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What Arizona's Senate Bill 1188 Should Be About

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This week, at azcentral.com, I read, "Brewer Signs Arizona Bill on Adoption Preference," an April 18th blog post by Ginger Rough, about Senate Bill 1188. Sponsored by Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, the bill requires an adoption agency to give "primary consideration to adoptive placement with a married man and woman, with all other criteria being equal." Aside from the fact that the bill discourages singles and gay couples from considering adoption in Arizona -- a proscription that is archaic and reprehensible as far as I'm concerned -- it makes an assumption that growing up in a heterosexual household with two married parents is always the best option. In my opinion, the bill misses the point entirely. The significant factor in raising children is not the sexual orientation, number of, or marital status of the parents, but the quality of the parenting.

All children, especially those who have been relinquished and, subsequently, fostered or adopted, need good parents. I know from experience, however, that just because an adopted child is raised in a heterosexual two-parent family, that doesn't mean the parents are necessarily well-equipped or even adequately prepared for the job. Parenting experts, including Dr. Phil, agree that parents are the most significant role models in any child's life. But, how many of these parental role models are modeling appropriate behavior? If Sen. Linda Gray is really an advocate for adoptees, why not propose a bill that requires prospective parents to be taught parenting skills?

Like teaching, parenting requires dedication, patience, understanding, a willingness to learn new skills, to speak in a reasonable manner, to refrain from outbursts and regrettable actions. Are these skills commonly seen in households today? I think not. Wouldn't it be better for a child to be raised by a single parent who is calm, loving, and considerate, or by a gay couple whose family is child-centered, orderly, and safe, than to be raised by a married couple who argue and insult one another, neglect their children, and focus on their jobs?

A 2009 study by Mido Chang, Boyoung Park, and Sunha Kim, "Parenting Classes, Parenting Behavior, and Child Cognitive Development in Early Head Start: A Longitudinal Mode," examining the effect of parenting classes on parenting behaviors and children's cognitive outcomes determined that, "the cognitive outcomes (the Bayley MDI scores) of the children whose parents attended parenting classes were significantly higher than those of the children of parents who had never attended these classes." The good news: being a good parent makes your children smarter. Given the state of the world, this is almost a necessity.

In the article, "Parenting Behaviors Associated With Risk for Offspring Personality Disorder During Adulthood," found in the 2006 Archives of General Psychiatry (63:579-587), authors Jeffrey G. Johnson, PhD; Patricia Cohen, PhD; Henian Chen, MD; Stephanie Kasen, PhD; Judith S. Brook, EdD conclude that:

Parental behavior during the child-rearing years may be associated with risk for offspring Personality Disorder (PD) that endures into adulthood. This risk may not be attributable to offspring behavioral and emotional problems or parental psychiatric disorder, and it may not diminish over time. Low parental nurturing and aversive parental behavior during child rearing may both be associated with elevated risk for offspring PDs.

In other words, parents who don't nurture, love, show affection, or use kind words may cause their children to have personality disorders (chronic behavior patterns that cause serious problems with relationships and work) in adulthood.

Although there are literally hundreds of books on all aspects of parenting, apparently the people who really need the knowledge don't read. According to Childhelp.org, more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States. Abuse and neglect are epidemic. In 2007, the estimated cost of child abuse and neglect in the US was $104 billion. What is one of the best ways to stop this epidemic? Be a nurturing parent. If nurturing behavior wasn't modeled in your dysfunctional family, take a parenting class. It might be too late for Arizona, but I urge other states to consider what is really in the child's best interest. Growing up in a heterosexual household with two married parents is not the solution; good parenting is.

Jan Fishler is the author of Searching for Jane, Finding Myself (An Adoption Memoir). You can read her blog at www.searchingforjane.com.