Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Single-parent Adoption: What to Know, Part II

Now that you understand how to undertake a single-parent adoption, there's just one question left: Are you prepared to be a single parent? This is probably the hardest question that you'll ask during the process because even though governmental organizations and private agencies will give you their answers to the question, only you have the real answer, and you have to volunteer it on speculation, without any hands-on experience.

This is one reason to foster a child. Not only will you help a boy or girl who needs a home, but you'll have an opportunity to assess how you handle the day-in, day-out responsibility of childcare.

If you don't want to foster a child, perhaps out of concern about becoming too attached or dealing with emotional or physical handicaps, maybe you have nieces and nephews or little cousins who could stay with you for a month or two in the summer. Another option is to volunteer childcare on a consistent basis for friends, neighbors, or a nonprofit. The more time you routinely spend with kids, the better. Youngsters can be cute when you're playing their favorite games for a few hours while mommy and daddy are out, but your parenting skills won't be challenged till little Jenny is tired and cranky after a whole day of back-to-school shopping and wants an ice cream now.

Aside from direct experience, though, there are some objective criteria you can reference to help confirm whether you're ready to adopt as a single parent:

1. Age
Age may be nothin' but a number, but most U.S. states require that you be at least 18 years old to adopt. Furthermore, many agencies impose a minimum age limit of 25 and a maximum of 40. Alternatively, the restrictions may be an age difference between adoptive parent and child of no less than 20 years and no more than 40. In other countries, these limits may be different. For instance, in China, the maximum age is 50 to adopt a healthy child and 55 to adopt a special-needs child.

2. Health
Most agencies both here and abroad have health standards that unfortunately rule out prospective parents with certain health problems. Obesity, mental health disorders, and chronic conditions like diabetes are some potential disqualifications. In addition, some disabilities are of more concern than others and are usually evaluated on a case by case basis.

3. Substance Use
Not surprisingly, hopeful parents with a history of alcohol or drug abuse may not be looked on favorably, and certainly anyone for whom substance abuse is still an issue should seek treatment and get the problem under control long before applying to adopt. But nowadays even smoking or social drinking may be grounds for rejection, especially at private agencies. Hey, this may be a good time to kick a bad habit.

4. Criminal History
Most of us have had a speeding or parking ticket at least once in our lives, but needless to say, if you've been convicted of a serious crime, your chances of adoption may be slim. However, depending on the nature of the crime, if you've since learned from your mistake and transitioned to a healthier mode of living, you might still be an acceptable candidate. So don't give up before you can make your case.

5. Financial Wellbeing and Employment Status
Obviously, you'll need to provide financially for a son or daughter. Those bikes, ballet shoes, and band-aids aren't free, you know. On the other hand, it's a misconception that you have to be wealthy to adopt. You simply need to demonstrate that you have a stable source of income sufficient to keep a roof over your head, food on the table, and maybe a dog at your feet. As we discussed last time, the government subsidizes many adoptions through ongoing assistance or tax credits, and some agencies also have endowments that can lift part of the burden off your shoulders. Furthermore, if you work from home or can get leave from work to bond with your little one during those first months following the adoption, this may add up to bonus points for you. But, in the end, the only honest labor that can really work against you would be a job that demands a lot of travel or is hazardous to your health.

6. Home Environment
Is your home child-friendly? It may be small, but it should have room for a growing boy or girl. It should also be childproofed so that threats to safety, from unprotected electrical outlets to open swimming pools, are addressed. The birth parents or agency will also want to know what other people will be in the child's life. If you have a friend or relative who lives with you, he or she may also need to submit to a background check.

7. Other Children
If you already have kids, this may or may not work in your favor. Some agencies and/or birth parents would rather place a child with first-time parents, who can lavish all their attention on the newcomer, while others prefer parents with a proven track record.

Many of the above criteria are used for evaluating your potential as a parent during the home study, in which a social worker collects documents, interviews you, and inspects your house. All U.S. residents must undergo a home study before they can legally adopt, whether publicly or privately, and if you think there's something ironic or even inequitable about the fact that people can conceive as many babies as they want without federal interference while you have to be scrutinized from attic to basement, you're not alone. Fortunately for us since home studies are here to stay, the word on the street is they're not that scary. Social workers don't expect you to be perfect. In fact, part of the home study may include parental education to help you create a safe, enriching environment for your new addition. Though the nature of home studies varies somewhat by state and agency, this site thoroughly describes everything that will likely be covered.

