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Chorão, A.L.;  Canavarro, M.C.;  Pires, R. Explaining Parenting Stress among Adoptive Parents. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 17 April 2024).
Chorão AL,  Canavarro MC,  Pires R. Explaining Parenting Stress among Adoptive Parents. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 17, 2024.
Chorão, Ana Luz, Maria Cristina Canavarro, Raquel Pires. "Explaining Parenting Stress among Adoptive Parents" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 17, 2024).
Chorão, A.L.,  Canavarro, M.C., & Pires, R. (2022, November 23). Explaining Parenting Stress among Adoptive Parents. In Encyclopedia.
Chorão, Ana Luz, et al. "Explaining Parenting Stress among Adoptive Parents." Encyclopedia. Web. 23 November, 2022.
Explaining Parenting Stress among Adoptive Parents

Parenting stress has been defined as the stress resulting from an imbalance occurring when the perceived demands of the parents exceed their perceived resources. When parenthood occurs under specific challenging circumstances, higher levels of parenting stress are expected. This is often the case for adoptive parenthood.

adoption adoptive parents mindfulness parenting stress self-compassion psychological flexibility

1. Introduction

Parenting stress has been defined as the stress resulting from an imbalance occurring when the perceived demands of the parents exceed their perceived resources [1]. When parenthood occurs under specific challenging circumstances, higher levels of parenting stress are expected [2]. This is often the case for adoptive parenthood. According to previous research, adoptive parents face specific developmental challenges that may leave them vulnerable to adverse outcomes [3]. One of these outcomes is parenting stress, which has been identified as one of the most important and highly acceptable targets for postadoption psychological intervention [4]. However, information regarding the modifiable factors that explain this outcome among adoptive parents remains scarce. To the best of our knowledge, none of the existing studies considered the potential contribution of parents’ psychological resources, such as mindfulness, psychological flexibility, and self-compassion, on parenting stress among adoptive families. Additional knowledge about this topic is needed to better inform adoptive family adjustment promotion through psychological intervention with adoptive parents.

2. Parenting Stress in Adoptive Families

Adoptive and biological parents experience similar parental tasks and individual challenges [3]. However, since the transition to parenthood, adoptive parents need to manage additional stressors, which may include coping with infertility, stigma about adoption, and uncertainty about the child’s arrival [3][5][6]. There is also an increased likelihood of their adoptive children having emotional and behavioral difficulties [6] due to their history of adversity [1]. As the children grow up, other adoption-related challenges may emerge, including introducing and discussing adoption with the child, helping them deal with adoption-related loss, and supporting and fulfilling the child’s curiosity about their origins [3]. Likewise, these parents seem to have less social support than nonadoptive parents [5]. These challenging parenting circumstances, denominated by [7] as “adoptive strains”, make adoptive parents more vulnerable than nonadoptive parents to experiencing stress in their parental role, which may also harm their children’s capacity to recover from previous adversity [8]. However, contradictory results were reported in previous research [9][10], suggesting a considerable variability of parenting stress among adoptive parents [8] that must be investigated to allow accurate intervention planning for those adoptive parents who are more likely to struggle either immediately or in the future [11].
According to parenting stress models (e.g., [11][12]), parenting stress can be explained by characteristics related to the external context (e.g., social support), to the child (e.g., age, gender, history of adversity), to the parent–child interaction (e.g., family dynamic), and, of particular relevance for the scope of this research, to the parents (e.g., adjustment to the parental role, emotional states, psychological resources [13]. However, research about the explicative factors of parenting stress among adoptive parents is limited, especially those exploring the role of parent-related variables [14]. In fact, although parent-related variables associated with parenting stress may be highly relevant in informing postadoption services, they have been receiving less attention than a child- or adoption-related variables [14]. The child’s age [15], gender [10], history of adversity [1], time spent in institutional care [9], age at adoptive placement [16], special needs [17], and behavioral problems [15][18][19] are the most studied child- and adoption-related variables as predictors of parenting stress. Only recently have a few studies assessed the explanatory role of adoptive parent-related variables in their own parenting stress (e.g., [11][14]). Parents’ age [20], educational level [21], socioeconomic status [22], and mental health status (e.g., depressive symptoms) [16] are the most studied. Despite the undeniable value of this body of research, the investigation into the role of adoptive parents’ psychological resources, such as mindfulness, psychological flexibility, and self-compassion, on parenting stress may be essential since these are individual resources that can be improved and modified through psychological intervention. According to a previous study using a Portuguese sample of adoptive parents, 93% of the participants would consider the provision of postadoption psychological intervention that includes the global promotion of parents’ well-being and specific components related to parenting stress useful. Approximately 76% of participants would be willing to participate in this type of intervention [23]. If the psychological resources under study prove to be explicative of parenting stress levels, they may constitute important targets for these kinds of interventions.

