Friday, January 27, 2012

Parents’ Socialization Strategies for Raising Chinese Adoptees

Parents’ socialization strategies face two central tensions:

  • The tension between sameness and differentness within the family
  • The tension between Chinese and American identities.

Richard Tessler (1999), a scholar of China to U.S. adoption, outlines four models of socialization. My research will investigate what factors influence parents' choice of socialization strategy. The four models are:

  • Assimilation: focus on American culture (rejection differences)
  • Acculturation: focus on Chinese culture (acknowledgement of differences)
  • Alternation (or bi-cultural socialization): balance American and Chinese culture, with the goal of making children feel comfortable alternating between cultures (acknowledgement of differences)
  • Child choice: parents allow the child to decide which strategy to pursue (My research will not address the child choice model, as I believe that even if the parents want their child to lead the way in identity formation, the parents’ actions and attitudes exert huge influence on the child’s choice.)


In the past, the assimilationist model was most popular. Families rejected racial differences within the family and adopted a 'color-blind' approach, raising their adopted children as if they had been born into the family. Because most of these families are Caucasian Americans, their rejection of differences is virtually a rejection of Chinese culture. While these parents claim that race does not matter to them, denying their child’s racial and ethnic background can have serious repercussions. Most likely, these parents have good intentions and simply do not realize that “Race does matter and will matter to and shape the life of every child of color” (Steinberg and Hall, 2000, 295). Today many scholars and adoptive parents look to the cohort of adults who were adopted from Korea in the 1970s as a “cautionary tale.” Many of these adoptees are critical of their parents for neglecting to address race and Korean culture, which has led to the current rejection the ‘clean break model’ that calls for the adoptee to fully assimilate.

Acculturation or "Culture Keeping"

Today some members of the adoptive community have embraced acculturation, or “culture keeping.” The term “culture keeping” was introduced by Jacobson (1998): “Culture keeping is meant to replicate partially the cultural education internationally adopted children would receive if they were being raised within a family of their own ethnic heritage” (ibid, 2). Many parents are unable to fully engage in culture keeping because they lack knowledge of and experience with Chinese culture. For some, it may also be too time-consuming or difficult to access resources and opportunities to engage in Chinese culture.

Bi-Cultural Socialization

Other parents reject both assimilation and acculturation in favor of Tessler’s bi-cultural socialization model. Tessler is a proponent of bi-cultural socialization: American socialization allows the child to share the culture of their adoptive family and be accepted by their peers; Chinese socialization is important because the child is phenotypically a minority, and thus may be treated by others as a minority. Bi-cultural socialization will help foster a positive esteem of their ethnic subgroup, which will empower children to handle racism with confidence. However, bi-cultural socialization (like culture keeping) can be difficult and requires commitment from adoptive parents, who often have little knowledge of Chinese heritage and may lack opportunities for exposing their children to Chinese culture.

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