Finally, although these are not formal qualifications, it might be wise to ask yourself the following questions as well:

1. Do I have an adequate support system?
Do you have family and friends who are committed to helping you raise this child, people who can be called on to offer regular advice, occasional childcare, and emergency assistance? Do you know others who have adopted so you can access their wisdom and experience? If not, consider joining a support group specifically for single adoptive parents. Start attending the group before you adopt so you can get the scoop on the adoption process and its aftermath and make sure that it's right for you.

2. Am I willing to give up my "me" time? I mean really, truly willing?
One of the most frequent comments I hear from new parents is that they didn't anticipate how much a baby would interrupt their routine. Once you adopt a child, especially if you choose an infant, you can forget those two-hour baths with a book and a pillow or those spontaneous all-day mountain biking trips. You might not even have time to do your hair or shave in the morning, especially if you stayed up all night with a sick kid. A youngster is going to radically alter your lifestyle, no buts about it, so be honest with yourself about whether you can tolerate the upheaval.

3. Have I accomplished a lot of my professional goals? If not, can I let go of them?
Notice I said "a lot" and not "all." It would be unrealistic to write off your career years before retirement. But the fact remains that, as a single parent, your job will now take a back seat to your child. Since there won't be anyone else at home to ferry your son or daughter to school, softball practice, birthday parties, or dentist appointments, you'll probably have to leave work early, go in late, and take on less responsibility in general than you used to. If your job once involved heavy travel, you'll doubtless have to cut back on that, and if your employer wants to transplant you halfway around the world, you may have to say no. Because of all this, you might find yourself passed over for promotion or simply unable to achieve all that you had dreamed. Your reward will be different, at once more personal and less self-contained, the reward of instilling the love, values, confidence, and support that a child will need to achieve his or her dreams.

4. Can I place my child above my love life?
For singles who are parents, whether through adoption or by birth, one of the greatest challenges is balancing parenting with adult relationships. Many singles who haven't found a life partner nevertheless enjoy the search or just the occasional date and maybe even a nightlong dalliance. But once a child enters the picture, casual dating flies out of it. Now every date is a prospective mom or dad, and that bad boy or sugar baby you once lusted after can't even be on your radar. Sure, you could just have a one-night fling, but then you have to worry about who will drive the babysitter home or what effect it will have on your child when he or she wakes up to a stranger in mommy or daddy's bed. You don't want your son or daughter to get attached to someone who won't be around next year, and for that matter, you don't want to teach him or her that love is casual or disposable. When you do get serious about someone, you have to remember that your child was there first and gets to be the final arbiter as to whether or not that person becomes a part of your family. Plus, if the new love of your life ever lays a hand on your baby or hurts him or her in any way, you need to be prepared to send your honey packing, no excuses accepted. And let's not even get started on all the men or women who have now written you off just because you're a single parent. Yes, once you have kids, you can see how quickly your hot dates become...not dates. In fact, you may date only rarely or not at all until your son or daughter is a teenager or out of the house entirely. Can you live with that?

5. Do I want to be a parent for the right reasons?
This question necessitates a brutal examination of your inner motives, and if you probe deep enough, you might not like what you find. Lots of people dive into parenting for the wrong reasons. Perhaps they're feeling pressure to start a family from their parents or friends who have settled down. Maybe they want to have a "mini me" through whom they can channel their unfulfilled youthful ambitions. Some struggle with feelings of emptiness and isolation and expect a child to fill that gap with his or her love. Others may believe that they have something to prove, that they can't fully live life or be mature adults until they've raised kids. These are just some of the wrong reasons to embark on the messy adventure that is parenting. You know they're the wrong reasons because they focus on what a child can do for you, not what you can do for a child. When you want to adopt for the right reasons, your focus will be on how you can give the love you've stored up all these years to someone else, how you can help him or her grow, how you can contribute something to the next generation, how you can share your time, resources, and energy with a boy or girl who could benefit from them.

If you have any doubts about whether you're ready to adopt, remember that it's okay to slow down and reexamine how you feel later. Unlike the birth process, adoption isn't dependent on some biological clock. There's no rush here. Taking the time to make sure you're ready to be a parent and perhaps modifying your life in ways that help prepare you to that end will make you a better mom or dad. Once you've given yourself the personal green light, all that stands between you and your new little one is a seal of approval from the state and possibly an agency, so go for it. Don't worry if you don't meet every guideline. Lots of people don't, yet still manage to adopt. All decisions are made on a case by case basis, so always ask if an exception can be made in yours. If you're open-minded and determined enough to adopt, you will almost certainly find yourself one day reminding your son or daughter that where there's a will, there's a way.

