Very few single women adopt children not of their kinship group. The reasons are varied. Very few employed women haye an income sufficient for the support of a child. Others have occupational duties so exacting in nature that they have neither the inclination nor the energy to assume additional obligations. Perhaps the greatest reason is that very few of them who have the means really desire to do so. For the average woman who has not married nor borne a child has not the desire to assume the duties and responsibilities and the close personal association with a child which foster motherhood involves. Even a woman of means who openly laments the fact that she did not marry and have children of her own seldom takes steps toward assuming a responsible maternal role toward a child. Aside from the risk involved in adoption the average single woman over thirty takes no step toward adopting a child because she has filled her life with interests and activities which have caused her development along other lines and she does not wish to be mother to a child.
It is also true that some social agencies will not consider a single woman as a prospective adoptive mother. Agencies which offer children for adoption prefer a home where there are both father and mother. Since there have been so few children available for adoption in relation to the demand for them the agencies have generally been able to place their children in complete homes. Besides, some agencies have assumed that a single woman is maladjusted if she wants to adopt a child. One agency states in its booklet for would-be adoptive parents: "If a single woman needs to adopt a child, it is an indication that she should not be allowed to adopt a child." The assumption underlying this policy appears to be that unless the single woman has been able to so fill her life with interests and activities that she has no wish to adopt a child then she is an unfit person to adopt a child. If she does not desire to adopt a child she may be a fit person but obviously she will not make application.
There has been some indication in recent years that this attitude toward the single woman who wants to adopt a child is changing. The change appears to be due to a number of factors.
The "fairy tale" atmosphere which has always surrounded adoptions seems to be dissipating some-what before a more realistic approach to adoption as a social device. Social agencies make greater effort to anchor the child with his own parents and his own kin than ever before and the substitute nature of any other type of arrangement is frankly admitted. But in some cases parents cannot or will not assume responsibility for the child and the community must provide. For even mothers may evince an attitude of rejection and dislike of their own children which does not seem capable of modification. Many of these children continue in institutions or in boarding homes as long as funds are available for their care. As a consequence they are left early in their adolescence, at sixteen years of age and even at fourteen years in some cases, without the aid of close family or social ties, to earn their own living and to make life's major decisions with no other help than a greatly over-burdened social agency staff can provide. Studies show that many of these children experience great loneliness together with a painful sense of social isolation.
The question is naturally raised as to why the social agencies did not arrange for their adoption since so many persons desirous of adopting children are not able to obtain children for adoption. A partial answer to this question lies in the agencies' adoption policy. Standards applied to families and persons de-siring to adopt children have been so high that many good people could not qualify. On the other hand, the standards used to measure a child's "suitability for adoption" were so high that many children were kept in boarding homes and institutions and so lost their chance to secure a permanent family home. Indications are that some of the agencies are re-examining their adoption policies in the light of present realities, not with a view of lowering standards but with a view to rendering them more effective in the service of the children under their care. For many families and individuals would be glad to adopt a child not usually considered "suitable for adoption" according to present standards rather than have a childless home. And some of the homes offered might better serve the child's needs than the facilities which the agency can now provide.
There are a few single women who would like to adopt a child if they could obtain a child to adopt. It is obvious that the single woman's home is less suited to the rearing of children than the family home and that very few single women, even those with an ample income, should consider the adoption of a child. A child needs two parents and a single woman can at most be only one parent. If she earns her own living, as most single women do, she will be only a part-time parent. Moreover, the assuming of a parental role is likely to interfere with the other interests and activities of her life in a way to destroy its unity and effectiveness. The single woman's home, unless she lives with or near her own relatives, is a manless home and it usually lacks the diversified social life which the family home provides, since most of her friends and associates are single women like herself. The intelligent woman is aware of the lacks of her home from the child-rearing standpoint and ordinarily she does not consider taking a child to adopt even if she wants one. Moreover, the current emphasis on married happiness as the only form of normal contentment for women may cause her to doubt the personal contribution which she might be able to make.
Yet, there are some single women who want to adopt a child and who make application to social agencies for a child to adopt. The motives which prompt them are various. Of the single women with whom we talked the wish to be of direct and personal service to some child was the motive most frequently expressed. "I want a child to love" was a statement which was simply and frequently made. One woman expressed the wish to be closely linked with the younger generation in order to escape the feeling of isolation which she experienced in her own life. "I am like a tree that stands alone in the midst of a field." A few women seemed stirred by some vague desire to be of direct personal service. Women with good incomes and a surplus wanted to share with others and the adopting of a child seemed to offer an outlet. A few women seemed to want a child as a species of social camouflage just to be like the majority of women.
A few women with whom we talked had adopted a child. Our impression was that they were women of high vitality and ability who had wanted a child, and who had had the ability and resourcefulness to procure one. While they had been aware of current doubts and criticism of the single woman as a foster parent they had apparently not been inhibited by them.
One woman who had done relief work in Europe after the first World War had adopted an Austrian baby whose parents were lost during the war. Upon bringing the child to America she had established a home with her aunt as housekeeper while she resumed her career in business. In time, she rose to be an assistant executive in the factory in which she worked with an income of six thousand dollars a year. Her daughter was sent to good private schools and later to the state university. After graduation she worked for two years as a stenographer until her marriage to her employer, a man of considerable means. Relations with her foster mother had remained cordial and if the dire results predicted by some people have occurred the persons most concerned seem happily unaware of them. Another single woman who had inherited considerable wealth had adopted two children. This woman had never engaged in gainful employment and stated that she had no wish to do so. The two boys lived with her and her two unmarried brothers at their country estate and attended a near-by private school. This woman, who was active in community civic and social affairs, appeared de-voted to the boys as did her brothers.
Some social agencies are now assuming that the application of a single woman for a child to adopt should be examined on its merits. If she seems a fit person and one able to assume the responsibilities of support and protection in the child's life, her home should be considered in the light of all the other facilities available. Some single women are obviously able to offer more than some children are now receiving under agency care. This is particularly true in the case of older children, who under ordinary circumstances will have little chance to be adopted into a family home. One parent is not as good as two parents but one parent is better than no parent, and experience shows that some children adopted by single women make a normal adjustment to life.
The single woman who wants to adopt a child and who thinks that she can provide for it suitably ought to try to find a child to adopt. If the home which she can offer is not ideal she should remember that very few homes are ideal and she is well within her rights if she makes an offer of what she has to give in this respect. If there is no demand for what she offers she has the satisfaction of having made a positiye move in the direction of what she wanted to do and give. She can then decide what she wants to do next.