Why so many men don’t want to adopt
Why some men struggle with adoption
by Robyn Wolfson Vorster
People talk to me now. It may sound odd, but since we adopted our daughter loads of strangers suddenly want to chat. The conversation varies but when I am speaking to women, one theme seems to come up over and over again. They chat animatedly for a bit and finally pause and say sadly: “I’d love to adopt but my husband isn’t keen.”
Every story is heart-wrenching and individual but there are so many stories that one has to ask: Why? Why are so many men reluctant to adopt?
This is personal for me—my own husband struggled for years to accept the idea of adopting. His eventual change of heart transformed our lives but it did not occur until we faced some of his fears and concerns together. More than two years later, we are now doing our best to understand these issues in other families. Of course these vary from person to person but interestingly, many men seem to share the same reasons for not wanting to adopt.
As an aside, some women struggle with exactly the same misgivings but they don’t seem to be as common or as debilitating as those expressed by men.
The top three concerns seem to be:
Reason one: Fear
Some of the most prevalent fears that men communicate are:
- Fear of not being able to love an adopted child as much as a biological child.
- Fear about how his family, friends and colleagues will react, and how he will cope with these responses. Some men find this very difficult to navigate, especially when they come from traditional families and it is influential family members (such as parents), who may object most to the adoption.
- Fear of other people’s prejudices. This is particularly true when considering trans-racial adoption. Many men really struggle with the fear that they might not be able to protect their child from harm.
- Fear of the unknown. Even if they haven’t had children, most men believe that they know what to expect from parenting a biological child. Adoption however, is unfamiliar and brings with it a large amount of fear.
Reason two: Family
In many families, family line, name and genetic heritage are fundamentally important. While I was researching this topic, one of the things that I heard men say frequently was: “I would never raise another man’s child.” Be it anxiety about bringing new blood into the family, pride in family characteristics and abilities or a threat to his own masculinity, this seems to be a deep seated concern for a lot of men.
Reason three: Finances
Raising children, be they biological or adopted, is always costly. However, finance may specifically be a factor in an adoption decision when:
- The couple would probably want to employ a private social worker or to adopt a child from another country (this often applies to white, coloured and Indian families trying to find a same race child).
- They already have children but one parent would like to add an adopted child to the family.
Both these decisions could bring financial stress and if finance is an issue in a household, this may result in resistance from the male partner.
What can you do?
So, are these issues insurmountable? Well, perhaps. But, there may be things that women can do to discuss, and hopefully overcome their partner’s concerns.
Here are some top tips:
- Try to understand your partner’s fears and respect his position (whatever you do, don’t belittle or minimise them).
- Communicate your need—as clearly and unemotionally as you can. If necessary ask for help from a counsellor to do this. Don’t beg, manipulate or give ultimatums. In our case, it was my need which initially made my husband change his mind about adoption. It may not always be enough to sustain the decision, but it is a good first step.
- Have a plan. Most men love plans and feel empowered when they have one. Do your research and ensure that you can explain important considerations such as the adoption process, costs, what is expected of him and the legalities.
- Normalise adoption: Make friends with other adoptive families and speak openly with them (in front of your partner) about pros and cons. If you don’t know any adoptive families, join an adoption group on social media and make contact with someone in your area. Lots of moms state that it was familiarity, simple exposure to other adoptive families (especially other adoptive fathers and adopted children), that finally resulted in their husbands making the decision to adopt.
- Don’t ambush him. This is the caveat to number four. If you do make friends with an adoptive family, it is best to warn him before you visit. In addition, please don’t volunteer him to work at a Place of Safety without his permission, don’t constantly confront him with stories about children in need of adoption and don’t ask social workers, adoptive parents or concerned family members to try to persuade him to change his mind—this may result in him feeling trapped and simply increase his resistance.
- Don’t oversell adoption. It is not a success-only journey, no parenthood is. Exaggerating the positives of adoption may set you up for failure.
- Be realistic about the costs. All parenting is expensive and in some instances, the adoption process can be costly too. Once again, do your research and as far as possible, include a financial element to your plan.
- When he is receptive, talk to him about a strategy for dealing with common adoption-related challenges such as family resistance and prejudice (again, exposure to other adoptive families and talking about their experiences can be very helpful here). Getting your partner to problem-solve may help him to recognise that his fears are not insurmountable.
- If he is not responsive when you discuss adoption, ask him if he is willing to go away and consider this issue for a set time period (decide on the actual time together—for example, a couple of weeks). Remind him closer to the time that you would like to discuss it again but don’t nag. Set a follow up time to chat about it, either alone or with a counsellor.
- If you are religious, pray. Our research and own history shows that unexpected changes of heart do happen.
Remember that if you have a partner, the decision to adopt takes two yeses. Most adoptive children have already been rejected—they deserve better than rejection from their new father too. And, it is tragic when marriages fail because one partner makes an adoption decision that the other spouse cannot or will not support.
But does that mean that you have to give up on your adoption dream? No, it doesn’t. The challenges may seem overwhelming and sadly, not all situations end well. But don’t lose hope—my story shows that men can and sometimes do change their minds. After years of resistance to adoption, my husband’s transformation was dramatic. Now, when asked, he tells people that adoption is the best decision that we have ever made. The key word is “we”. I’m glad I didn’t make the decision on my own but I am even more grateful that I persevered. There is no doubt, having our daughter in our lives and our family has made it all worthwhile.
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