3. Parents’ Psychological Resources and Parenting Stress

According to Leeming and Hayes, when parents can apply psychological resources, such as mindfulness, psychological flexibility, and self-compassion, to their daily living, they tend to be psychologically healthier and more capable of promoting healthier family environments [24]. Mindfulness is a mental state defined by moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness that lets individuals acknowledge and accept their emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations [25]. Parents who can apply mindfulness to their parenting are more likely to be less reactive and more patient when dealing with challenging child behaviors. Furthermore, by opening parents’ awareness, mindfulness could help parents notice and genuinely appreciate children’s pro-social behaviors [26][27].
Psychological flexibility refers to an individual’s capacity to accept aversive emotional experiences while maintaining engagement in value-based behaviors [28]. A study conducted by Williams and colleagues found that parental psychological flexibility leads to lower levels of parenting stress and greater psychological flexibility in children, which, over time, can result in lower levels of psychopathology and higher levels of pro-social behavior in children [29]. Finally, self-compassion can be defined as “being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, non-judgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human experience” [30] (p. 87). When applied to parenting, self-compassion may reduce parenting stress, particularly by realistically adjusting expectations and goals regarding what parents expect of themselves as parents and of their children while accepting and comforting themselves for the loss of expectations once created. It can also allow parents to be compassionate with themselves and their children in challenging moments by understanding that these moments are part of the human experience and by decreasing rumination about parenting difficulties [31].
Although the literature about the relationship between these and other related psychological resources and parenting stress in adoptive families is scarce or nonexistent, research conducted with community samples [32][33] and parents in specific challenging conditions (e.g., children diagnosed with psychological or physical health conditions) [34][35][36] supports the relevance of exploring this theme among adoptive parents. According to these studies, self-compassion and psychological flexibility are negatively correlated with parenting stress under various challenging parenting circumstances usually present in adoptive parenthood [35][37]. Several reviews and meta-analyses also found that mindfulness-based interventions could effectively manage parenting stress under diverse, challenging parenting circumstances [24][34][36][38]. Such findings are not surprising since, as noted by Leeming and Hayes, mindfulness, self-compassion, and psychological flexibility, as a coherent set of crucial skills, have the power to produce positive changes in the families’ systems [24].
Although we are not aware of any related study in the adoption field, in the specific case of adoptive parents, psychological resources such as mindfulness, psychological flexibility, and self-compassion are expected to be particularly beneficial if considering the abovementioned increased challenges that these parents are faced with and the harmful impact that parenting stress can have on adopted children [39]. It is well known that children who encounter traumatic experiences such as emotional and/or physical abuse have difficulties creating a secure attachment with their caregivers [39]; they can experience other severe psychological and emotion-regulation consequences associated with previous adversity [40], and these challenging circumstances may predict parenting stress [39][41].
However, the relationship between children’s insecure attachment patterns and parenting stress seems to be a reciprocal process since high levels of parenting stress also seem to lead to an increase in insecure attachment patterns or a decrease in secure attachment patterns in children [8]. Mindfulness could help adoptive parents be less reactive to the child’s challenging behaviors related to these circumstances and truly enjoy the moments of family harmony. Psychological flexibility may also be helpful, allowing parents to stay focused and behave in a way that is in line with their values and goals even though they are facing aversive emotional states. Additionally, self-compassion may enable parents to accept these challenging moments and the emotions that emerge from them as part of the human experience, especially given the increased challenges that emerge from this type of parenting. Self-compassion may also help adoptive parents cope with the usual discrepancy generated between their idealization of parenthood and of their child and the real experience.

4. The Role of Children’s Age, Time Passed since the Adoptive Placement, and Parents’ Gender

In addition to the lack of literature on the impact of parents’ psychological resources on parenting stress among adoptive families, important gaps arise in the nonspecific literature that prevents us from generalizing its findings to the adoption field without further investigation.
The first concerning gap in the literature is that most of the studies regarding parenting stress have only considered parents of children of specific age groups (e.g., adolescence) [40][42]. As different children’s ages pose different parenting challenges and can imply specific adjustment mechanisms for parents [43], the choice to study samples including only parents of children of specific age groups disables investigation of the role played by parents’ psychological resources in dealing with parenting stress at different developmental stages of the child. It is also important to note that among adoptive families, most parenting stress studies have focused on specific phases of the family life cycle (e.g., the first years after adoption) [11][16]. However, in addition to the challenges usually associated with the different stages of a child’s growth and the life cycle of an adoptive family, there are several emerging parenting challenges that may be confusing, stressful, and exhausting [8][43], requiring different psychological resources from parents to maintain their well-being in different phases of the family life cycle. Finally, parenting stress research has also been primarily focused on mothers, with fewer studies (e.g., [11][44][45]) fully considering the role of fathers. In fact, there are various individual, biological, and cultural gender differences that can influence how fathers and mothers address the challenges that emerge from parenthood [46]. Including adoptive fathers in the study of these phenomena may allow us to investigate how the parents’ gender influences the relationship between their psychological resources and the levels of parenting stress.


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