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Adoptive families are inherently discursive, with communication acting as the lifeblood connecting the child to his or her adoptive parents. Adoptive families rely upon communication to create and maintain their relational bond. Communication is also the basis of our understanding of self as our identities are rooted in social interaction. Identity development for the adoptees is a unique process in which adoptees construct both a cohesive definition of the self and an understanding of what it means to be an adopted person. In the current study, I examined the communicative pathways through which adoptive identities are formed. I specifically focused on developed adoptive identity, or identities in which adoptees incorporate both positive and negative aspects of their adoption into a sense of self that includes, but is not overly preoccupied with, their adopted status. Guided by adoption, identity, and communication literature, I set out to develop a holistic understanding of the process of adoptive identity development from a communication perspective.
In researching this adoptive identity formation process, I first examined the role of parental communication in facilitating the formation of developed adoptive identities. Second, I explored the association between developed adoptive identity and adoptee adjustment as indicated by individual well-being and relational well-being with the adoptive and birth parents.
Participants included 220 adult adoptees who completed a questionnaire assessing their adoptive identity, contact with their birth parents, adoptive parent communication, and individual well-being as well as their affect about their adoption, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Findings from the present study reveal that adoptive parents’ communication openness, parental confirmation, and acknowledgement of difference as well as the level of structural openness in the birth parent relationship influence the adoptive identity development process. Adoptive identity in turn was related to individuals’ affect for their birth parents and affect about adoption. The results are discussed in terms of implications for adoptive parent communication, conclusions about adoptive identity, and limitations and future directions for research.