Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Charlene E. Miall




Using an exploratory, qualitative approach, 30 in-depth interviews were conducted with adoptive mothers of Romanian children. interest focused on whether Mead's theory of the past was viable for exploring how these mothers create socially shared pasts for their children within the family. In addition, Kirk's adoptive kinship theory and Goffman's theory of social stigma were used to explore whether (a) an adoptive mother's acknowledgement or rejection of the difference between adoptive and biological parenthood; and (b) her perceptions of social stigma around Romanian adoption shaped the content of her construction of this past.

All four dimensions of Mead's theory of the past were evident in this study - the implied objective· past, the social structural past, he symbolically reconstructed past, and the mythical past. substantively, respondents made use of three types of strategies in constructing a socially shared past: (1) verbal personal adoption stories created for their children; (2) lifebooks to document their children's histories; and (3) affiliation with self-help support groups or with other adoptive parents.

In this study, KIrk's categories of acknowledgment and rejection of difference between adoptive and biological kinship were not mutually exclusive as respondents showed a pattern of high to low acknowledgment of difference only. This acknowledgment focused on the formation of the family rather than on its functioning. All respondents showed open disclosure patterns with their children and others, a trend in adoption as an institution.

Although respondents provided detailed descriptions of perceived stigmatizing beliefs about adoption in general and Romanian adoption in particular; they showed low levels of personal internalization of these beliefs. It was also demonstrated empirically that stigma can we responded to in positive ways. Specifically, self-help support groups offered positive social and emotional support, and provided individuals with a strong sense of belonging not experienced in "normal" interaction.

It is argued that the task of adoptive parents is not only to inform adopted children of their birth and cultural histories. parents must also try to understand how the children experience adoption. Allowing the children to take the lead in discovering and understanding their unique histories will aid their mothers in treating socially shared pasts for their families.

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