The Reluctant Spouse

What do you do when one spouse is reluctant to adopt, and the other one is gung-ho?

One spouse may be reluctant to adopt

It was a long haul to persuade my husband to start a family. When biology failed us, he felt the subject of children was closed. Joe was not interested in raising a child whom he described as “someone else’s kid.” That was before we went to China, and held an adorable girl who instantly cast her spell over Joe. By the time we got home, he was undeniably Becky’s father.

Now that there’s a happy ending, Joe and I can laugh about our more heated debates, and share our experiences with couples who are thinking about adoption. But when we were in the midst of the decision-making process, I thought Joe and I were a seriously defective marital unit.

The toughest decision is the first: Will we adopt, or won’t we? Some adoption experts maintain that it’s wrong to press ahead with an adoption before a reluctant spouse is fully on board. They argue that, before launching a search, a couple needs to confront and resolve all concerns about adoption.

For many couples, though, you might as well ask them to foresee and figure out the rest of their lives. Why? Consider the range of concerns that can fuel reluctance: age, money, time, family, and the unknowns of the child.

Such concerns reflect the reluctant spouse’s focus on what may be lost: financial security, spousal attention, uninterrupted work time, a biological connection. Until the spouse experiences the benefits that come with parenting, there is essentially nothing to mitigate those fears.

Even after a spouse agrees to move forward, there may be backsliding. That is understandable when you contrast a pregnancy with the adoption process. Typically, a pregnancy gives a reluctant spouse nine months to ease into the idea of parenthood. Greeted with joy and excitement by friends and relatives, a pregnancy inspires questions: Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? Have you picked a name?

Now, consider the issues that couples are forced to confront during the adoption homestudy process. What age child do you want? What about gender, ethnicity, or race? How will you pay for the high cost of adoption? How do you plan to raise this child? How will you cope with health conditions? And these questions don’t even begin to touch on the procedural aspects. Lawyer or agency? Open or closed? Domestic or international?

Such questions not only thrust the issue of “baby” at a reluctant spouse over and over, but also demand that he opt in — or out. In essence, the journey requires that he try to envision the child’s entire upbringing at a time when he might prefer not to think about children at all.

The upside is that this insistent probing gives adoptive couples a rigorous preparation for parenting that the biological route rarely affords. The downside is that every new question and issue risks reigniting a reluctant spouse’s resistance. My own husband signed on and off to adoption so often that, by the time we boarded the plane for China, neither one of us could have said for certain whether he would stick around after we returned home.

He did. In fact, the man who had insisted that he was too old and too busy is a wonderful father who resents even the occasional business trip that keeps him from tucking Becky in at night. These days, when a distressed couple calls, Joe will stay on the phone with the spouse who is reluctant to adopt for hours. He offers reassurance that all concerns are legitimate. Then, ever so subtly, he encourages him or her to take the plunge.

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