Academic journal article Family Relations

Social Support and Psychological Well-Being in Lesbian and Heterosexual Preadoptive Couples

Academic journal article Family Relations

Social Support and Psychological Well-Being in Lesbian and Heterosexual Preadoptive Couples

Article excerpt


This study examines predictors of social support and mental health among 36 lesbian and 39 heterosexual couples who were waiting to adopt. Lesbian preadoptive panners perceived less support from family than heterosexual partners but similar levels of support from friends. Lesbian and heterosexual partners reported similar levels of well-being. Aspects of the adoption process were associated with anxiety, whereas couples' conception history was associated with depression. Adoption practitioners should acknowledge these distinct pathways in prevention efforts.

Key Words: adoption, anxiety, depression, infertility, lesbian, social support.

The expectancy period in childbearing, especially during a first pregnancy, represents a major developmental phase for parents: It is considered the initial phase of parenting (Belsky, 1984). Aspects of expectant parents' lives may have implications for their emotional adjustment and for parent-child relationships. Specifically, the psychological resources of the parents-to-be (e.g., personality traits, mental health) and their social-contextual resources (e.g., marital relations, social support) may shape adjustment (Levy-Shiff, Bar, & Har-Even, 1990; Levy-Shiff, Goldschmidt, & Har-Even, 1991). The purpose of this study was to examine predictors of psychological and social-contextual resources among heterosexual and lesbian couples in the expectancy phase of adoption.

Despite its potential importance, the expectancy phase has been almost totally neglected in adoption research (Levy-Shiff et al., 1990; Sandelowski, Harris, & Holditch-Davis, 1991). Furthermore, no studies have examined lesbian adoptive parents' experiences of the expectancy phase, even though 250,000 children are living in households headed by same-sex couples, and of diese, 4.2% are either adopted or foster children, almost double the figure for heterosexual couples (Gates & Ost, 2004). Insofar as preadoptive functioning impacts parental adjustment and the preadoptive phase is an ideal time for prevention efforts, exploration of this phase is warranted.

Theoretical Perspective

Bronfenbrenner (1988) emphasized the role of context in development and argued for an interactionist approach that integrates person and context variables in predicting adjustment. According to his ecological framework, development occurs within multiple interacting contexts, with influences ranging from distal, macrolevel settings (e.g., culture) to proximal settings (e.g., family, friends). Individual characteristics therefore interact with setting-level processes to shape adjustment. Belsky (1984) used this contextual perspective to theorize specifically about parental adjustment during the transition to parenthood. In his model, Belsky emphasized intraindividual factors (personality and mental health), relational factors (the partner relationship), and social-contextual factors (extrafamilial forms of social support) in studying parents' adaptation to parenthood. Intraindividual factors such as emotional stability serve as psychological resources and may buffer the stress associated with parenting; secondarily, dyadic and extradyadic sources of support can serve as socialcontextual resources that influence parents' stress directly and indirecdy (e.g., by enhancing psychological resources). Given that die transition to adoptive parenthood may be particularly stressful, exploration of prospective adoptive parents' psychological and social-contextual resources is needed.

Indeed, according to family stress theory (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983), families' vulnerability to stress and capacity to adapt to the demands of stressful life transitions is in part a function of their crisis meeting resources. Parents with limited resources may experience the transition to adoptive parenthood as overwhelming and may be vulnerable to poor adjustment; alternatively, possession of significant resources may buffer the stress associated with the transition. …

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