that are comparable to those in other alternative family structures. These parents are also likely to have fewer economic resources with which to provide for their children. This underscores the potential difficulties arising from the absence of a biological mother, most notably the shortage of roles and functions that women often perform.

In sum, sociological family structure explanations suggest that adoptive families, like other alternative families, will face challenges that ultimately reduce the time, effort, and ability of these parents to invest in their children; consequently, adoptive children may have reduced access to many forms of resources. Therefore, if deviation from a two-biological-parent structure is the key explanatory factor, we would expect that two-adoptive-parent families will invest at lower levels than two-biological-parent families but at similar levels as other alter-natively structured families.

1 comment:

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