Academic journal article Family Relations

Adult Adoptees and Their Friends: Current Functioning and Psychosocial Well-Being

Academic journal article Family Relations

Adult Adoptees and Their Friends: Current Functioning and Psychosocial Well-Being

Article excerpt

Adult Adoptees and Their Friends: Current Functioning and Psychosocial Well-Being*

Key Words: adoption, adult adoptees, adult well-being.

Adoptees (n = 100) and a matched group of their friends completed measures of psychosocial well-being thought particularly salient for adult adoptees. Results indicated more similarities (life satisfaction, life regrets, purpose in life, intimacy, substance abuse) than differences (connectedness, depression, self esteem) between the two groups. Adoptees expressed stronger regrets about 75 general than adopted-related issues. Follow-up analyses suggested greater variability within the adoptee than the friend group on several variables; search status helped explain this greater variability.

Today, adoption is almost universally considered a lifelong process. Adoption professionals (e.g., Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Herring, 1992; Rosenberg, 1992) have asserted that, at each developmental milestone from birth to death, adoptees face unique challenges, as their adopted status influences both the way they approach and the way they resolve each normal developmental task. For example, resolution of the adolescent ego identity task requires incorporation of the birthfamily. Furthermore, "being adopted" generates different responses to major life events or transitions, such as the birth of one's first child. It is often assumed that these additional challenges put adoptees at much greater risk for poor resolution of these tasks and life transitions. As a result, adopted persons, including adult adoptees, are expected to suffer a variety of psychological and interpersonal problems at a much higher rate than nonadopted persons (Hochman, Huston, & Prowler, 1994; LaBella, 1994; Lifton, 1994).

Indeed, the clinical adoption literature has tended to support the stereotype of unhappy, poorly adjusted, malfunctioning adoptees (Sharma, McGue, & Benson, 1998). However, much of the empirical literature has been fraught with methodological problems (Benson, Sharman, & Roehlkepartain, 1994; Borders, Black, & Pasley, 1998; Marquis & Detweiler, 1985; Miall, 1996; Sharma et al., 1998), and has been focused almost exclusively on the experiences of the adopted infant, child, or adolescent. Although adoption is now viewed as a lifelong process, relatively few researchers have investigated what being adopted means for the adult adoptee. Thus, to extend our understanding of adoption, we designed a study to investigate the psychosocial functioning of adult adoptees beyond the early adult years in comparison with a group of their friends.

Only a handful of studies of adult adoptees have been conducted, and almost all of these have been focused on the search process: motivations for searching, characteristics of searchers versus nonsearchers, and search outcomes. Results of these studies have been fairly positive, contradicting some commonly held fears and concerns about the searcher and the impact of the search. In general, results suggest that searchers are very diverse in terms of age, socioeconomic status, educational level, knowledge of their birthfamily, and satisfaction with their own adoption (March, 1995). Adult adoptees' motivations for searching are also quite varied (Kowal & Schilling, 1985; Pacheco & Eme, 1993; Sachdev, 1992; Simpson, Timm, & McCubbin, 1981), ranging from milestone events (e.g., pregnancy, death of adoptive parent) to the need for medical information to more existential issues such as a void in life or desire for more cohesive identity. Most adult adoptees report overall satisfaction with the search outcome, regardless of the degree of ongoing contact with the birthparent (Pacheco & Eme, 1993; Sachdev, 1992). In addition, many adult adoptees report that the search process enhanced the relationship with their adoptive parents and/or their own well-being (Depp, 1982; March, 1995; Pacheco & Eme, 1993; Sachdev, 1992). …

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