When someone says the word “family” there are a multitude of images that might come to mind for various people. This image is then likely pictured or thought about in juxtaposition to the traditional family. In America the traditional family is the nuclear family: a mother, a father and their two children (preferably one girl and one boy separated by two or maybe three years). Beyond this there is an assumption that the mother and father are married. Further still, the daughter and son are their biological children. Of course, this is just one of many types of families. But to makes things simple, working within the model above, how does an adopted child fit into the scenario?
A functionalist anthropologist understands people to have universal biological needs such as nourishment, shelter, “protection and guidance in…early stages” (Malinowski, 89) to name just a few. Malinowski, the founder of functionalism, would then look at how a society has shaped customs and institutions in response to these human needs. All of the institutions, in response to various personal needs, allow for the maintenance of social stasis. Adoption from this perspective is two fold. On one hand it provides an orphaned child with a permanent home and set of parents who will provide them with nourishment, shelter, protection, guidance and much more. They will treat the adopted child just as they would their own biological child. Adoption also keeps children out of orphanages, out of foster homes, and relieves the government of extra, and perhaps not fully planned for, economic responsibility. The state is thus able to remain stable.
From a culture-personality perspective adoption can be viewed as an attempt to meet normative expectations. According to Ruth Benedict in order to understand one’s actions it is essential to examine his or her “congenial responses to the behavior that is singled our in the institutions of his culture” (78). In the United States both men and women, although there seems to be more pressure on women, are expected to want to be parents – it is the normative personality. And those individuals or couples who chose not to have children, for whatever reason, are considered strange and often ostracized from many community gatherings that focus on family activities, etc. How could you possibly not want to be a parent?! Perhaps the couple in question does want to have children, to be parents, but are unable to physically. It is here that adoption allows them to enter the normative personality. Despite infertility, they are able to still have a child. They are able to fulfill their personal wish to be parents and visually show outsiders that they fit the normative expectations.
People choose to adopt for all sorts of reasons. Some are unable to have children themselves; some can have children biologically but chose to adopt regardless. The two perspectives above differ, but both look at adoption in very practical ways. The choice to adopt, however is a heavily emotional and life changing decision.
— Emory H.
Benedict, Ruth. 1934. “The Individual and the Pattern of Culture,” in Patterns of Culture.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1939. “The Group and the Individual in Functional Analysis,” in American Journal of Sociology.