Academic journal article Family Relations

Factors Associated with Distress among Support-Seeking Adoptive Parents

Academic journal article Family Relations

Factors Associated with Distress among Support-Seeking Adoptive Parents

Article excerpt

This study examined the collective effects of background factors, adoptive strains, and coping resources on emotional distress among 99 adoptive parents who responded to a mailed questionnaire. Multiple regression analysis revealed that parents reporting higher levels of emotional distress were more likely to indicate a pileup of chronic stressors related to their status as adoptive parents. More highly distressed parents also were more likely to indicate that they had adopted an older child, had experienced multiple adoptions, made greater use of emotion-focused coping strategies, had a lower sense of mastery, and received less support from family members.

Key Words: adoption, adoptive parents, coping, stress, support.

Recent research provides evidence that adoptive families are similar to other families with regard to well-being (Borders, Black, & Pasley, 1998) and the need for outside counsel (Brooks, Allen, & Barth, 2000). A common theme in the adoption literature, however, is that the experience of adoption can be stressful for some parents (Smith & Howard, 1999). Although scant literature exists on adoptive parents who seek support services, Barth and Miller (2000) indicate that when adoptive parents do seek support services it is usually because their children have special needs and they desire additional information and educational materials or clinical aid. Given that parents who seek support are usually in stressful situations that they typically appraise as challenging enough to require some extrafamilial efforts, the aim of this study was to better understand the factors related to higher distress levels among such parents.

Much of the previous literature neglects to embed adoption research in a theoretical framework. Using stress and coping theory, we examined adoption from the perspective of being a life event that can trigger stress reactions and protective coping responses. This research relied on Pearlin and colleague's (Pearlin, 1989; Pearlin & Schooler, 1978) conceptualization of the stress process as being situated in the social and cultural context of daily life and encompassing four domains: background factors, stressors, coping resources, and stress outcomes. We identified emotional distress as the stress outcome for our study and proposed that several factors act in concert to influence greater feelings of emotional distress among support-seeking parents. We included three background factors: age of child at adoption, length of time since the adoption, and number of adopted children living in the home. Further, we expected that parents' appraisal of the adoptive strains (stressors) they experienced also would influence their feelings of emotional distress. Finally, we explored self-esteem, mastery. family support, and use of coping strategies as coping resources that influence parents' emotional distress.

The results of this study should be helpful to educators, clinicians, and adoptive parents as they attempt to better understand factors that contribute to distress among adoptive parents. Social service and adoption agencies, as well as support group coordinators, also may benefit from such information as they plan and implement programs and interventions useful to adoptive parents.

Factors Contributing to Parental Distress

Background Factors

Several studies indicated that it is more stressful for adoptive parents to raise children adopted at an older age (Brodzinsky & Schechter, 1990). The source of the stress may stem from adoptive parents feeling responsible for solving problems that originated in the adopted child's previous placement history (Barth & Berry, 1989; Grotevant, McRoy, & Jenkins, 1988; Katz, 1986, Smith & Howard, 1999). In the case of international adoptions, other stress may come from being unable to determine a child's previous history or to trust the existing records (McGuinness & Pallansch, 2000). …

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