International adoption is becoming an increasingly popular means to form a family in the United States. Since 1971, over 330,000 children have been adopted from other countries, and there has been a threefold increase in the annual rate of international adoption, from 7,093 children in 1990 to 22,884 children in 2004 (U.S. Department of State, 2005
). The increase in international adoption is attributed to war, poverty, and the lack of social welfare in sending countries and, in the United States, to increased infertility rates, perceived difficulties associated with domestic adoption, preference to adopt infants rather than older children, and a disinclination toward foster care adoption (R. M. Lee, 2003
). Today, children—mostly infants and toddlers—are adopted annually from over 100 countries, with approximately 90% of children adopted from just 20 countries and the majority from China, Russia, South Korea, and Guatemala.
International adoption also reflects a larger, growing trend toward multiracial and multiethnic families, who face unique challenges in the upbringing of children of different ethnic and racial heritages. Research suggests that same-race and transracially adopted children begin to become aware of racial differences, as well as their adoptive status, as early as 4–5 years of age (Brodzinsky, Singer, & Braff, 1984
; Huh & Reid, 2000
). As transracial adoptees grow older, they develop a more coherent understanding of what it means to look physically different from their parents (D. C. Lee & Quintana, 2005
). At the same time, they may begin to experience feelings of loss of birth culture and family history and the growing awareness of racism and discrimination in their everyday lives (Meier, 1999
; Powell & Affi, 2005
). This feeling of loss, in turn, has been found to be associated with greater depressive symptoms and lower self-worth among domestically and internationally adopted preadolescents (Smith & Brodzinsky, 2002
). Similarly, Cederblad, Höök, Irhammer, and Mercke (1999)
reported that uncertainty about one’s ethnic identity and perceived discrimination are related to greater psychological distress and lower self-esteem among international adoptees. Adoptive parents, most of whom are White and of European descent, likewise are confronted with decisions about when and how to appropriately acknowledge and address ethnic and racial differences with their children without disrupting family bonds. Parents also must decide whether they want the children’s birth culture to be a part of the family’s life experiences and, if so, to what extent (Friedlander, 1999
). Given these transracial and interethnic challenges in international adoption, it is important to understand the underlying factors associated with how parents address ethnic and racial differences within the family.
refers to the manner by which parents address ethnic and racial issues within the family, specifically, the ways parents communicate or transmit cultural values, beliefs, customs, and behaviors to the child and the extent to which the child internalizes these messages, adopts the cultural norms and expectations, and acquires the skills to become a competent and functional member of a racially diverse society (R. M. Lee, 2003
). In the case of transnational and transracial adoptive families, cultural socialization typically refers to the transmission of the child’s and not the parents’ birth culture. Consequently, it is not as inherent or natural a process as it is for same-race or same-ethnicity families, and transracial adoptive parents must make a clear and explicit effort at cultural socialization. However, some adoptive parents may not necessarily want their child to adopt the values and beliefs of the birth culture (Scroggs & Heitfield, 2001
). In one of the only empirical studies on international adoption to demonstrate the direct linkages between cultural socialization and psychological development, Yoon (2001)
found that the relationship between cultural socialization parenting practices and the child’s well-being was mediated by the strength of the child’s ethnic identity in a sample of 241 Korean adolescent adoptees.
Two important determinants of cultural socialization are parents’ attitudes about the salience of race and their belief in the value and importance of cultural socialization. McRoy and Zurcher (1983)
, for example, observed that White adoptive parents of African American children who were color-blind (i.e., did not perceive racial differences and racism as salient issues) were less likely to live in racially integrated neighborhoods and to make an effort at teaching their adopted child about what it means to grow up as Black in the United States. DeBerry, Scarr, and Weinberg (1996)
similarly found that White adoptive parents of African American children who were more likely to deny or deemphasize the salience of race also had more ambivalent feelings about cultural socialization. In other words, parents who deny or are unaware of the prevalence and deleterious effects of racism and discrimination in society (i.e., are color-blind) are less likely to believe in the value and importance of cultural socialization and, consequently, are less likely to engage in cultural socialization parenting behaviors. This mediation model of cultural socialization, as illustrated in , is implicit in many current writings on transracial adoption, but it remains to be tested empirically in families with internationally adopted children.
Proposed mediation model of cultural socialization. Plus or minus signs refer to the direction of the relationship.
further highlights enculturation and racialization as distinct cultural socialization parenting approaches that are particularly relevant to transracial adoptive families (R. M. Lee, 2003
; Tessler, Gamache, & Liu, 1999
refers to both the belief in and practice of promoting ethnicity-specific experiences that encourage the development of a positive ethnic identity, which has been found to serve as a protective factor against racism and discrimination (R. M. Lee, 2005
). By contrast, racialization
refers to both the belief in and practice of promoting race-specific experiences that help children develop coping skills to protect them from racism and discrimination (Crocker & Major, 1989
). As with other forms of socialization within the family, these two parenting practices may directly engage the child or occur indirectly through other parental behaviors (Umana-Taylor & Fine, 2004
The characteristics of the child and family also play a role in the extent to which families engage in cultural socialization. Transracial adoptees are more likely to struggle with racial and ethnic issues than are same-race adoptees (Benson, Sharma, & Roehlkepartain, 1994
). At the same time, adoptive parents with children who are considered racial and ethnic minorities in the United States (e.g., Asian and Latin American adoptees) are more likely to engage in cultural socialization practices than are parents with children who are racially more similar to Whites (e.g., Russian and Eastern European adoptees; Scroggs & Heitfield, 2001
). Adoptive parents with younger children also may be more likely to engage in cultural socialization practices, because younger children generally are more receptive to these activities and opportunities and there are greater postadoption resources available to families who adopted more recently (Steinberg & Hall, 2000
). By contrast, adoptive parents with older children may find that their children are less interested in cultural socialization experiences and more interested in peer acceptance and belonging (Meier, 1999
There is limited empirical research on the cultural socialization experiences of families with internationally adopted children. Moreover, no study has examined adoptive parents’ racial attitudes and their beliefs about cultural socialization and the extent to which these attitudes and beliefs contribute to cultural socialization practices within the family. Therefore, the goals of this study were to (a) characterize individual variations in cultural socialization attitudes and beliefs by sex, age, and racial/ethnic status of the child and (b) examine the associations of parents’ racial awareness and attitudes and beliefs about cultural socialization with cultural socialization behaviors. Using data from the Minnesota International Adoption Project (IAP), we hypothesized that the relationship between parents’ racial attitudes and enculturation and racialization parenting behaviors would be mediated by their respective parenting beliefs. That is, parents with lower color-blind racial attitudes would be more likely to engage in enculturation and racialization parenting behaviors because they have a stronger belief in the value and importance of these two approaches to cultural socialization. We measured parenting behaviors in terms of direct and indirect enculturation and racialization.