Every state in the United States allows single people to adopt. As a result, marital status isn't a legal barrier to adopting a child anywhere. At least, not officially. Many adoption agencies and attorneys, however, still perceive the married couple as the ideal choice for the children they place. So sometimes the single man or woman drops to the end of the adoption line when it comes to priorities—depending on who the adoption arranger is. However, this is much less true today than in past years, especially if you're interested in adopting your child from another country. Smart singles do their homework!
Let's back up for a moment and address one issue that seems to baffle some people: why singles choose to adopt kids.
Single Adoptions: Pros and Cons
Sometimes ill children are offered to nontraditional adopters (as well as traditional adopters), because it's hard for the agency to find parents for the child.
A nontraditional parent usually has less of a tough time adopting a child with special needs, so if you hope to adopt such a child, you shouldn't hesitate to try—after carefully considering each child's individual medical problems. However, if you don't want to adopt a child with special needs, be sure to be upfront about this with your social worker and stick to your position. Don't be guilted into adopting a child with needs that you think might be too hard for you to cope with.
Single men and women want to adopt a child for many of the same reasons that married people want to (wanting a child to love, wanting to give a child a family, not being able to get pregnant, and so on). But why, you might be wondering, don't they wait until they're married? Here are some reasons:
- They have no desire to marry, but don't want to forego parenthood.
- They might like to marry but they haven't yet married, and they're afraid they might not ever find the right man or woman. However, they do know that they want to become parents.
- They may be gay or lesbian, and marriage isn't an available option for them.
- They are divorced and don't believe they will remarry—yet they don't want to forego parenting.
- They are infertile and want to become parents.
- They want to provide families for children who need them now.
Of course, there are some people who believe that singles should not be allowed to adopt kids. If you're single and you want to adopt, it's critical that you understand their arguments (even though you probably adamantly oppose most or all of them). Here are a few objections you may come across—and some powerful counter-arguments:
- A child needs two parents so that one can fill in for the other when one is too tired, sick, and so on.
- A child needs to be raised by parents of both sexes.
This is one of the strongest arguments against single adoptive parenting. Child-rearing is very difficult, and it can be especially tough when 100 percent of the work falls on one parent. For this reason, it's important for singles who want to adopt to identify family members, friends, or others who can pitch in on a regular as well as an emergency basis.
Many people agree that it's important for girls to have adult males to relate to and for boys to have adult females to relate to. Singles argue that this person does not necessarily have to be a parent; it could be a close friend or family member of the opposite sex.
Adoption experts say that single males have a much more difficult time adopting than do single females. This is in part because several unspoken assumptions work against single males who want to adopt: that they can't be good parents or that they might even be pedophiles. Some experts advise men who feel that this may be an unstated problem to offer to take a psychological test such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or to agree to an interview and evaluation by a psychologist of the agency's choice.
- If the single parent becomes ill or dies, the child will be orphaned.
- The single person probably will have to work to support the child and, thus, cannot be an at-home parent.
- The stereotypical poverty-stricken, single biological parent is often confused, even by experts, with the single adoptive parent; however, single adoptive parents are overwhelmingly middle-class people who are employed and are ready and able to support their children.
When single men and women adopt, they are usually well aware that they need to plan for the unhappy contingency that they could become ill or very ill. Most agencies and attorneys want to know who (friends, family members, or others) can provide backup in the case of emergency. Singles who want to adopt should seriously consider this issue. (They should also periodically revisit it after they adopt. Former potential caregivers may move away or become ill or die themselves, necessitating a new plan.)
The fact that most single adoptive parents must work is not a strong argument, because most parents in two-parent couples are employed. With a two-parent family, however, it is true that one parent can fill in for the other if one has to travel, becomes ill, and so forth. This kind of tag-team arrangement isn't easy for the single person, who must make special arrangements anytime the usual day-care arrangements fail.
In a 1991 study published in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, researchers studied about 800 adopters, all who had adopted children with special needs, including 139 single adoptive parents.
They found that the average income of the single adoptive parent was about $21,300. At about that time, the income level for the average single parent in the United States was about $13,500. Thus, although many of the single adopters were not wealthy, neither were they poor.
Over half had at least some college education.
Some single adopters say that their pet peeve is being confused with single biological parents who are divorced. Divorced parents may face a number of obstacles single parents don't have to deal with: animosity from their former spouses, reduced incomes, and insecurity with their new status as single parent. On the other hand, divorced singles may also be able to rely on their former spouses when a crunch time comes.
Tips for Single Adopters
How do you apply for adoption if you're single? Here are a few suggestions:
- Join an adoptive parent group. Join a singles group if one is available in your area; if not, don't shy away from a couples group. You don't necessarily have to fit a “mold” to gain from a group.
- Investigate agencies and nonagency adoption arrangers in your area.
- Prepare for possible objections to you as a single adopter and arguments you can offer to counter them.
- Read Adopting on Your Own: The Complete Guide to Adopting as a Single Parent, by Lee Varon, a helpful resource for single adopters. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.)