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

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