Monday, November 22, 2010

single adoptive mothers

Should single women who long to be mothers be able to adopt children?

What do you think?

My historical knowledge comes largely from Anne of Green Gables books, but my impression is that in the past single women adopted kids all the time. Before the days of good medicine and abortion there were always kids who needed to be looked after. It was seen (by L.M. Montgomery, at least) as a godly thing for a single woman to look to adopt. So why not now?

I know that adoption is very difficult these days. There aren't that many Australian kids up for adoption and adopting from overseas countries is a notoriously long and painful process.

But if these things weren't barriers? Theoretically? What do you think?

[Single women are able to foster children. In fact, most foster carers are single women.]


  1. Years ago I worked in child welfare and had to assess potential adoptive couples and take adoption consents from young women. I always found the system strange and a little disturbing.

    In the case of Ann and Pollyanna, apart from being fictional characters both were orphans - there was a lot more of that around then - and the women concerned were being charitable. Part of the moral (moralistic!) landscape of both stories is that the women were extremely unsuitable to play the parenting role, but were tranformed by the innate goodness of the children they cared for. Couldn't expect that in real life!

    I think slightly more historical was the situation where a single aunt would care for one of her sisters' brood of children. Reasons were a combination of economy and family feeling. I haven't studied it in any depth but I understand our mores and laws on adoption have changed quite a lot, so you would need to dig back to what adoption meant 100 years ago.

  2. Interesting topic. Funny isn't it that the social mores that said it would be fine for a maiden aunt to adopt her dead / incapacitated sibling's children also turned around and forced young single women to give their children up for adoption. Was it an age thing, do you suppose - Mid 20s + was ok but < 21 (majority age) wasn't?

    Personally, I (the child-free woman who knows oh so much about parenting) wouldn't recommend it as an active choice, both for the sake of the adopter (lots of extra work with no support) and that of the adoptee (living with a stressed single parent; potentially limited role models) but I wouldn't go so far as to place a blanket ban on the practice of a single person (irrespective of gender) as I'm sure there are some for whom this arrangement 'works'.

    The only other thing I'd 'condition' is that if you were to choose this route you'd have to give an undertaking that you were able to be financially self-sufficient for a certain period of time (e.g. 2 years - like people migrating to another country have to), not turn around the next day to claim single parent's benefits. That is of course unless there was a mass plague wiping out parents, leaving lots of children as orphans to be cared for / adopting a dead sibling's children, that could be seen as a charitable act, rather than gratifying an ego-longing.

  3. Since single women can choose to conceive their own child (with the assistance of sperm donation), on that basis I can't see why they shouldn't be allowed to adopt a child. I know someone who chose to become pregnant using donated sperm and to have a child. As far as I know, she still doesn't have a male partner so is a single mum to an eight year old.
    I haven't discussed this choice with her in detail but since her son is almost exactly the same age as one of my kids we've had conversations about parenting. I get the sense that it has been far more difficult than she anticipated doing this on her own, although she has good support from family and friends.
    What would concern me in the situation you raise is the need for children of single mothers to have appropriate male role models in their lives. But this is an issue regardless of whether they adopt a child, choose to conceive with donated sperm, or separate from their previous partner.
    I do think Christians need to think about this sort of stuff though. How do we reach out towards people in these situations without coming across as judgemental, given that the majority of people in churches come from the traditional dad, mum and kids model? These days, there are so many different family structures in society, I think those of us in more "conservative" churches have to face this reality more than we do.

  4. No.

    If I can be quite blunt and inflammatory, I think it would be hypocritical to say that homosexual couples can't adopt and that singles can.

    The point is that the biblical model for parenthood is (quite clearly, I believe) designed for married men and women, even if some couples are unable, or do not chose to have children. Of course single parenthood happens. It's just that it's not what we hope or strive for.

    If we were to reject this and say that a single woman or man can adopt and a homosexual couple can't...wouldn't the only reason we could do so would be because we bought into the whole homophobic "homosexuals are more likely to commit child abuse" mantra, à la some Christian politicians we know of?

  5. In our current social situation "adoption" has come to be mainly about babies, and about the child being treated as if they are born in your family. The advice when I worked in field was that children should be told they were adopted, but there was no legal requirement to do so and finding out the identity of the birth parent was very difficult.

    Hence in my time working in that field (mid-1980s) adoptive parents had to be married (and have an assessment on the stability of their marriage, although us young social workers often got that one wrong!) and no more than 40 years older than the child they adopted. They also had to demonstrate that they were infertile - medical certificates etc etc. What really struck me was that the couples involved had a strong sense of grief at their childlessness - they had a sense that their family was incomplete without a child. The whole process was very painful because the number of young women who gave up their children dropped to near zero as social attitudes changed and couples had to wait for years to get to the top of the waiting list.

    Most of these adoptions worked out fine but not always. I saw quite a few adoptive families through my work in child protection - one adoptive couple were both alcoholics, seperated when I met them but with the father often turning up drunk and assaulting the mother, and the mother going off on binges and leaving the "primary age" children to fend for themselves. Their adoption file contained a long correspondence about whether it was OK for them to adopt while living in a caravan, but not one mention of alcohol addiction.

    Meanwhile there was a seperate system for adopting children with disabilities. These were usually older children whose parents couldn't or wouldn't care for them, and the test was basically "are you able to care for this child" - there was a whole group learning process, visits with the child to see if you got on, reviews etc. The system seemed to work much better despite the fact that the challenge of caring for the children was so much higher, because the sole focus was on what was good for the child, whereas in the baby system it was all about the parents - the child was just a commodity to fill their needs.

    All this is a long way to answer the question. Will the child have a good life in their new home? Will the adoptive parent treat them well, respect their heritage, show them genuine unconditional love? If the answer is yes, then the adoption is appropriate, otherwise its not. Marital status is just a red herring.