If you've adopted (or if someone you know has), what were some of the qualifications that you (or he or she) had to meet? Whether or not you've adopted, how do you think someone can know when he or she is ready for a single-parent adoption? What questions should prospective single parents ask themselves? Do you think the current standards for adoptive parents are too lenient, too restrictive, or appropriate as they are?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have a rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a Singletude Q&A or your rant or rave in a Singletude Sound-off!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Single-parent Adoption: What to Know, Part I

Last time, Singletude cleared up some myths about single-parent adoption. Now that we know adopted kids can and do turn out just fine in single-parent homes, we'll delve into the adoption process for single adults who have a lot of room for a little person in their lives.

There are two main routes to adoption--independent adoption or agency adoption. An independent adoption is arranged directly between the adoptive parent and the birth parents with the aid of personal attorneys. These adopters are the would-be parents you see advertising in the newspaper for expectant mothers. Think Juno. Agencies, which act as middlemen between prospective parents and adoptees, may be either public or private, domestic or international. If you know someone who adopted a Russian or Chinese baby or a child from our own foster care system, she or he probably worked with an agency. Let's take a closer look at these very different forms of adoption and the advantages and disadvantages each holds for single people.

Independent Adoption

An independent adoption may be ideal for a single parent because she or he doesn't have to meet rigorous agency requirements. This kind of adoption is also less expensive than an agency adoption, averaging $10,000-15,000, which may include the cost of the search, legal fees, medical bills, and other negotiable financial support for the birth mother. (There is a federal tax credit of up to $11,650 for adoptions if your income is below $214,730.) In addition, an independent adoption can progress much more quickly than an agency adoption; since most birth mothers initiate the adoption while pregnant, an adoptive parent may only have five or six months to wait till his or her baby arrives. Which brings us to what is by far the greatest advantage of independent adoption--an adoptive parent will almost always be able to adopt the child at birth. This means that she or he can bond with the child immediately and be Mom or Dad from day one.

There's only one real drawback to independent adoption, and we've all seen enough movies of the week to know what that is: for a period of up to 30 days after the birth, depending on the laws of your state, the birth mother can change her mind and keep the baby. In which case, you are no longer the proud parent of the son or daughter you already named and painted a nursery for. To avoid the possibility of this crushing blow, some single parents-to-be elect to adopt through an agency.

Unfortunately, there is little data on independent adoption, so we don't know how many of these children are raised by single parents.

Public Agency Adoption

Public agencies handle the adoption of kids in the state system, so you'll know from the outset if the rights of the birth parents have been terminated. And whereas you have to go it alone in a private adoption, an agency will be there to hold your hand during the process and afterward, providing resources on parenting, counseling, and information about what to expect. Due to government funding, these adoptions are also the least expensive, totaling $2,500 or less, most of which is reimbursed in most states. Furthermore, when they adopt through public agencies, 89% of parents receive a subsidy of $350 a month on average to defray the costs of childrearing, so this is a very affordable choice for a single mother or father. However, the number one benefit of a public agency adoption is the chance for a prospective parent to foster a child before officially adopting. About 63-65% of parents who adopt publicly fostered their sons or daughters first. This gives both parent and child time to build a relationship and assess their compatibility.

On the downside, foster kids adopted by single women are approximately seven years old (the national average is six and a half), and in 2006, only two percent of all adoptees were infants under one year. Due to the red tape that tangles any legal proceeding, it can take 17 months to finalize a public, single-parent adoption. So these are kids who may have memories of other families in other homes and who will bear the scars of separation from those families. Furthermore, children who are wards of the state were removed from their parents for a reason. Many of them were abused or neglected, and lots have special physical, mental, or emotional needs that may be hard to cope with alone. On the other hand, single parents may be especially well-equipped to handle these concerns because needy kids will have their undivided attention.

The most recent federal data indicates that 29% of public agency adoptions are single-parent adoptions. The foster care system is so swelled with kids at any given time that public agencies are happy to find qualified parents and may be less rigid about marital status than private agencies. Also, because so many of these kids have been abused, some of them have fears about living with a parent of one sex or the other, so a single adult of their preferred sex is sometimes favored over a married couple.

Private Domestic Agency Adoption

Private domestic agencies are the luxury cars of the adoption world. They facilitate adoptions of the most desirable children--American infants in good health--as well as older kids from all walks of life, and they do so with an even greater array of services than public agencies have on hand.

