Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Adoptive families gain insight from DU professor’s research

Mitch Hyder, the radio voice of DU men’s and women’s basketball, and his wife, Reva, adopted their daughter, Haley, from China 5 years ago. They say they’ve enjoyed the change a child brought to their family and have been fortunate people outside their family have been supportive.

It is not always that way, according to research by DU’s Elizabeth Suter, assistant professor of human communication studies. In her latest series of articles published in the Journal of Family Communication, Suter studies the identity challenges facing parents who’ve adopted Chinese children and how they respond in ways that strengthen their family.

Her research surveyed 245 parents nationwide who had adopted children from China. Suter identified which remarks parents perceive as the most identity-threatening, such as costs associated with adoption.

“When outsiders commodify a child by asking, ‘how much did you pay for her?’ it can be one of the most challenging comments that families routinely get,” Suter says.

The Hyders are members of a group called China Moms. They say some of the mothers have gotten comments that hit a nerve.

“One of the moms now has two daughters from China,” Mitch Hyder says. “She was asked if they were sisters. After replying ‘yes’ the person then followed up with ‘No, are they real sisters?’”

The parents in Suter’s research report that these types of questions challenge the authenticity of the relationship between the siblings.

Suter says outsiders are naturally curious about the process, but the motive for their questions makes all the difference. When people are inquiring because they’re interested in adoption, parents are receptive.

“We’re more than happy to share any info we have with anyone that’s interested in the process,” he says.

Suter’s studies find that parents often feel that racism, biological normativity and nationalism underlie outsider remarks. For instance, parents perceive questions such as “who’s her REAL mom?” as rooted in biological normativity and end up offended and feeling such remarks destabilize their child’s sense of place in the family.

Suter’s research also identified the parental strategies that most strengthen the family. She found parents that take an educational approach are most effective.

“Parents who are educators construct responses that focus on constructing a cohesive sense of family identity and strong sense of self-esteem for their children. They do so in part by modeling to provide a template for the child to construct their own identity-affirming responses when the parent is absent later on,” Suter says.


Comments are closed.