Adoption and Identity in
EMILY UPSHUR AND JACK DEMICK
The last half of the twentieth century was marked by rapid social change in terms of technology and social mores. The United States has become increasingly diverse vis-a-vis racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds and intermarriage, and more accepting of differences including varying family structures. The biological two-parent family is no longer the experience of most children, given the high rates of divorce, remarriage, heterosexual and gay and lesbian partnerships outside of marriage, and single parenthood.1
In this context, the 2.1 million American adoptive families that exist at the beginning of the twenty-first century face similar, yet perhaps less unusual, challenges now than such families have in the past. This is because there is more diversity in family structure and more social acceptance of such diversity. Adoption itself is also changing rapidly, with more children of different ages and backgrounds being adopted by a variety of families that often differ markedly in race, ethnicity, geography, and traditions from the families of origin of the persons who were adopted.2 Thus the changing social context may make the task of identity development of contemporary individuals who were adopted different from that faced by those in the past. However, adoptive status will always be an important dimension of individuals who were adopted, which will assuredly make their identity struggle more complex than that of individuals who were not adopted.
This chapter provides a brief overview of the constructs of identity and identity development. It then describes the additional challenges for individuals who have been adopted and particularly for those individuals adopted transracially or transcountry. These represent a growing percentage of all children who have been adopted.3 The chapter then summarizes what is currently known about the needs of children who have been adopted and their families to facilitate productive identity exploration. Finally, the chapter concludes with a discussion