Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Adoptive Parents’ Perceptions of Parental Bonding During Early Parenthood

By Abbie E. Goldberg, April M. Moyer, Lori A. Kinkler
July 2013

Early bonding patterns between parents and their adopted children do not differ between same-sex and different-sex couples. Other factors that played a role in the bonding between parents and their adopted child include how sudden or expected the transition to parenthood was; how entitled the adoptive parents felt as parents (i.e., how ready they were to “claim” the child as theirs), and the legal security of the placement (i.e., the perceived likelihood that it would be permanent).

The study also reveals the diverse trajectories of bonding during the transition to adoptive parenting. Namely, in 33% of couples, both partners described themselves as strongly and continuously bonded to their child. In 20% of couples, both partners described initial challenges in bonding, followed by a gradual strengthening in the bond over time. In the remainder of couples, each partner described a different pattern of bonding. Specifically, in 38% of couples, one partner described themselves as stably bonded to their child, and one partner described some initial challenges in bonding.

Clinical implications for practitioners include:

● Support adoptive parents in recognizing that bonding is an individual process that progresses at different rates for different parents, and may be impacted by personal, child-related, and contextual factors.

● Help parents prepare for adoption and hold realistic expectations about the adopted child in order to promote better mental health and parenting outcomes. Practitioners should support adoptive parents by helping them to articulate their expectations pretransition, and working to temper unrealistic expectations, while also providing them with support (e.g., via visits and phone calls) during the initial post placement.

● Recognize the possibility that adoptive parents may experience a slow process of bonding to their children, and the perceived reasons for this lag may differ based on parents’ gender. Fathers more often than mothers explained that their bond was made stronger after their children grew older and developed “personalities” and only mothers expressed that the transition to adoptive parenthood was “sudden” and difficult to adjust to.

Data from 90 adoptive parents (30 women in 15 lesbian couples; 30 men in 15 gay couples; 15 women, 15 men in 15 heterosexual couples) were analyzed in this qualitative study. Participants were interviewed two years after their children were placed in the adoptive home. Inclusion criteria were as follows: (a) couples must be adopting their first child; and (b) both partners must be becoming parents for the first time. Researchers recruited couples during the preadoptive period by asking adoption agencies throughout the United States to provide study information to clients who had not yet adopted. U.S. census data was used to identify states with a high percentage of same-sex couples, and an effort was made to contact agencies in those states. More than 30 agencies provided study information to their clients, who were asked to contact the principal investigator for participation details. Heterosexual and same-sex couples were targeted through agencies to facilitate similarity on geographical location and income.

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*Originally published in Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice