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Navigating Relationships in the Modern Family

Communication, Identity, and Difference


Edited By Jordan Soliz and Colleen Warner Colaner

Despite growing recognition of the diversity of family forms and structures, discourses among family scholars and practitioners as well as in popular culture continue to operate from the assumption that families are fairly homogeneous in terms of the values and beliefs, social positions, and identities of individual family members. Navigating Relationships in the Modern Family provides a unique and important perspective on how communication within and about families related to issues of identity and difference can ameliorate negative processes and, at times, potentially amplify positive outcomes such as well-being and relational solidarity. Chapters in this edited volume focus on divergent social identities in the family (e.g., interfaith families, multiethnic-racial families, acculturation and immigration) as well as differences emerging from family formative processes (e.g., stepfamilies, in-law relationships, foster care). In addition to synthesizing the current state of the scholarship in these particular family contexts, each chapter discusses the interplay between families and the larger social and cultural context. For instance, how does grandparent-grandchild communication influence attitudes toward older adults and aging? Can we improve interfaith dialogue in larger societal interactions by understanding communication in interfaith families? How do ideologies of social class and social discourses about adoption and foster care influence family functioning? Chapters conclude with a discussion on implications for scholars and family practitioners. The edited volume would make an ideal primary or secondary required text for upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses on families as well as specialized family courses on understudied family relationships and forms. The volume also serves as an important resource for family scholars and practitioners.

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10. Adoptee Identity, Belonging, and Communication with Birth and Adoptive Families (Colleen Warner Colaner and LaShawnda Kilgore)


10. Adoptee Identity, Belonging, and Communication with Birth and Adoptive Families

Colleen Warner Colaner and LaShawnda Kilgore

Adoption involves the transfer of parental rights from biological to legal parents. This legal transfer has ripples in individual and relationship realms that are felt for generations. Each one of these child placements touches the life course of numerous members of the adoptive and birth families, including current and future family members, thus touching the lives of millions of individuals worldwide (Galvin & Colaner, 2013). Adoptees find themselves between two families for the duration of their life. This liminal family membership can create “layers of differentness” as adoptees grapple with abilities, appearances, and traits that may depart from their adoptive nuclear family (Grotevant, 1997, p. 4).

Historically, adoption was shrouded in secrecy, with adoptees being told very little—if at all—about their adoption (Galvin & Colaner, 2013). Thus, biological families were largely unknown to adoptees. This had a number of negative outcomes, even in the most loving and well-adjusted adoptive families. The reality was that adoptees yearned to know answers to fundamental questions of identity as they sought to make sense of their belonging and differentness in relation to their adoptive parents.

Open adoption emerged in response to (a) adoptees’ desires to know more about their past and (b) birth parents’ desires to remain connected to their children after placement. Open adoption allowed for connections between birth and adoptive parents to best support the...

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