Accordingly, private domestic agencies are the most selective and, therefore, the least likely to place a child with a single parent. They've been known to impose a host of qualifications that can seem discriminatory but are well within their rights as private organizations. These criteria may apply to a prospective parent's age, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, health status, relationship history, and myriad other personal characteristics that you may consider private or at least unrelated to your ability to parent. Furthermore, if it seems that private domestic agencies create designer families, it should be no surprise that they come with designer price tags. They can charge $5,000-40,000 per adoption, although some offer sliding scales or reduced fees to those who track down birth parents themselves. Since private agencies are so popular, the waiting period to adopt can take up to several years and is seldom under 12 months.

It is estimated that singles account for a mere 5% of private domestic agency adopters. Nevertheless, if it's paramount that you're matched with a boy or girl whose parents were Catholic, Cuban, green-eyed mathematicians but you don't want the insecurity of an independent adoption, a private domestic agency may be the only way to go. If so, check with your employer to see if you're eligible for an adoption benefits plan to offset the sometimes overwhelming cost of private adoption.

Private International Agency Adoption

In the face of overt prejudice at private domestic agencies, single parents have been flocking to other countries to adopt. For those willing to take on travel and language barriers, it can seem like a magic solution. In the heyday of international adoptions, overcrowded, underfunded overseas orphanages were desperate for adoptive parents, so they had more relaxed regulations and shorter wait times, sometimes as brief as four months and seldom over a year, although this has changed recently as more and more parents-to-be have jumped on the same boat to China, Russia, or their country of choice. Compared to the U.S., a greater proportion of children adopted abroad are, as every parent dreams, young and physically healthy. In addition, the birth parents aren't part of the process, so there's no chance that a teenage mom or dad will have second thoughts and try to regain custody. To top it off, although international agency adoptions are still expensive at $7,000-25,000, they average less than private domestic agency adoptions.

The only detractor to international adoptions is that not all nations hold to high standards of childcare, and many foreign-born adoptees are emotionally wounded by neglect and outright abuse while wards of the state. However, as discussed above, American kids in state custody are also liable to be traumatized, so this factor alone shouldn't preclude a search overseas.

Tragically, however, some of the countries that previously placed the most kids with single parents are now squeezing them out due to the 2008 Hague Adoption Convention, a treaty signed by more than 75 nations that prescribes marriage as a prerequisite for adoption. For instance, China, which once united 30% of its orphaned children with eager singles, has now restricted such adoptions to just 8% of its total, begging the question of why single parents are good enough for 8% of the kids but not the other 92%. Sadly, single-parent placement giants Ukraine, Guatemala, Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea have followed suit or are poised to do so; onetime A-listers India, Ethiopia, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, and the Philippines have become decidedly less singles-friendly; and Russia has tightened the reins on all would-be foreign adopters even as Romania and Cambodia have slammed their doors. Yes, even couples are running into barriers in a more nationalistic climate. (Scroll down to the bottom of this page and click through the exhaustive list of countries for an education in just how tedious and unwelcoming international adoption is becoming.)

Nevertheless, there are still nations from every continent which understand that families come in all sizes and are happy to work with singles, or at least single women. (More challenges face single men, although international adoption is not impossible.) Visit this site for detailed nation-by-nation listings that spell out each country's adoption policy for singles.

Perhaps you've wistfully imagined reading bedtime stories or helping a youngster with homework but never thought that mental scene could become reality without a spouse. Hopefully you now know that it can and have a better understanding of the various roads that may lead you to that special child you'll call your son or daughter. When our single-parent adoption series wraps, we'll outline the steps you need to take to travel any of those roads, including a self-assessment of your own readiness to parent, fundamental standards imposed by most agencies, and the scoop on the dreaded home study!

If you adopted as a single parent or know someone who has, which of the routes to adoption did you (or he or she) take? What were some of the merits and pitfalls of the adoption process you (or he or she) chose? What advice would you give to other singles looking to adopt?

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Singles and Adoption: The Intentionally Single Parent

First off, my apologies for my extended absence from Singletude! I think this is the longest I've gone without posting an entry, and I feel terrible about it. Life circumstances have conspired to keep me away, but one of my most time-consuming focuses of late, the wedding of a close friend, will be over at the beginning of October, and I'll have that much more time to spend here. :) I've also been "nesting"--not with a baby but with a newly hatched screenplay, and the "little one" is very demanding!

