Parenting and Child Development
in Adoptive Families
David M. Brodzinsky
With the rise in family diversity over the past few decades, interest in nontraditional family life has increased significantly among social science researchers (Lamb, 1999). Of particular importance are questions concerning the way in which family diversity has an impact on the developing child, as well as questions concerning the unique parenting experiences encountered by adults who are part of a nontraditional family system. In this chapter, we explore one particular form of nontraditional family life that is becoming increasingly more common — namely, growing up in an adoptive home. Our goals are to examine the unique challenges faced by adoptive parents in rearing their children, as well as to understand how adoption influences children's development and adjustment.
We begin with an examination of historical and contemporary trends in adoption practice, briefly outlining changes in adoption policy and law from the midnineteenth century to the present. We then review research on two different perspectives on adoption — one focusing on adoption as a risk factor in the life of the child and the other focusing on the benefits associated with growing up in an adoptive home. Following this literature review, we discuss family life-cycle issues in rearing infant-placed adopted children, with an emphasis on delineating both the unique developmental issues in the adjustment of these youngsters, as well as the unique childrearing tasks faced by adoptive parents. In the final sections of the chapter, we explore the adjustment outcomes and unique parenting issues associated with adoptions of children with special needs, transracial and intercountry adoptions, and open adoptions. Because this chapter focuses on parenting adopted children, a detailed examination of research and theory on adoption adjustment is not presented. Readers interested in this topic are referred to Brodzinsky, Smith, and Brodzinsky (1998) and Groze and Rosenberg (1998).