TRUSTEES OF CLARK UNIVERSITY
The goal of this project is to investigate the unique strengths and potential challenges of lesbian couples
across the transition to adoptive parenthood. Given that parental mental health has implications for child
development, and the fact that adoption can be a challenging process, it is important to understand these
couples' adjustment to the parental role. There is evidence that lesbian couples possess certain strengths
(e.g., a tendency to share domestic labor) but also face challenges (e.g., social stigma). Of interest is
whether such factors promote resilience or create vulnerabilities during the transition to parenthood.
The transition to biological parenthood is recognized as a time of change and stress (Cowan & Cowan,
1988); the transition to adoptive parenthood is characterized by additional complexities. Couples who wish to
adopt face great uncertainty: There is not a definitive waiting period before becoming parents (Levy-Shiff et
al., 1991). Furthermore, some adopted children are of a different race or ethnicity than their parents
(Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes, 2002). Some adopted children have experienced adverse conditions in early
life, making attachment difficult (Levy & Orlans, 2003). Given that a) lesbians are increasingly likely to adopt
(Gates & Ost, 2004), and b) evidence suggests that lesbians possess unique strengths and vulnerabilities, it
is important to understand how these factors impact couples' transition to parenthood. Such knowledge may
be applied to all adoptive couples, with regard to what practices may help or hinder parents' adjustment;
indeed, parental well-being during this key life transition has implications for family functioning and child
adjustment (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1999). The current project will interview 45-55 lesbian
couples and 45-55 heterosexual couples 1-5 months before the adoption and 3 months post-adoption.
Couples will be recruited through adoption agencies and gay parent organizations. Quantitative and
qualitative methods will be used to analyze the data, which can ultimately be compared to data from a study
of the transition to parenthood among lesbian inseminating couples that used a similar research design. This research has the capacity to strengthen families and communities by articulating the experiences
of adoptive couples and highlighting areas of strength and resilience, as well as areas of potential intervention.
Identification of the key challenges and supports experienced by adoptive couples will inform the practices of
agencies, therapists, and other community systems that work with adoptive couples.