The other day I was wasting time at a favorite message board that is my gossip magazine, sitcom, and newsroom rolled into one when I stumbled onto a debate about single-parent adoption. I can't remember what sparked it, perhaps Meg Ryan, Sheryl Crow, or some other single celebrity mom who found it in her heart to share her love and considerable resources with a deserving child. Whatever or whoever it was, the board was abuzz with adulation and condemnation for single adopters.

I can hear you now: "Condemnation, you say? What's to be condemned in the extraordinary sacrifice it takes to raise a child someone else brought into the world? Especially for a single adult, whose resources of time and money may already be finite, it seems like a remarkably selfless choice!"

But there are those who believe that a child can only be healthy when raised in a two-parent home and that singles who adopt deprive kids of the chance to have "real families." Regrettably, I used to be one of them.

Go ahead. Fling stones at my glass house. It's true. There was a time when I thought that single adopters were as selfish as a triple decker stroller is long and destined to raise a gaggle of little Christina Crawfords. Needless to say, I've since changed my mind. Not because I've been seized by the irrepressible urge to adopt and now have to justify my decision (I haven't) but because arguments have come to light that have convinced me I was just plain wrong. Here's why:

1. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children & Families, as of 2006, there were 117,380 children in foster care who were eligible for adoption. Of those children, 50,379 (less that half) found adoptive parents. I guarantee you those 67,001 kids still shuffling through the foster care system or fending for themselves in state-run institutions would rather live with a loving single parent.

2. Just because someone adopts as a single parent doesn't mean he or she will always be single, just as married couples who adopt may not remain married. Never has marital status been as fluid as it is today, but the role of mom or dad is forever. So it seems foolish to base the decision to adopt solely on whether the adoptee will enter a one- or two-parent home.

3. A single adopter doesn't necessarily parent alone, while married adopters don't necessarily parent together. Research from around the world demonstrates that singles, including single parents, have social networks at least as deep and rich as those of married couples, sometimes more so. When a single individual adopts, she or he may have an army of "co-parents" ready and willing to be role models, caregivers, mentors, and activity partners as well as to step in at a moment's notice in times of crisis. These can include the adoptive grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in addition to friends, coworkers, and neighbors. In married households, on the other hand, children don't automatically get a double dose of parental devotion. As a matter of fact, mothers still spend almost twice as much time with their kids as fathers do, so it might be more accurate to say that these youngsters have one and a half parents, not two! Okay, okay, it's not all about quantity, I realize. But if time spent together is indicative of parental involvement and influence, then it's hard to see how children in two-parent homes are so much better off than children with one parent and, say, special adult friends or relatives they visit once or twice a week.

4. Children can bridge the gap between singles and the surrounding community, which can benefit both adoptees and their single parents. Although the data cited above proves that singles aren't lonely or isolated in general, there will always be some people who have trouble connecting with others. Far from reinforcing social withdrawal, parenting opens doors to interaction. Whether through PTA fundraisers, Little League games, or Girl Scout meetings, single parents can meet and build relationships with each other and their families. Some single parents have even moved in together to share the responsibility of childrearing!

5. Children adopted by singles aren't suffering for lack of a backup parent. In fact, they're thriving on the single-minded dedication of unmarried adopters. Studies comparing adoptees in single- and two-parent homes reveal that outcomes are similar or even better for kids adopted by singles. Surprised? Here's some more evidence. These counterintuitive results may arise from the fact that singles are more likely than marrieds to establish relationships with children prior to adoption, or it may be that single adopters don't bring marital stressors to the equation. Furthermore, many adoptees have special physical or emotional needs that are better addressed by someone who can focus completely on the child rather than dividing his or her time between a spouse and other kids in the home. Whatever else you may argue, the proof is in the pudding of thousands of well-adjusted young people who are learning, playing, growing, and discovering what it is to be part of a loving family in the homes of single adoptive parents.

If you've ever thought of adopting a child as a single parent but hesitated to do so out of concern for the child's well-being, I hope I've cleared up the misconceptions about single adopters that dissuade so many big-hearted individuals from opening their arms to needy kids. In today's transitioning society, perhaps we can finally peel away the mask of the traditional family, look into the eyes of love behind it, and allow that love to shine forth in any form it wants to take--through families large or small, nuclear or extended, blood-related or adopted, married or single.

What do you think about single parents who adopt? Have you adopted a child as a single parent, or do you know someone who has? If so, can you share your/their experience? If not, would you ever consider adopting while single?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Write in, and you just might see your question posted in a Singletude Q&A!