Friday, March 20, 2015

Research: Open adoption relationships, considering sexual orientation

         I found an interesting article to read this morning looking at open adoption dynamics, and comparing how gender and sexual orientation could possibly  influence those dynamics by including same-sex couples in the study. This was a qualitative study with a pretty small sample, which included 15 heterosexual couples, 15 gay couples, and 15 lesbian couples. The researchers were trying to answer 4 questions, during two separate interviews (one while waiting for palcement, and one 3-4 months after adoption):
  1. Does sexual orientation and gender influence the initial motivation for open adoption?
    • I'm not going to talk about this one, because there isn't any practical application for any of us who are going through this process. You know why you are motivated to pursue an open adoption. 
  2. Are there any patterns of change to the open adoption relationship or development of the relationship that are different based on gender and sexual orientation? 
  3. Do the challenges in developing a relationship with the birth-parents (that is the term they used, so that is the term I will use in this summary, even though it isn't my personal language of preference) differ based on gender and sexual orientation?
  4. In what ways do adoptive parents expand their idea of family to include the birth parents, and is this influenced by gender and sexual orientation. 
       Here is what they found:

  The early open adoption relationships
  •  One thing that was interesting is that while many people either had an increased or decreased investment in the openness relationship, but some did stay about the same in their commitment to openness. Part of the explanation of those who changed was that early in the adoption, adoptive parents have "only an abstract notion of open adoption" whereas when more time begins to pass, they begin "navigating the reality of an actual birth-parent relationship." 
  • Those who increased investment to openness (hesitant early on, more open later)
    • One lesbian, 6 gay men, 2 heterosexual men, and 4 heterosexual men were in this group
      • What is especially interesting about this (to me, at least), is that the 6 gay men represented 4 couples where each partner was in agreement, but the among the 2 heterosexual men and 4 heterosexual women, there was only 1 couple in this combination. So, although you can't really extrapolate trends from 5-6 people, in this group there was more agreement within gay couples about their investment in openness than within heterosexual couples.
    • This group was marked by those who expressed hesitation before the adoption, especially concerns about feeling compatible with the bio-mom or fears of maintaining boundaries. 
    • "The reality of their open adoption arrangement served to quell their abstract anxieties." 
    • A significant feature of this group is that they all matched with birthmoms who they liked and became friends with
  • Those who decreased investment (open early on, hesitant later)
    • This group was made up of 3 lesbians (one couple among them), 2 gay men (one couple), and 2 heterosexual women. 
    • Their decreased enthusiasm for openness was related to a birth parents' drug use, emotional instability, "unexpectedly chaotic personal lives," or relationship problems.
    • One mentioned that the birth-mother had started acting very unkindly to her (including sending "nasty" emails), so while she still wanted her daughter to have the option of knowing about her bio-family, it was hard for her to try to maintain that relationship
  • Those who maintained a high level of investment
    • There were 5 lesbians (including 2 couples), 13 gay men (including 5 couples), 3 heterosexual men and 3 heterosexual women (including 2 couples)
    • These couples said their ongoing enthusiasm was because of a good placement situation and a good relationship with the birth mother
      • This is fascinating to me. None of them really talked about "Things are good because we __________." Some even used phrases like "we lucked out." It seems like those who were optimistic and actually had things turn out well felt that a good match was the foundation of it.  
  • Those who maintained a low level of investment
    • There were 10 lesbians (4 couples), 5 gay men (no couples),  heteroexual women and 8 heterosexual men (2 couples) in this group.
    • Among lesbians and gay men, most negative attitudes were due to difficult birth parent situations (drug abuse was specifically mentioned)
    • Among heterosexual individuals, this hesitance was pervasive even if they acknowledged that they had a smooth relationship with the birth-mother.
 Boundary Difficulties in Early Relationships
  • Most said they had good boundaries, and that the birth-mother had been understanding of their need for time and space to develop as a family.
  • Most felt connected to the birth mother, and not threatened by her
  • 2 lesbians, 7 gay men, 7 heterosexual women, and 2 heterosexual men felt like the birth mother tried to overstep boundaries or was pushy
  • This was interesting: when these boundary challenges happened, they weren't sure how to handle it, because they felt guilt and anxiety about pushing for firmer boundaries due to how grateful they were to her
    • In some cases, boundaries were crossed by the birthmother wanting a mother role, sometimes referring to herself as "mother." 
  •  There were differences based on sexual orientation here, as gay men appeared to be more tolerant of behaviors that they viewed as boundary crossing. Here is a quote by a participant related to that: "We can’t—Don and I—be her mother. So, I have no issue knowing that Janice is her mother. But if her father was part of the equation, if he was still present, I would have a much bigger issue; I wouldn’t want to compete with another man. So I can totally see why [some people feel threatened].’’
    • I think this is an important distinction, and a question that I will have to remember to ask myself should something like that happen in our situation: Is this boundary violation making me uncomfortable because it could be damaging or confusing to the child, or because it makes me feel threatened in my role as the mom?
    • This reasoning was supported by something said by one of the heterosexual men: "It wasn’t as much of an issue for me as it wasfor Marianne because of the ‘‘mother’’ side of things. I was the only father in the equation. Theposition of mother was what was murky. If it wasjust me, I wouldn’t have been that aware of thoseissues. But there were things that were certainly important to Marianne’s sense of establishing that she is Carrie’s mother."
The birth-family as extended family
  • Many participants talked about this, although same-sex couples were more likely to use language that included the birth-mother as part of their family 
  • Some heterosexual individuals did this, also, sometimes comparing it to marriage: "When you get married, you extend your family. When you adopt, you extend your family."  

Goldberg, A.E., Kinkler, L.A., Richardson, H.D., & Downing, J.B. (2011). Lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples in open adoption arrangements: A qualitative study. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73,  502-518. 

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