Academic journal article Family Relations

Parenting versus Placing for Adoption: Consequences for Adolescent Mothers

Academic journal article Family Relations

Parenting versus Placing for Adoption: Consequences for Adolescent Mothers

Article excerpt



Brenda W. Donnelly and Patricia Voydanoff*

This study examines the consequences of parenting versus placing for adoption over a 24-month period following childbirth. Multivariate analyses that control for baseline differences indicate that placers are somewhat more likely to express regret over their parenting decision, have higher levels of socioeconomic status, and engage in less sexual risk-taking behaviors over the course of the study than nonplacers. No significant differences in depression or personal efficacy were found. The subsequent higher socioeconomic status of placers is seen to slightly counteract the negative relationship between placing for adoption and satisfaction with parenting decision.

During the 1980s, adoption became a focus of the federal government's efforts to alleviate many of the complications of early parenthood among adolescents. Adoption is regarded as a sensible solution to an unexpected pregnancy and is regarded by most as highly beneficial for the child as well. Yet young women who experience an early and unanticipated pregnancy rarely choose to place their children for adoption; of the many live births to adolescents, fewer than 4% are likely to choose to place for adoption (Bachrach, 1986; Bachrach, London, & Stolley, 1990; Moore, 1988).

Some adolescents see abortion as a preferable alternative to the difficulties and discomfort of pregnancy and the demands of early parenthood. Others do not choose to place for adoption because it is an extremely difficult decision. It is painful for most mothers-not only adolescents-to place the child they have born. Often the adolescents' families pressure the young mothers to maintain custody of the child (Sobol & Daly, 1992). Placing for adoption is such an uncommon decision among their peers that some adolescents have undoubtedly never even considered adoption an option for themselves.

Although there have been numerous studies on the difficulties of parenting a child while one is very young, only a few studies have examined the consequences of placing an infant for adoption among adolescent mothers. Furthermore, the studies that have considered the impact of placing for adoption on young birth mothers were generally based on small clinical or self-selected samples (Brodzinsky, 1990). This study seeks to extend previous research by considering the impact of placing a child for adoption on the lives of a broader sample of adolescent mothers over the course of the first 2 years after the birth of their babies.


The decision to place for adoption is extremely difficult for most mothers. Grief and mourning are central to the experience of placing a child for adoption (Blanton & Deschner, 1990; Brodzinsky, 1990; Deykin, Campbell, & Patti, 1984; Greer, 1982; Pannor, Baran, & Sorosky, 1978; Pierce, 1991; Rosenberg, 1992). Placing birth mothers may feel grateful to adopting parents but, at the same time, resent them for their ability to enjoy the child in their stead; they are likely to feel ambivalent toward the adopting parents and to miss the child a great deal (Greer, 1982).

Not surprisingly, studies using clinical samples of birth mothers who are seeking psychological treatment generally report negative mental health consequences for women placing their infants for adoption (Millen & Roll, 1985; Rynearson, 1982). The lack of appropriate control groups and the highly selective nature of the data used in these studies frustrate any attempt to determine the impact of placing for adoption among young mothers (Sobol & Daly, 1992).

The few studies using more broadly based samples report a mixture of positive and negative short-term outcomes associated with the parenting decisions of adolescents. In general, those who place for adoption are more likely than those who keep their infants to go on to have higher socioeconomic outcomes and to regret their parenting decision; they are also less likely to experience subsequent pregnancies and births (Card & Wise, 1978). …

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