MON July 9, 2018 MON July 9, 2018
10:30 am 10:30 am
Cartier II Cartier II

Emily Helder

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Calvin College

Elisha Marr

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Calvin College

Gretchen Wrobel

Professor of Psychology, Bethel University

Symposium: The impact of religiosity and spirituality among members of the adoptive kinship network

Religious motivation to adopt and religious meaning in the context of international adoption

The Calvin Adoption Study is a longitudinal study, conducted over a six year time period, of forty-nine children who have been adopted internationally from a wide range of countries. Participants were an average of 4.75 years (SD=4) at adoption and 6.5 years (SD=3.8) at the first study visit. Information about the child’s pre-adoption history, adoptive family characteristics, and parental motivations to adopt were collected at Wave 1 and a comprehensive set of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, social, attachment, and adoptive family functioning outcomes were assessed at Waves 1-4. For the current study, data was utilized in order to examine the influence of religious motivations to adopt on outcomes as well as the use of religious themes to give meaning to the adoptive experience.

Within the sample, 35 adoptive parents indicated some level of religious motivation in their decision to adopt. Participants rated the percent motivation for each motivation type selected and a higher percentage attributed to religious motivations was associated with a larger family size, lower maternal education, and fewer hours worked outside the home by mothers. A series of regressions, controlling for relevant demographic characteristics, examined religious motivation as a predictor of a variety of outcomes. Results revealed that greater religious motivation to adopt predicted better emotional regulation and fewer internalizing and somatization symptoms among adopted children at later study Waves. Greater religious motivation also predicted stricter parent-rated discipline practices and higher parent-rated conduct problems. Religious motivation levels were unrelated to attachment and cognitive outcomes.

Religious meaning in adoption was assessed via a 4-item measure completed by adoptive parents at each of the four Waves. Examination of means across each Wave revealed a fairly high level of religious meaning-making in the sample and stable ratings across the 4 Waves of the study. A series of regressions, utilizing relevant demographic controls revealed that greater use of religious meaning-making (i.e., “God is using this adoption to teach me something”) predicted better cognitive performances for adopted children in the areas of reading and verbal memory, and better emotional and behavioral adjustment in the areas of executive functioning and depression. Additionally, in the final wave of the study, families with greater religious meaning-making reported fewer attachment disturbances and higher adoption success.

In summary, religious motivations to adopt and the use of religious themes in the process of meaning-making in adoption were commonly reported in this sample of internationally adopted families. In the current study, higher levels of of religious motivation and meaning-making were generally associated with positive outcomes across several domains.

“Is God Calling Me to Adopt?”: A qualitative analysis of religion as a characteristic among those who seek to adopt

Much of the research on motivations to adopt a child have focused on infertility, childlessness, and pronatalist beliefs. The role of religion in propensity to adopt is rarely mentioned or explored. Since three out of four Americans identify with a religion, a notable portion of adoption agencies are faith-based, and some consider themselves having been “called to” adopt, it is important to examine the role of religion in the lives of those who seek to adopt.

Data from the 2013-2015 U.S. National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) was analyzed to learn about those who have taken steps to adopt a child with particular attention to whether they identified with a religion, whether they considered religion to be important to them, and frequency of attendance at religious services. Of the 5,086 female respondents ages 18 – 44 (male respondents were not asked detailed questions about adoption), 195 had taken steps to adopt a child. These women were primarily White (49.7%) and one-quarter were Black (27.2%). Since the NSFG oversamples Black and Hispanic women, a sampling weight was applied to the data so that the findings better reflect national estimates. Logistic regression models were completed to predict the odds of ever having sought to adopt a child. In addition to the three measures of religion (religious identifying, importance of religion, and frequency of religious attendance), whether the woman had a fecundity impairment, was ever treated for infertility, had ever experienced a pregnancy loss, had ever experienced a child death, and other demographic factors (e.g., age, marital status) were included as predictors of having sought to adopt a child.

The importance of religion was a strong predictor of having sought to adopt a child. Those considering religion to be “somewhat important” were three times more likely to take steps to adopt than those who consider religion “not important”. Those considering it to be “very important” were about six times more likely. Frequency of attendance was a statistically significant predictor, yet was not as strong as importance of religion, with respondents who go to religious services more than once a week being twice as likely to adopt in comparison to those who do not attend. Identifying with a religion was not a predictor of seeking to adopt. Of all the predictors included the greatest was fecundity, with those who were sterile (not caused by surgery) being over nine times as likely to adopt than someone without impaired fecundity.

These findings emphasize the importance of intentionally considering religious factors when learning about those who seek to adopt and their motivations. Since research on self-reports of motivations to adopt have not included many findings on religion, the possibility that religion is a latent factor influencing adoption choices should be included in future explorations.

Adoptive mother’s use of religious meaning regarding adoption

The meaning ascribed to adoption shapes an adoptive parent’s narrative of adoption. Religious meaning is one such construct that can inform an adoption narrative and is the focus of this presentation. Using data from the Minnesota-Texas Adoption Research Project (MTARP), a 30 year longitudinal study of contact in adoptive families, religious meaning ascribed to adoption by adoptive mothers will be described. This description is a first step in a broader project to consider how religious meaning incorporated into a parent’s adoption narrative, can influence parental and child outcomes. Participants included adoptive mothers from Wave 1 (1987-1992) of data collection. The 190 adoptive mothers ranged in age from 31 to 50 (Mean = 39.1). Their self-identified religious affiliation included 73 Catholic (38.4%), 89 Protestant (46.8%), 3 Jewish (1.6%), and 16 other (8.4%). Religious affiliation for 9 adoptive mothers (4.7%) was missing. This group of adoptive mothers also reported their religious activity as “extremely active” (n=25, 13.2%), “7, 3.7%), “very active” (n=58, 30.5%), “active” (n=56, 29.5%), “not very active” (n=31, 16.3%), “inactive” (n=7, 3.7%), “not applicable” (n=5, 2.6%). Religious activity for 8 adoptive mothers (4.2%) was missing.

Qualitative analysis using the Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR) approach is used to describe religious meaning of adoption for adoptive mothers. All 190 adoptive mother transcripts were reviewed to determine that CQR was a viable approach to use. Most discussion of religious meaning was not prompted by specific questions but arose in questions related to the adoption process. This initial reading yielded varying descriptions of religious meaning of adoption. For example: chosen by God to be adoptive parents, “We felt chosen by God to be adoptive parents….part of his plan for us was to be adoptive parents”; the birth mother wanted her child to be raised in the same religion, “religion was important to John’s birthmother. It’s important to know those things were carried out”; and God chose our child just for us, “It’s the Lord’s doing to get a certain child with a certain couple.” CQA will be applied to finalize themes and in-depth qualitative description of religious meaning of adoption from 10 adoptive mother transcripts in the ongoing CQR analysis will be presented.